Keep hammering the antivaxxers!

By Phil Plait | August 16, 2009 8:00 am

The Australian skeptics are still hammering away at Meryl Dorey, the Australian Vaccination Network, and their (to be charitable) distortions of the truth. It’s nice to see.

And what we have seen is that, like a pinata when that critical blow is made, a torrent of dumbosity comes out.

Which brings up an interesting point. A lot of people think that using an ad hominem — an argument that attacks the person and not the issue –is a logical fallacy. That’s not necessarily the case. For example, if someone on the street walks up to me and say, "Aliens speaking with the voice of Glenn Beck are sitting on my shoulders and forcing me to eat brussel sprouts, and Obama’s health care plan will set up death panels," then there is some merit in questioning the person’s sanity before wondering if what they say about the health care plan is true.

So if you’re inclined to give Meryl Dorey and her AVN group the benefit of the doubt, you might want to read up on some of the other, um, stuff they believe. It may open your eyes.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience, Debunking, Skepticism
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Comments (81)

Links to this Post

  1. Ad hominem « skeptigirl | August 16, 2009
  1. “Aliens speaking with the voice of Glenn Beck are sitting on my shoulders and forcing me to eat brussel sprouts, and Obama’s health care plan will set up death panels,”
    _____________

    Not so sure I’d dismiss this outright. Have you heard the crap that’s been coming out of Glenn Beck’s mouth lately? That’s definitely some kind of alien logic, cause it sure ain’t human.

  2. jasonB

    Oh oh, health care debate ahead. Be careful what you write, the White House may be alerted.

    I’m surprised that Phil hasn’t hit this topic earlier. For me it comes down to the FACT that Obama wanted to sign this bill before the summer recess. He still doesn’t, nor do any of the congress “people” know whats in it. And they’ve exempted themselves from it.

    Anybody want to take that deal feel free, but I’m going to oppose them the whole way.

    By the way, were out of money.

  3. Becca Stareyes

    jasonB @ 2

    Doesn’t change the fact that ‘death panels’ are a scare tactic. You can debate the health care bill(s) based on merits, but running around saying things that aren’t true and are heavily weighted to boot is not helpful for either side — those opposed look like lunatics because of their fringe and those for have to waste time dealing with the crazies (or at least damage control) instead of dealing with more reasonable objections.

    And I don’t think the White House cares what we say on Phil’s blog. Hell, if people are at least getting the facts right, that’s better than many places on the ‘net.

  4. Hey Phil, speaking of antivaxxers, look what I just saw on Respectful Insolence: http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/08/tom_son_of_jack_chick_gives_a_heads_up_u.php

  5. Mena

    Isn’t it interesting that Big Pharma is bad for wanting to sell vaccines but good for gouging for heart pills (etc)?

  6. gruebait

    Excellent point.

    Glenn Beck is an excellent example – all I know of him is what I have seen in video clips used to illustrate scathing criticisms of him. As evidence-based as I insist that my imperfect little brain should be, I have no intention of ever watching his show.

    Raving dumbosity can’t be good for you.

    (Crap. Now I can hear William Shatner screaming “GLENN-N-N-N!”)

  7. bigjohn756

    I do not think that attacking a persons sanity or their lack of willingness to think is really an Ad hominem fallacy. It is simply pointing out facts about their behavior.

  8. Mike

    Speaking of death panels, I found this to be a fascinating commentary on the state of debate in this nation:

    http://slacktivist.typepad.com/slacktivist/2009/08/an-argument.html

  9. John

    Oh dear phil,

    google “polio mutating vaccine”

    Nasty stuff….

  10. Leander

    “…then there is some merit in questioning the person’s sanity before wondering if what they say about the health care plan is true.”

    That’s wrong. And confused.

    a) A lack of sanity does not logically mean that someone is making a false claim. Hence “fallacy”. It’s a worthless way to assert the truth of a claim. Should be obvious.

    b) The only merit questioning someone’s sanity has is asserting the likelihood of them speaking well-informed, or the truth. Why waste your time with that though instead of simply looking at the claim right away ?

    c) If we’re talking logical fallacies already, using the claim that there is some merit “in questioning the person’s sanity” as an argument against ad hominems is a straw-men – ad hominems are not about questioning beliefs or traits of a person in reply to a claim made by that person, they’re about attacking them. Subtle (?) difference.

