Five Days of Fallacies: Day 3, Irrelevant Appeals

Five Days of Fallacies: Day 1 here, Day 2 here, Day 4 here, Day 5 here. I am discussing some common mistakes we humans make in reasoning, in the hope that you can 1) Understand what they are 2) Recognize them when others speak 3) Recognize them when you think this way 4) Attempt to correct your thinking on old, current and future ideas.

Irrelevant Appeals are seen often when someone is trying to persuade you. This can be during an argument, debate, casual discussion, sales pitch, etc. The irrelevance is to the point at hand, it may seem like an important retort, however, it has no bearing on the facts. Some examples:

Appeal to Antiquity: The idea is valid, because it has been around for a long time. “This is traditional natural medicine, it was done this way for 2,000 years,of course it’s valid.” Well, many old ideas and practices are bad. The antiquity of an idea has no bearing on it’s usefulness. Bloodletting, lobotomies, acupuncture, essential oils, they are all old, right?

Appeal to Novelty: The opposite of above. “The newest thoughts on how to treat X are ABC.” The newness is irrelevant, but it seems better, right?

Remember that last Systematic Review that said the new shiny treatment worked moderately well, but was no better than traditional care? Well, please focus on what works and not just what’s new.  Actually, Novelty and Antiquity are often stated as important, and everything in between is rubbish. Ex: “This is an old southern recipe, passed down for centuries.” Does that make it better? “Oh this year’s sport model, with a new look!” And… there is no substance in something simply being new.

Appeal to Popularity: “All the clinicians in my clinic say they dry needle cervical musculature, therefore it must be the thing to do.” The popularity of a treatment is just that, the popularity.  This appeal occurs in many forms and you can think of many things that you do just because it is done by the group. In an argument, however, the concept of majority agreement does not translate into validity of concept. *See: The Earth is Flat. If you want to argue about cervical dry needling, use evidence and research, not the fact that it’s popular, to discuss and learn.

Appeal to Pity: “But these people are in debilitating pain and essential oils are helping them.” The appeal to emotion is a strong one, and this type of argument is quite compelling. The appeal to pity pulls at your natural sympathy and empathy towards a person or situation. You may be likely to look past your scientific thought processes because, heck, you’re a caring person, and it’s not your intention to see people in pain. Your emotions toward an issue often clouds over the clear facts.

Appeal to Authority:The leading expert in shoulder rehab states that you shoulder train the serratus anterior first.” Of course the experts have spent more time on a subject that you or anyone else, and likely are well read in the research and current status of a subject. The fallacy comes into play when we forget that thy are also human. They may be wrong on any particular statement, and the statement should be judged on it’s own, not based off of who stated it.

So, what to do with these appeals? Attempt to find the main point. Chew and swish the appeals around before you swallow them. Get a taste for them, let them melt over your scientific pallet. In conversation, state them openly. For example: “That sounds like an appeal to Novelty, let’s look at the actual specs of this product.” etc.

Think about these appeals. “It is experience bounced off the wall of thought and thrown into the sea of reflection that ultimately returns the reward of expertise.”  

Stay tuned for more Fallacies!…

Matt D

5 thoughts on “Five Days of Fallacies: Day 3, Irrelevant Appeals

  1. Pingback: Five Days of Fallacies: Day 1, Post Hoc | PTbraintrust

  2. Pingback: Five Days of Fallacies: Day 2, Complex Question | PTbraintrust

  3. Pingback: Five Days of Fallacies: Day 4, Circular Argument | PTbraintrust

  4. Pingback: Five Days of Fallacies: Day 5, Fallacist’s Fallacy | PTbraintrust

  5. Pingback: A Year In Review: II | PTbraintrust

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