Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Falsification and Logical Fallacies: How to Win Any Argument or Simply Spot Bullshit

As an Aspergers child I had to ingrain in myself a series of rules to effectively communicate with other people. Proper expression and proper interpretation of statements, to and from myself, is the difference between being that funny odd kid and being socially shunned.  The rule set must be robust enough to give indications of statement validity, accuracy, and proper representation. It also must be able to parse the information for hidden social cues like sarcasm or patronism, and provide trending data like argument or conviction strength so I can discern interest level in the topic at hand.  failure on these paths can lead to me being taken for a ride so to speak. 

The rule set also has to be simple enough that some processing is left over to recognize tonal, lexicon, diction, pitch and temporal fluctuations in speech patterns. Otherwise I would fail to recognize mood more often. My statements have to undergo the same processing in order to match the speech pattern, and still be filled with content and accuracy. This all has to be done in real time so the individual doesn't think I'm ignoring them. I use falsification and logical fallacies to achieve these goals. 

My heuristics aren't unique, they have been used since we first emerged a hundred thousand years or so. It's a bit more effective for the species to win arguments using rhetoric, than simply clubbing one another over the head. They are nearly identical to the concepts of falsification and logical fallacies, which have their own wikipedia entries.



It's associated list

All Swans are not white, the theory is falsifiable

We predominantly avoid subjective rhetoric in favor of objective rhetoric. Subjectivity while holding some relevance for interpersonal discussions is completely useless in broader arguments.  Consider the gay marriage debate for a moment. Take two speakers, one who is in favor of and another who is opposed to gay marriage. If the argument were to boil down simply to one speaker saying they felt it was wrong and the other disagreeing the arguments essentially cancel one another out. Emotions are irrelevant in the debate as they depend on a subjective stance. As long as we hold no individual is superior to another, subjective arguments will always nullify one another.  

So we know that arguments, debates, policies and rule sets must be based in some semblance of objective reality (most aren't but there are usually shreds of evidence supporting them). There are therefore two types of valid arguments, the strongest is quantitative. Correctly acquired, processed and presented data validates an argument in ways that rhetoric simply can't. Data never makes an argument, it can only support or deny a claim.

 In order to have a valid quantitative argument the theory must be falsifiable. Numbers, statistics and trends and counts define a quantitative argument. The rules for a quantitative argument are simple, there must be data, the relevant variables were isolated, and there must be potential data set which can disprove the theory. The falsifiability of an argument relates to the last segment. The theory of evolution can be disproven if you find a modern day squirrel fossil in 65 million year old rock. The theory of gravity by mass attraction is easily disproven, all you have to do is find an object, with no repulsive force, that doesn't fall to the ground when released. Falsifiability is why evolution can be taught in a science class and creation myth's can't.

Almost no arguments stem from data however.  Most debates over policy, preferences, or large systems cannot be quantified easily.  The variables can't be removed, or there's no way to disprove the claim.  These arguments while originating from a subjective source can be presented objectively. Some arguments can even be inferred from data even if there is no clear causal link. We still need a way to reign in and identify poorly constructed or defined arguments, this comes through logial fallacies. You can think of a logical fallacy as a test of the underlying structure or logic of an argument.  For instance if you were to argue 'oil companies have something to gain by invalidating climate science' that's fine. Arguing that 'skepticism of global warming is driven by big oil  propaganda' is not.  The second argument violates a few logical fallacies. Let's break the example down a bit.

First we have an ad hominem fallacy, using the term "big oil". A study's relevance is determined by it's adherence to the scientific method, not it's funding source. Secondly skepticism is a perfectly valid stance for any argument, the burden of proof for a claim lies on the individual making the claim not those that refute it, this is known as onus probundi or burden of proof fallacies. Thirdly the use of the word 'propaganda' is an appeal using emotional words to derogatorily caraciture scientifically sound studies. 

Let's apply this knowledge to three losing arguments of current debates

First there is gay marriage:
1. What about the children

This argument frequently comes up as part of the gay marriage debate.  If homosexuals are allowed to marry they can adopt children and what kind of environment are we allowing kids into. While it's  an interesting debate it is completely incorrect.  First we have studied children raised by gay couples and have found no discrepancies between them and their heterosexual family counterparts, not in test scores, income, welfare proclivity, or homosexual tendencies. In fact children adopted by homosexual couples are actually in a better environment than those in heterosexual environment. Interestingly enough there cant be any accidental pregnancies, and, with the costs child adoption being what they are, every adopted child is a planned child. It is undertaken by parents with the time, energy and resources to care for them. this argument is readily identified  and dismissed as an appeal to emotion.

2. Marriage is between 1 man and 1 woman not a man and a sheep or other thing

This I have heard from several anti gay marriage folks.  First it's irrelevant, if you want to marry a sheep why do I have a say in it. Secondly your talking about two consenting adults, both have full cognizance of the contract and consequences.  This is readily identifiable by the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. The idea of this therefore that, because one action is allowed it will eventually end up with another.

3.  DOMA doesn't violate the equal protections clause
This is patently false and we do have data on it.  The entire reason DOMA is in the supreme court is because a woman in a homosexual relationship did not have rights of survivor-ship and the government confiscated $400,000 of her partners money after death. 
Source: The Economist

Second lets look at climate change, a "quantitative" argument
1.  The science is settled/ majority of scientists agree

Clearly it's not. We have data that diverges profoundly with the predictive modeling. Whether its due to coal, or volcanoes or some other unknown factor. The predictive models have failed. While there are a lot of fallacies that can be tagged to this statement the best is the argumentum ad populum. the idea that an argument becomes true simply because many people or authority figures believe it.

2.  Global warming is inevitable
It doesn't seem so. We have evidence that shows several periods of warming with intermittent pauses and even cooling cycles. The argument is based essentially on one period of strong warming from 1976-1990. This can be identified as the fallacy of the single cause. It is being the argument is invalidated every day

3.  The current cooling period doesn't invalidate climate science
This comes out in many forms. Some are that this period is exceptional due to volcanos or coal, others try to say we need 40 years of discrepant data to invalidate the models. The first is an example of overwhelming exception, the second is an example of moving the goal post and a lack of falsifiability. If you can't falsify a claim in a reasonable amount of time you cant consider it falsifiable.

Last we'll look at gun control
1. We should ban assault rifles to prevent deaths

There is literally no evidence of this from a quantitative standpoint. Even with the shootings assault rifles make up less than 1% of the homicide rates in the US.  Assault rifles are an artistic choice rather than an actual weapon category. Even factoring large capacity magazines the shooters only fired about 10 bullets before swapping clips.  Any time you make an appeal to children, or fear such as weapons of war, this is an appeal to emotion. Not only is there no data supporting a potential impact in homicide rates,  the data actually disagrees with the position. 

2. Gun violence is on the rise

Nope it's not. There is no data to support this. Reported shootings is on the rise because of the 24 hour news cycle. This is an example of an inconsistent comparison.

3. Automatic weapons were used in the recent shootings

Obama just said this, he was wrong end of argument. 

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