  11. Actually, the funny thing is that the conspiracy theory detailed in the link, actually comes from one the craziest of conspiracy theorists out there today; David Icke. The only real difference between the AVN version and the original is that the AVN excluded the bit about the alien/human lizards who rule the Earth…

    http://trueslant.com/gregfish/2009/08/06/vaccines-the-evil-alien-conspiracy/

  12. amphiox

    ad hominem is a fallacy only when the individual is attacked in a manner irrelevant to the claim. Person A claims “The sky is green, not blue, I saw it with my own eyes.”, and Person B says “Person A beats his wife, therefore we should not believe his claim about the sky.”

    If Person B instead says “Person A is green-blue color-blind, therefore his claim about the sky’s color should not be believed,” that is not a fallacy (even if it might be ad hominem).

  13. Ah, the Illuminati…and the Rothschilds…why is it always the poor, poor, Rothchilds. Unless…oh dear Gawd! It’s a conspiracy to promote conspiracies about the Rothschilds!

    Why is there a moebius strip whirling around in my brain?

  14. Moose

    Some unnamed (and totally random) former governor is wrong about ‘death panels’ because she’s nuts. = Ad hominem.

    The same (still totally random) former governor may be nuts because her repeated statements about ‘death panels’ are so totally divorced from reality they fail even the most basic scrutiny. = Logically valid conclusion if the premise (based on a layperson’s understanding of ‘nuts’) holds.

  15. @kuhnigget

    Well, see, the anti-vaxers are actually all on the take from Big PharmaTM. See, Big PharmaTM knows that there is more money to be made if the diseases return, so they hire these shills to spread fear about vaccines. Some of the shills, though, go a bit nutty and cast doubt on the whole operation, claiming vast, illuminated conspiracies about Roth’s kids.

    And before any of Meryl Dorey’s supporters or like-minded folks start spouting that vaccines are eeeee-ville, please read the info at http://antiantivax.flurf.net for some enlightenment.

  16. Hey, there is Facts, not Fantasy too: http://factsnotfantasy.com/vaccines.html 😀

    Check out the sub menus on DEATH, Coincidence, and just celebrity nonsense.

  17. i think little aliens are sitting on the shoulder of Glenn Beck, either that or fox news is a master at poe’s law

  18. Pete

    Re the “other” things the AVN idiots believe – H1N1 as a killer plague. Why didn’t they use avian flu, which looks to be far more severe than H1N1, which has a 6% fatality rate for hospitalized cases, based on CDC number for this week (7511 hospitalized cases, 411 deaths)?

  19. Josh

    Sorry Phil, but ad hominem is always a fallacy. While a person may possess objectionable qualities, that is insufficient to establish their argument as invalid.

    If you are implying that all of Meryl Dorey’s arguments about vaccinations are false because she believes a conspiracy theory that you find silly, you are guilty of committing the fallacy.

  20. Josh, it is not always a fallacy. Part of the process of analyzing data is knowing the source. I am not saying you should dismiss the testimony of someone because they are not an authority (nor the opposite of accepting testimony because someone is an authority) but that all things being equal and in the real world, if someone believes in a hundred wacky conspiracy theories, then I may not give much weight to Number 101.

  21. Dave H

    “Which brings up an interesting point. A lot of people think that using an ad hominem — an argument that attacks the person and not the issue –is a logical fallacy. That’s not necessarily the case.”

    Sooo–this justifies all the trash talk by you and your knee-jerk sceptic posse?

    I quit following you and your blog a few months back, because I was looking for more on astronomy and less ranting about everything else. Just thought I’d check back to see if anything has changed. Apparently not.

    Before I get written off as an AVN, IDer religious whacko. I want to point out I am none of the above.
    I am, however, annoyed and embarassed by the infantile name calling committed by supposedly scientific and objective people here and elsewhere. Apparently, civility is not a virtue recognized by modern science.

    Dr. Plait, I have both “Bad Astronomy” and “Death From The Skies” and I found them well written, enjoyable and informative. Too bad your blog strayed so far from what you are truly good at: making astronomy more accessable to the public.

