26 November 2010

A Field Guide to Logical Fallacies

I done went to the big smoke to talk into a microphone.

Last night I popped another significant skeptical cherry. I attended The Amazing Meeting Australia Fringe event, Skepticator Live - The Skeptics Open Mic Night. In person. Had I known that one could meet so many fabulous people in such a short space of time, I might have dragged my arse to a skeptics gathering ages ago (hello lovelies!).

But I digress. As usual. Here's what I spouted:

When one is a skeptic, one’s often accused
Of pooh-poohing things we know nothing about.
But out of the skeptical toolbox are used
Many sharply-honed tools of considerable clout.

So instead of resorting to snarky replies,
And to being aggressive, dismissive and callous, we
Learn to think critically and recognise
What’s known ‘round the traps as a logical fallacy.

With non-sequiturs and deceptive dilemmas,
Red herrings and strawmen creating confusion,
Just how do we prove that the arguer’s premise
Does not proceed logically to their conclusion?

As jungles of thought are explored, over time;
You’ll find, in your brain, fallacies are compiled.
I’ll try to provide you, through amateur rhyme;
With examples of critters you’ll find in the wild.

Argumentum Ad Hominem or “to the man”
Attacks not the premise, no matter how clear.
Adherents of this one will try, if they can
To attack their opponent, and go for the smear.

For example: a certain Liberal politician
Might think that abortion’s a horrible sin.
I might challenge the cogency of his position
Because he’s a twat with an idiot grin.

Next on the list is the old false dichotomy,
Not quite as simple as, at first, it seems.
It’s like giving multiple choice a lobotomy
Leaving two monochromatic extremes.

For example, a nation preparing for war
may declare, “If you’re not with us, then you’re against!”
One’s choices seem pared to “contrary” or “for”,
Though there’s plenty of room for one’s bum on the fence.

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc, essentially,
Is causation assumed and improperly reckoned.
It’s said when two things happen sequentially
That the first necessarily leads to the second.

For example, a man at his neighbourhood shops
Is eating a take-away lunchtime lamb korma.
A sniper somewhere shoots him square in the chops,
So it’s clear: curries lead to extensive head trauma.

Argumentum ad Populum needs lots of friends,
Like the bafflingly popular kids in high school.
It claims that the value of something depends
On how many people believe that it’s cool.

For example, a singer named Britney Jean Spears,
Has been known to behave perhaps not as she should.
But her music sold squillions in just a few years,
So being a spangly dumb tramp must be good.

And so there you have it, a short little list,
Not exhaustive, but perfectly fine for a starter.
A field guide sufficient to give you the gist,
Or if not, enough big words to make you sound smarter.


  1. Wonderful, Shelley! Thanks for speaking last night and for posting the poem here!

  2. Anonymous10:15 am

    Shelly your "shameless plug" on Twitter brought me here, and I shall stay a while to poke around your blog. I managed to get along to the second half of the open mic night, and loved your Logical Fallacy poem.

    I'm enjoying what I've read so far :)

    Lucas Randall

  3. Welcome to the squiggly bits of my mind, Lucas, and thanks for stopping by. Enjoy your poke!