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Ignoring a Common Cause
AKA Questionable Cause

Category: Fallacies of Presumption → Casual Fallacies

This fallacy has the following general structure:

  1. A and B are regularly connected (but no third, common cause is looked for).
  2. Therefore A is the cause of B.
This fallacy is committed when it is concluded that one thing causes another simply because they are regularly associated. More formally, this fallacy is committed when it is concluded that A is the cause of B simply because A and B are regularly connected. Further, the causal conclusion is drawn without considering the possibility that a third factor might be the cause of both A and B.

In many cases, the fallacy is quite evident. For example, if a person claimed that a person's sneezing was caused by her watery eyes and he simply ignored the fact that the woman was standing in a hay field, he would have fallen prey to the fallacy of ignoring a common cause. In this case, it would be reasonable to conclude that the woman's sneezing and watering eyes was caused by an allergic reaction of some kind. In other cases, it is not as evident that the fallacy is being committed. For example, a doctor might find a large amount of bacteria in one of her patients and conclude that the bacteria are the cause of the patient's illness. However, it might turn out that the bacteria are actually harmless and that a virus is weakening the person, Thus, the viruses would be the actual cause of the illness and growth of the bacteria (the viruses would weaken the ability of the person's body to resist the growth of the bacteria).

As noted in the discussion of other causal fallacies, causality is a rather difficult matter. However, it is possible to avoid this fallacy by taking due care. In the case of Ignoring a Common Cause, the key to avoiding this fallacy is to be careful to check for other factors that might be the actual cause of both the suspected cause and the suspected effect. If a person fails to check for the possibility of a common cause, then they will commit this fallacy. Thus, it is always a good idea to always ask "could there be a third factor that is actually causing both A and B?"

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9
Biased Generalization
AKA Biased Statistics, Loaded Sample, Prejudiced Statistics, Prejudiced Sample, Loaded Statistics, Biased Induction

Category: Fallacies of Presumption

This fallacy is committed when a person draws a conclusion about a population based on a sample that is biased or prejudiced in some manner. It has the following form:

  1. Sample S, which is biased, is taken from population P.
  2. Conclusion C is drawn about Population P based on S.
The person committing the fallacy is misusing the following type of reasoning, which is known variously as Inductive Generalization, Generalization, and Statistical Generalization:
  1. X% of all observed A's are B's.
  2. Therefore X% of all A's are B's.
The fallacy is committed when the sample of A's is likely to be biased in some manner. A sample is biased or loaded when the method used to take the sample is likely to result in a sample that does not adequately represent the population from which it is drawn.

Biased samples are generally not very reliable. As a blatant case, imagine that a person is taking a sample from a truckload of small colored balls, some of which are metal and some of which are plastic. If he used a magnet to select his sample, then his sample would include a disproportionate number of metal balls (after all, the sample will probably be made up entirely of the metal balls). In this case, any conclusions he might draw about the whole population of balls would be unreliable since he would have few or no plastic balls in the sample.

The general idea is that biased samples are less likely to contain numbers proportional to the whole population. For example, if a person wants to find out what most Americans thought about gun control, a poll taken at an NRA meeting would be a biased sample.

Since the Biased Sample fallacy is committed when the sample (the observed instances) is biased or loaded, it is important to have samples that are not biased making a generalization. The best way to do this is to take samples in ways that avoid bias. There are, in general, three types of samples that are aimed at avoiding bias. The general idea is that these methods (when used properly) will result in a sample that matches the whole population fairly closely. The three types of samples are as follows...

Random Sample: This is a sample that is taken in such a way that nothing but chance determines which members of the population are selected for the sample. Ideally, any individual member of the population has the same chance as being selected as any other. This type of sample avoids being biased because a biased sample is one that is taken in such a way that some members of the population have a significantly greater chance of being selected for the sample than other members. Unfortunately, creating an ideal random sample is often very difficult.

Stratified Sample: This is a sample that is taken by using the following steps: 1) The relevant strata (population subgroups) are identified, 2) The number of members in each stratum is determined and 3) A random sample is taken from each stratum in exact proportion to its size. This method is obviously most useful when dealing with stratified populations. For example, a person's income often influences how she votes, so when conducting a presidential poll it would be a good idea to take a stratified sample using economic classes as the basis for determining the strata. This method avoids loaded samples by (ideally) ensuring that each stratum of the population is adequately represented.

Time Lapse Sample: This type of sample is taken by taking a stratified or random sample and then taking at least one more sample with a significant lapse of time between them. After the two samples are taken, they can be compared for changes. This method of sample taking is very important when making predictions. A prediction based on only one sample is likely to be a Hasty Generalization (because the sample is likely to be too small to cover past, present and future populations) or a Biased Sample (because the sample will only include instances from one time period).

People often commit Biased Sample because of bias or prejudice. For example, a person might intentionally or unintentionally seek out people or events that support his bias. As an example, a person who is pushing a particular scientific theory might tend to gather samples that are biased in favor of that theory.

People also commonly commit this fallacy because of laziness or sloppiness. It is very easy to simply take a sample from what happens to be easily available rather than taking the time and effort to generate an adequate sample and draw a justified conclusion.

It is important to keep in mind that bias is relative to the purpose of the sample. For example, if Bill wanted to know what NRA members thought about a gun control law, then taking a sample at a NRA meeting would not be biased. However, if Bill wanted to determine what Americans in general thought about the law, then a sample taken at an NRA meeting would be biased.

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4
Fallacy of Division
Category: Fallacies of Ambiguity

The fallacy of Division is committed when a person infers that what is true of a whole must also be true of its constituents and justification for that inference is not provided. There are two main variants of the general fallacy of Division:

The first type of fallacy of Division is committed when 1) a person reasons that what is true of the whole must also be true of the parts and 2) the person fails to justify that inference with the required degree of evidence. More formally, the "reasoning" follows this sort of pattern:

  1. The whole, X, has properties A, B, C, etc.
  2. Therefore the parts of X have properties A,B,C, etc.
That this line of reasoning is fallacious is made clear by the following case: 4 is an even number. 1 and 3 are parts of 4. Therefore 1 and 3 are even.

It should be noted that it is not always fallacious to draw a conclusion about the parts of a whole based on the properties of the whole. As long as adequate evidence is provided in the argument, the reasoning can be acceptable. For example, the human body is made out of matter and it is reasonable to infer from this that the parts that make up the human body are also made out of matter. This is because there is no reason to believe that the body is made up of nonā€material parts that somehow form matter when they get together.

The second version of the fallacy of division is committed when a person 1) draws a conclusion about the properties of individual members of a class or group based on the collective properties of the class or group and 2) there is not enough justification for the conclusion. More formally, the line of "reasoning" is as follows:

  1. As a collective, group or class X has properties A,B,C, etc.
  2. Therefore the individual members of group or class X have properties A,B,C, etc.
That this sort of reasoning is fallacious can be easily shown by the following: It is true that athletes, taken as a group, are football players, track runners, swimmers, tennis players, long jumpers, pole vaulters and such. But it would be fallacious to infer that each individual athlete is a football player, a track runner, a swimmer, a tennis player, a swimmer, etc.

It should be noted that it is not always fallacious to draw a conclusion about an individual based on what is true of the class he/she/it belongs to. If the inference is backed by evidence, then the reasoning can be fine. For example, it is not fallacious to infer that Bill the Siamese cat is a mammal from the fact that all cats are mammals. In this case, what is true of the class is also true of each individual member.

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8
Poisoning the Well
Category: Fallacies of Relevance (Red Herrings) → Ad hominems (Genetic Fallacies)

This sort of "reasoning" involves trying to discredit what a person might later claim by presenting unfavorable information (be it true or false) about the person. This "argument" has the following form:

  1. Unfavorable information (be it true or false) about person A is presented.
  2. Therefore any claims person A makes will be false.
This sort of "reasoning" is obviously fallacious. The person making such an attack is hoping that the unfavorable information will bias listeners against the person in question and hence that they will reject any claims he might make. However, merely presenting unfavorable information about a person (even if it is true) hardly counts as evidence against the claims he/she might make. This is especially clear when Poisoning the Well is looked at as a form of ad Hominem in which the attack is made prior to the person even making the claim or claims. The following example clearly shows that this sort of "reasoning" is quite poor.

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8
False Dilemma
AKA Black & White Thinking

Category: Fallacies of Presumption

A False Dilemma is a fallacy in which a person uses the following pattern of "reasoning":

  1. Either claim X is true or claim Y is true (when X and Y could both be false).
  2. Claim Y is false.
  3. Therefore claim X is true.
This line of "reasoning" is fallacious because if both claims could be false, then it cannot be inferred that one is true because the other is false. That this is the case is made clear by the following example:
  1. Either 1+1 =4 or 1+1=12.
  2. It is not the case that 1+1 = 4.
  3. Therefore 1+1 =12.
In cases in which the two options are, in fact, the only two options, this line of reasoning is not fallacious. For example:
  1. Bill is dead or he is alive.
  2. Bill is not dead.
  3. Therefore Bill is alive.

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457
Slippery Slope
AKA The Camel's Nose

Category: Fallacies of Presumption → Casual Fallacies

The Slippery Slope is a fallacy in which a person asserts that some event must inevitably follow from another without any argument for the inevitability of the event in question. In most cases, there are a series of steps or gradations between one event and the one in question and no reason is given as to why the intervening steps or gradations will simply be bypassed. This "argument" has the following form:

  1. Event X has occurred (or will or might occur).
  2. Therefore event Y will inevitably happen.
This sort of "reasoning" is fallacious because there is no reason to believe that one event must inevitably follow from another without an argument for such a claim. This is especially clear in cases in which there are a significant number of steps or gradations between one event and another.

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