    Perhaps you should change the title of this blog to “Siege Mentality Sceptics,” before you are procecuted for a violtion of some truth in advertising statutes.

  22. Jefferson

    I’m so scared of the swine flu that I will do anything the Government tells me to protect myself and my loved ones from that deadly plague!!!

    Please tell me where I can get the vaccine!!! Please, oh puhleeeeeaze!!!

    Think you’ve been POE’D?

    Wrong!

    You’ve been TWAIN’ED!

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1206807/Swine-flu-jab-link-killer-nerve-disease-Leaked-letter-reveals-concern-neurologists-25-deaths-America.html

  23. But you said “logical fallacy”, and it /is/ always a /logical/ fallacy. Yeah, at a /pragmatic/ level, looniez iz looniez, but at a /logical/ level, the fact that, say, Velikovsky believed that Jupiter was hot doesn’t make it cold.

    Replace “logical fallacy” with “error”, and I’m cool.

  24. Jefferson, that Daily Mail article is full of it. Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a well-known potential side effect of vaccinations, and has been studied at length. Using that to say that vaccines are linked to a “killer nerve disease” is like saying that eating leads to death — after all, everyone who’s ever died at some point ate something.

  25. DaveH (#22), this is a blog, not a book. I make it clear in my commenting policy and in my post about religion and politics (both linked in the sidebar) that this blog is not about astronomy, but science, skepticism, antiscience, opinion, and yes astronomy. I don’t see you complaining about my linking to cartoons, or Doctor Who. Those aren’t astronomy either.

    It doesn’t matter what I write about, people will complain. So I write about what’s important to me. If it’s not important to you, then feel free to go away. But spare me the drama; read this before leaving.

  26. Josh

    Phil, if an argument is not fallacious, then it cannot be an ad hominem; calling it such is a misuse of the term. Instead of saying that ad hominem isn’t always fallacious, you should have said an attack on a person’s credibility isn’t always ad hominem.

  27. I’m just going to weigh in on fallacies really quick, as someone in the field of logic:

    (and just bare with me Phil, I’m agreeing with you, it just doesn’t sound like it at the beginning)

    Ad hominem is a fallacy, which occurs when you attack the arguer him/herself, rather than the arguments.
    HOWEVER
    Another fallacy is the “appeal to unqualified authority” fallacy (not as catchy a name as “ad hom”). This occurs when an arguer sites, as a source of their information, someone who is not qualified in the least to be an expert on that piece of information.
    For example: “Well, Sarah Palin says that they’re are death panels in the health care bill, so there are.”
    You see how the premises are faulty in setting up the conclusion, because the force of the conclusion depends on the validity of the premises. Here, one of the “understood” premises is that Sarah Palin knows something about that health care bill (an assumption which would normally be reasonable to make, given her status as a state-leader, but which has obviously been proved incorrect many times in the past).

    The “true” syllogism of this argument would read something like:

    Sarah Palin says there are death panels in the bill.
    Sarah Palin knows about the bill.
    Therefore, there are death panels in the bill.

    However, you can see how the fallacy of appeal to unqualified authority occurs here, and how that invalidates the argument.

    So yes Phil, we logicians stand up for you! You are correct in saying that the credibility of a source must be called into question in order to understand if an argument is valid, if indeed that credibility weighs into the validity of the argument. That is not an ad hom, that is logic.

    P.S. You wouldn’t happen to have any clout over at University of Boulder, would you? I’m trying to get into a PhD program there next year and I’m nervous…

  28. Dave H

    You are correct. It is a blog and as such, is going to in any direction you choose. As far as Dr Who– no accounting for taste. :)

    No drama intended. I was trying to point out that civility may help gain more support that hostility. And hostility promotes further hostility which does nothing to open channels of dialogue.
    For example: The exchange between Neil Degrasse Tyson and Richard Dawkins: http://www.haydenplanetarium.org/tyson/watch/beyondbelief/2006-11-05-tyson-rebukes-dawkins

    However, it is your blog.

    Please accept my apologies for flying off the handle.

  29. Jefferson

    @ Phil Plait

    Oh, la la ! Comme vous y allez, mon ami !

    “Using that to say that vaccines are linked to a “killer nerve disease” is like saying that eating leads to death — after all, everyone who’s ever died at some point ate something.”

