I don’t read newspapers, listen to media (as much as I can avoid it), read magazines, listen to politicians and I certainly do not try to keep up with the many erroneous theories being thrown around when it comes the weight loss, supplements and fitness.
Occasionally you cannot help but get caught up in it though and get totally pissed off with the bullshit and basically peoples logical fallacies.
What I do pay attention to is good sound unbiased research and those with many years of experience and specialised education talking about their area of expertise.
It is well worth getting to know and be able to recognise logical fallacies – they are EVERYWHERE and especially in peoples arguments in other words ‘opinions’.
These are the main logical fallacies that are used to make uninformed and erroneous arguments.
Get to know them, get used to recognizing them.
The media uses these all the time to make spicy headlines and drum up controversy, you’ll also notice that logical fallacies are the only type of arguments politicians every make.
Try this for an experiment for a good example of multiple logical fallacies at play … pick up any newspaper or magazine, surf the Internet for weight loss or watch a local political channel (if you can stomach it!). See how many of these common logical fallacies you can find:
1. Ad hominem
An ad hominem argument is any that attempts to counter a claim or conclusion made by someone else by attacking the person rather than addressing the argument itself.
Example: Joe says you need to eat less calories to lose weight, but what does Joe know, he’s skinny and never lost weight before.
2. Ad ignorantiam
This is also called the argument from ignorance and the basic premise is that a specific belief is true because we don’t know that it isn’t true.
Example I could argue that small a special supplement can eliminate obesity, but I can’t prove it.
3. Argument from authority
Stating that a claim is true because a person or group of perceived authority says it is true. Although it is reasonable to give more credence to the claims of those with the proper background, education, and credentials.
Example: Stating something is true because “my doctor says so”.
This doesn’t mean they are always correct and furthermore it doesn’t mean they have any authority to make claims outside of their specific area of expertise.
The truth of a claim should always come back to logic and evidence and not merely the supposed authority of the person promoting it. Credentials and expertise are an indication of the tools needed for a person to be qualified to gather the needed evidence in a given area to make a truly informed claim. I cannot explain or understand this, therefore it cannot be true. It is not a valid argument to assume something is not true simply because you personally don’t understand it.
Example: Not believing that growth hormone can help aid in fat loss simply because you don’t understand how growth hormone works, and therefore because you don’t understand how growth hormone interacts with the body it must not be possible and not work at all.
5. Confusing association with causation
This is the assumption that because two events are correlated that one must have caused the other.
Example: Madonna does yoga so therefore yoga causes the body to lose weight, and makes you look like Madonna.
6. Confusing currently unexplained with unexplainable
Assuming that any phenomenon that is currently unexplained is by nature unexplainable. This is a very limited way of thinking. Science is always uncovering new insight and information and most unexplained phenomenon will eventually be explained with enough investigation.
Example: We currently cannot explain with 100% certainty why some people gain weight easier than others, and therefore we will never know.
As with any scientific field of research we are always investigating and finding more information. Just because we don’t have the full answer today does not mean we will not find the answer tomorrow.
7. False Continuum
The idea that because there is no obvious and definitive difference between two extremes that there is no difference between them at all.
Example: Claiming that carbs are ‘bad’ for you and assuming that refined sugar can be classified the same as the ’sugar’ you get from a fruit or vegetable.
8. False Dichotomy
Erroneously and arbitrarily reducing many possibilities down to only two.
Example: If bread increases production of insulin we must never eat bread at all.
In Latin this term translates to “doesn’t follow”. This refers to an argument in which the conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premises. In other words, a logical connection is implied where none exists.
Example: Eating too much sugar is bad for you and therefore any foods that contain sugar are not meant to be consumed.
10. Post-hoc ergo propter hoc
This fallacy follows the basic format of: A preceded B, therefore A caused B, and therefore assumes cause and effect for two events just because they are temporally related.
Example: You had a glass of wine for dinner last night and woke up with a headache today, therefore the wine must have caused the headache.
11. Reductio ad absurdum
In formal logic, the reductio ad absurdum is a legitimate argument. It follows the form that if the premises are assumed to be true it necessarily leads to an absurd (false) conclusion and therefore one or more premises must be false. The term is now often used to refer to the abuse of this style of argument, by stretching the logic in order to force an absurd conclusion.
Example: If fat is bad for us then that means everything with a high fat content must also be bad for us and therefore we should never eat any of them.
12. Slippery Slope
This logical fallacy is the argument that a position is not consistent or tenable because accepting the position means that the extreme of the position must also be accepted. But moderate positions do not necessarily lead down the slippery slope to the extreme.
Example: I need to add more exercise to stay fit. In fact exercising less than I am used to cannot be the correct answer because that would mean I would lose everything I have gained, start gaining fat, have less energy and go right back to where I started.
13. Special pleading, or ad-hoc reasoning
This is a subtle fallacy which is often difficult to recognize (and one of my biggest pet peeves). In essence, it is the arbitrary introduction of new elements into an argument in order to fix them so that they appear valid.
A good example of this is the ad-hoc dismissal of negative test results.
Example: You argue that smoking has not caused you to become unfit and in fact you are fitter than most. Yet when we test you, your fitness is rated poor. You then give at least 10 reasons why you did not perform particularly well today from it being too hot, you haven’t eaten, got a slightly sore back, and don’t respond well to tests.
14. Straw Man
Arguing against a position or claim which you create specifically to be easy to argue against, rather than arguing against the real position and claim held by those who oppose your point.
Example: I may state that exercise makes you healthier. You argue that not everyone who exercises is healthy. You have just changed my “exercise makes you healthier” with “everyone who exercises is not healthy”. However, some people don’t engage in exercise appropriately or for long enough and therefore would not meet the requirements to become healthier.
Tautology is an argument that utilizes circular reasoning, which means that the conclusion is also its own premise. The structure of such arguments is A=B therefore A=B. It may not be immediately apparent when this fallacy is being used because of the way the argument is stated.
Example: Weight training increases muscle. Therefore if you weight train you will end up like the incredible hulk.
16. The Moving Goalpost
A method of denial arbitrarily moving the criteria for “proof” or acceptance out of range of whatever evidence currently exists.
Example: I say smoking kills 1200 people a day. You say “if millions of people smoke and most are still alive today, it can’t be that bad for you”.
It is easy to move the goal posts on any argument to make a claim seem false or to maintain support for a false claim.
17. Tu quoque
Literally, you too. This is an attempt to justify wrong action because someone else also does it. “My evidence may be invalid, but so is yours.”
Example: Someone sells you a diet supplement and tells you it can help with weight loss, and when questioned they point out that since other people are also selling diet supplements that don’t work anyway, why not.
18. Unstated Major Premise
This fallacy occurs when one makes an argument which assumes a premise which is not explicitly stated.
Example: Stating that it is MacDonald’s that made me fat so they are to blame. The unstated major premise is that 1. You were forced to eat MacDonald’s, 2. MacDonald’s was the only reason you are fat, 3. You would not be fat if MacDonald’s didn’t exist.
Logical fallacies are all around you. Challenge logical fallacies or simply recognise when they are being used on YOU especially to try to sell you something, argue a point or convince you of another’s opinion.
Heres a few links on Logical Fallacies: