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SKEPTOID BLOG:

An Addition to the List of Logical Fallacies

by Eric Hall

March 23, 2013

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Donate This week, I ran across an old classic argument the anti-vaccine people use as a reason not to get vaccines. It takes various forms in how it is presented, but the premise surrounds the fact there are companies and people that make money from vaccines, thus they are inherently evil. In some cases, the government is involved because these people and companies contribute to campaigns. Depending on the form and the way it is presented, it can fall under a few different off what I call "main category" logical fallacies. I am starting to think, however, that perhaps this argument needs its own category.

There are several places to find lists of logical fallacies. Here are some of the ones I look at to help increase my knowledge and to improve my skills at identifying the type of logical fallacy being made in an argument:
  • The Nizkor Project Fallacy list - I like this site because it provides simple examples to help guide me to the correct identification of the fallacy. The navigation isn't the greatest, but part of me likes it because I end up reading several examples each time, which helps me improve my knowledge.

  • The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe Top 20 Fallacy list - This is another great site with detailed explanations and examples. I assume Dr. Novella played at least a part in writing this page, and his writing is always intelligent and complex, yet clear. I do wish it had better organization and that they would expand the list, but the reading is excellent nonetheless.

  • The Thou Shall Not Commit Logical Fallacies site (WITH POSTER!) - This is another site with great examples and explanations. I also enjoy the bit of humor in the icons associated with each fallacy. The poster is an excellent addition, and is something everyone should have in their home or office!

  • The Logical Fallacies website - I am not sure what else to call this. What I like in this site is the explanation of the taxonomy of fallacies. They also provide examples.

  • A college English course list of fallacies - This is a very interesting list. It either "renames" some fallacies from other typical lists, and in a few cases adds new ones which may fall under other categories, but perhaps do deserve their own designation. I enjoy the more common language approach to this list. The other lists to this point use the typical style for identifying fallacies, something that is not always helpful to those still learning to better identify them.

  • The RationalWiki list - Not that this has something new compared to the others, but I like the wiki-style organization.

What I would propose is perhaps we need a fallacy added to the list, one that I call the Capitalistic Fallacy. Many developed countries have an economy that is some form of capitalism. Thus people expect in those economies to be compensated for their labor. However, the fallacy takes the form of that if someone makes money at something, it is automatically corrupt and evil. Thus, in the case of vaccines, those who don't believe the science assume that vaccines are only there to make money for doctors and pharmaceutical companies. Certainly money is a motivating factor in continuing to manufacture vaccines, but the money continues to come in because the science behind them shows they are effective. Note: Let's not start arguing the relative effectiveness. I know some are not 100% effective, such as the flu vaccine, but I am grouping vaccines together as a whole, where the effectiveness is well demonstrated overall.

This is not to say the desire to make money or continue an income stream isn't a cause for concern. What I am saying is the fact that someone makes money from something cannot be the only argument for concluding something is wrong or in error. In the case of vaccines, there are decades of research and decades of statistics that show the benefits FAR outweigh the risks. Thus, even though people profit from them, they do provide an excellent benefit in saving human lives.

In contrast, there are people who do benefit from things not backed by science. These are things like chiropractic, homeopathy, and acupuncture. Depending on the case, some may deliberately ignore the fact there is no science backing their practice, and choose to keep profiting anyway. Others may be ignorant of the scientific process, and are fooled by the bad information available, or even convinced by an anecdote and thus continue the practice.

I don't think making money alone is something that can identify someone doing fraud science, but it is always something to keep in mind whenever looking at the larger scenario. Even those who normally do good science could be biased and either accidentally or purposely miss something, and thus putting profit over science. Everyone needs money to live, and having more certainly makes things more comfortable. It should always be weighed against the other evidence, but by itself should not be evidence to prove or disprove someone's motive.

A couple of the lists above include fallacies of "appeal to poverty" and "appeal to wealth." However, these I don't feel quite fit with the idea of profiting, more they are fallacies of current economic status. I think because the specific profit motive is so often used to refute good science, it deserves its own designation. The Capitalistic Fallacy would be a fallacy where one argues that because someone makes money on a product, the product is concluded to be bad. I feel this is a valid fallacy because the conclusion cannot follow directly from the premise. In order for the conclusion to be true, there must be some other intervening information.

I look forward to your thoughts on adding this to the list. Depending on the feedback, I may even go modify RationalWiki myself!

by Eric Hall

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