    That’s stretching it a tad, laddie! Go tell that to the thousands of people who are dying of hunger every day on this planet.

    But, after all, perhaps you are right: if I am to die because of what I eat, at least I will have made an informed decision about what goes and what goes not into my body.

  30. DaveH: I get a lot of people who come here and complain about what I write, so I take a firm stance on it. I appreciate your followup. Thanks.

    As for you Jefferson, I was making an example, y’know, exaggeration to the point of absurdity. That’s what the Daily Mail has done, but they left off the “just kidding” part.

  31. Leander

    “…but that all things being equal and in the real world, if someone believes in a hundred wacky conspiracy theories, then I may not give much weight to Number 101.”

    And that’s fine, but that’s not an ad hominem. Claiming that because someone “believes in a hundred wacky conspiracy theories” means they’re wrong about No.101 is. Is it so hard to see the difference ? You surely don’t feel you could be certain that No.101 is wrong just because the previous ones were wacky ?

  32. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    I urge you to do some research, proper research, not government health department propoganda, or pro-vaxer nutter propoganda; most of it is junk science. Pause to think about what peer-reviewed means. Self-regulation by any other name. [From the link to Bernice L comment to Toni McCaffery.]

    Uh oh, self-regulation of “propoganda” is Elitist Fail!

  33. Roen

    It was always my opinion that the credibility of a claim relies on the credibility of the claimer. Would a sensible person trust a given stranger to watch their child while they ran into a liquor store? No, of course not, they have no idea who the person is or their intent. Will the person take the child and sell it on the black market? Or will the person in fact watch the child? So calling Palin’s credibility into question is not only allowed, but a must.

    The question of credibility is required whenever we get information from another human. Humans are talented deceivers. The onus of credibility is not on the one stating a claim, if it was Palin wouldn’t lie, or at the very least would have shut up and gotten more info before responding officially. I don’t know if it ever was on the claimant, but now the onus is on the receiver. As we gather information we have to be darned sure we are dealing with the facts before we even consider spreading untruth to others.

    It is not a fallacy to ensure that the truth propagates, or to stem the tide of lies. It is no holy quest, it is no haughty ideal, it is not simply to anger a few lazy thinkers. It is to sanitize our brains of the informational scum that floats to the surface of our minds and compels us to believe in impossible things, improbable things… and yes, outright lies.

    Clear Skies, guys

  34. The nail went in the coffin for the government option of President Obama’s healthcare plan today. We should all be thankful. Until we can produce more doctors, medicines, hospitals, and treatments at lower costs (i.e increase the supply of healthcare while decreasing costs) we will continue to have a healthcare shortage in the country. A bunch of government debt spending would do as much to improve healthcare as would government spending to build cars if the country was in a steel shortage.

  35. ND

    Is Glenn Beck for real? Rush is for real. He believes in his own crap. But Beck? Does he believe everything he says? Is he Rush wanna be? I guess what I’m asking is if his tv personality is for real.

  36. Bahdum (aka Richard)

    Phil, we got one of the multiple-in-1-conspiracy-nutter in US. His name is Dr. Leonard Horowitz. If you haven’t already, keep an eye, ear, and nostril open for him. He’s got some real stinkers.

    He believes in the Grand Conspiracy (NWO, and sh…stuff), anti-vaxx, fluoridation/chlorination conspiracy, and creationism. And, yes, he has his own line of snake-oil medicine…or, rather, snake-water.

  37. Jefferson

    @ Phil Plait

    You say the Daily Mail’s article is “exaggeration to the absurd” and that it has left out the “just kidding part”. I see the humor in your statement, and can appreciate it.

    Well, I say the same goes for your blog entry. Can you see the humor in my statement and appreciate it equally?

  38. PeteC

    Watching the US health debate from a comfortable distance, I have to say it’s astounding how much phenomenal junk is being promoted as fact. Take, for example, some of the “known facts” about the terrible, evil “socialized” British National Health Service. We apparently have to get government bureaucrats to sign off on any treatment, we apparently have checks to stop “unworthy” people who are old or infirm from wasting money on treatment, it apparently costs us an enormous amount, we practice euthenasia and maybe even eugenics… right. Slightly less true than believing that all Americans shout “Yippie-kai-yay!” five times a day while shooting off their six-guns at random people in brawls in the saloon they rode into while dodging savage ‘injun attacks, wearing their ten-gallon hats and talking about “that there new fancy railroad technology their buildin'” because you don’t have cars yet.

