This week we take a look at one of the tastier fallacies - Having Your Cake. Have you ever encountered someone who seemed like they were playing both sides but couldn’t figure out what was up? Then you’re in the right place. Oh and somehow we get a little camping in too.
It’s spring when I’m writing this and I’ve been out getting to lawn work, cleaning up the property and taking the time to see everything bloom. The few fruit trees we have are certainly flowering and already my mind is wandering forward to picking and processing. While stopping to smell the roses I was reminded of an odd study that proved a diet of just tree bark was effective for weight loss. The study showed that eating a diet of mainly tree bark helped participants shed the pounds.
That sounded a bit weird, so further digging was required. It turns out that this study was done on 25 people – a small group but this is an odd bit of research so we’ll allow it. Participants were asked to make tree bark at least 65% of their intake every day for 4 weeks. They could do what they want with – straight crunching, puree, paste, boiled, mashed, fried, anything. Of the 25 people, 2 actually did lose significant weight and that’s what was reported. But what about the other 23 you ask? Of those, 12 reported no change, 4 actually gained weight (maybe they did the fried bark), 5 became extremely ill and had to quit (you really shouldn’t eat tree bark!) and the last two started mumbling incoherently about Groot. This is a classic example of cherry picking – the study found a few examples that proved its effectiveness and then either ignored or under reported the rest.
Doing all that research made me hungry so it was time to find some pizza. It is the accepted post research food! A quick check told me the two styles are Chicago Deep Dish and New York. Since I’m in the Northeast US I have to like New York style. Even thinking about a Chicago Deep Dish is grounds for incarceration. But wait, I thought, this is pizza, ubiquitous and delicious, don’t I have more than 2 options? I could go for a stuffed crust which to me seems like deep dish around the edge with NY in the middle. Or tomato pie, also a specialty here in the Northeast US that’s just bread with cold tomato sauce topping which is sort of deep dish, I think? Meat lovers 4 cheese thin crust – sure it’s NY style but there are so many toppings it’s pretty thick. I suddenly realized I had a false dichotomy on my hands. I was told there were only two options, when in fact there were many. So, I had fried chicken.
After that little snack it was time to get back to the yard work. Since I live on a farm, sometimes people stop to ask animal and farming type questions. Today I was asked if I had any plans to raise beefalids, to which I responded “uh ….”. I said this sounds like cross between a cow and a worm and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist. The response I got was “Sure they do”. So, I asked to see one. At this point the person said it wasn’t their job to show me one, but since I’m the one who doesn’t believe they are real then I have to prove they don’t exist. Darn that proving non-existence fallacy! You see, its generally very difficult, if not impossible, to prove that something doesn’t exist. Instead, the burden of proof should always be on the one stating the existence. I don’t like to see someone leave angry, but this person headed off in a huff muttering something about stopping for a worm burger.
These are examples of fallacious arguments. They exist everywhere and they aren’t always done to deceive, sometimes we don’t even know we’re using them. Such an argument doesn’t necessarily mean an incorrect conclusion, either. It’s quite possible that beefalids do exist, but someone must prove it first as opposed to make me disprove it. In too many cases, though, someone might be looking to trick you and it’s good to look at their arguments and evidence. Studies are especially prone to cherry picking where the conformational data is reported and the rest is ignored or down played. The current US political climate is heavy with false dichotomies, telling us we have only two choices, when in fact things are much more nuanced and grey. Proving non-existence may seem silly but it’s all too common especially when the goal is to refute an established fact – I sleep on a pillow full of oregano to improve my complexion and you can’t prove it doesn’t help me so therefore it does.