    Now, it’s perfectly reasonable to debate the type of health care you want. It’s not up to us, or anyone, to tell you what you should do. But lying about us in an attempt to scare your own people away from certain possibilities *is* something we have a right to comment on.

    For all the claims of “My Reference Frame” and others above, our “socialist” system costs us half, per person, what yours does. We have a life expectancy two years longer and more beds and nurses per person . We’re a shoddy 18th on the world health care chart – but you guys are 37th. I can go and see my doctor tomorrow if I wish – and I will never, ever have to deal with any bureaucrat at all, with the possible exception of having to go and register with a new clinic if I move area, or ring the receptionist at the clinic to make an appointment.

    It’s definitely not perfect, of course – there’s a lot less marble and ornamental fountains in our hospitals, and we do indeed have waiting lists for a lot of non-critical issues (I will have to wait something like two months to get physiotherapy for a mild ache in my left hip), but critical stuff is usually dealt with promptly and well. If I wish to skip waiting lists, I can of course, always get private health care as well. We don’t fund our system nearly as well as some do, it, like all large systems, makes the occasional mistake, and it has a few creaks here and there – but, heck, what can you expect for spending half what the US does per person?

    I guess the biggest difference in the two systems is illustrated by one point – in the UK, the thought that someone might worry about changing job due to the problem of getting health care, or be worried if they can afford their insulin for this month, or not go to the doctor with a lump in their breast for fear of the cost, or hold a fundraiser to pay for an urgently-needed procedure, or have to fill in forms and try to justify why they are covered for treatment, or open a free clinic supported by charity (why?) or sit there at night crying not about their health, but whether or not they can get medical care for it, is pretty much barbaric – even abhorent. Those are horror stories here.

  39. PeteC

    Oh, to back up what I was saying:

    Here’s an American’s view, who has experience both systems:
    http://potentialandexpectations.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/this-americans-experience-of-britains-healthcare-system/

    And here’s some nice statistics to to illustrate my point:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2009/aug/12/nhs-us-healthcare-obama

  40. Carter

    Anyone played Deus Ex? Well, if you read that article about Meryl Dorey, I guess she has! In fact she might be a little obsessed with the Deus Ex world. She needs treatment.

  41. Phil, even if the person in your example is insane, that doesn’t mean that what he says isn’t true. I must examine each claim on its own, assuming whether it’s true or not matters to me. To do otherwise is to succumb to a logical fallacy, whatever name you want to use for it.

    Also, you seem to be implying that NOT automatically disbelieving the claims of a crazy person (assuming you know the person’s mental state for a fact) means giving them “the benefit of the doubt.” Well, if taking the time to verify or falsify a person’s claim to one’s own satisfaction is a “benefit,” then I guess that’s true. “Benefit of the doubt” implies to me that you think that anyone who doesn’t automatically question them automatically believes them and requires additional evidence of the person’s “craziness” (not of the falsity of the claim in question) to be convinced.

    Logical fallacies cut both ways. Now that you’ve taken this tone, anyone looking for evidence against any of your claims can point to your use of logical fallacies as “proof” that nothing you (or anyone who believes you) is true. You’re making the fight against false claims harder than it needs to be.

  42. Chris

    A question to “My Reference Frame” and PeteC… What in the world does that have to do with Australia and Meryl Dorey?

  43. Mikel

    Health care? My concern is not health care, it’s big government. I for one do not want the federal government taking control of another 1/6 of our gross nationl product.

    It’s that simple.

  44. Travis

    Paul, the issue isn’t that you “disbelieve” the person for previously saying wacky things that have constantly turned out to be wrong, it is that you won’t believe it as a “truth.” You reserve the right that it might be true but are inclined to believe it is not until it is otherwise validated. We teach kids about “The Boy who cried Wolf” for a reason you know.

  45. Pulling from my own (dittobusters.com) website:
    Argumentum Ad Hominem
    Basically “namecalling”. The “ad hominem” comes from the Latin, and means “to the man” – it refers to attacking the person, not their ideas. Personal attacks per se are not always inappropriate, but ONLY if it is relevant to the subject under discussion.
    -additional-
    FROM: How To Think About Weird Things
    Theodore Schick,Jr. & Lewis Vaughn (used with permission)

    Appeal to the Person
    When someone tries to rebut an argument by criticizing or denigrating its presenter rather than by dealing with the argument itself, that person is guilty of the fallacy of appeal to the person. This fallacy is referred to as ad hominem, or “to the man.” For example: “This theory has been proposed by a believer in the occult. Why should we take it seriously?” Or: “You can’t believe Dr. Jones’s claim that there is no evidence for life after death. After all, he’s an atheist.” The flaw in these arguments is obvious: an argument stands or falls on its own merits; who proposes it is irrelevant to its soundness. Crazy people can come up with perfectly sound arguments, and sane people can talk nonsense.

    -fallacy tutorial download –
    http://www.macinmind.com/?pid=2&progid=4&subpid=1

    31. Phil Plait Says:

    As for you Jefferson, I was making an example, y’know, exaggeration to the point of absurdity
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reductio_ad_absurdum 😉

    36. ND Says:

    Is Glenn Beck for real? Rush is for real. He believes in his own crap. But Beck? Does he believe everything he says? Is he Rush wanna be? I guess what I’m asking is if his tv personality is for real.

    Beck is real, Limbaugh’s the media prostitute (years ago, The New American – published by the far-right John Birch Society – had an article that trashed Limbaugh, saying he would switch to ‘liberal’ if the money was better – I hope to find my copy, it’s been pulled from the Internet). As for Beck, check out the video RE: Stephen Hawking at this link: http://mediamatters.org/blog/200908140035 . Beck appears to suffer from Bipolar Affective Disorder – going from raving to crying.

    J/P=?

  46. Ernest

    Phil, I think you should heed Carl Sagan’s warning:

    “…The chief deficiency I see in the skeptical movement is its polarization: Us vs. Them — the sense that we have a monopoly on the truth; that those other people who believe in all these stupid doctrines are morons; that if you’re sensible, you’ll listen to us; and if not, to hell with you. This is nonconstructive. It does not get our message across. It condemns us to permanent minority status.” – Carl Sagan

    “People are not stupid. They believe things for reasons. The last way for skeptics to get the attention of bright, curious, intelligent people is to belittle or condescend or to show arrogance toward their beliefs.” – Carl Sagan

    “The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion or in politics, but it is not the path to knowledge, and there’s no place for it in the endeavor of science.” – Carl Sagan

  47. after all, everyone who’s ever died at some point ate something.

    I am nit picking, but this is not completely true. Not everyone has eaten, unless you are counting the use of nutrients through the placenta as eating. Stillborn children, those who die of starvation/failure to thrive may not eat.

    Similarly, some may never breathe, unless you count the delivery of oxygen in the blood and the removal of CO2, so claiming that everyone who has ever died has breathed, would be similarly not completely correct.

    Any healthy person who has ever lived, has eaten and breathed. That would be an accurate example. The exceptions are certainly not examples of even remotely desirable health. Your point is valid, just not technically completely accurate.

  48. I wholeheartedly agree with what PeteC wrote.

    Like the UK, we have a universal health care system in my country (the Netherlands).

    As a result we Dutch rank among the longest living people on this planet, with one of the lowest infant death rates (the US rate is over 2.5 times as large). We are among the healthiest people on this planet. Our hospitals are modern, and if I call now, chances are I can consult my GP today or at worst tomorrow. Without having to worry about footing the bill.

    Oh: and there are no “death panels” here. I also point out again that we are amongst the longest living people on this planet.

    And if WE can succesfully do it, why can’t you? After all, isn’t America supposed to be the country where “impossible” is not in the dictionary?

    To Europeans like us, the opposition to universal health care ideas in the US is completely uncomprehensible, the “arguments” put forward laughable, and frankly, we feel those who object are morons, fearmongers, or people with a hidden agenda.

    News Flash: you already HAVE your “death panels”.

    They consist of people like that former governor and vice-presidential candidate, who block a healthy health care system by spreading fear and nonsense. As a result, 2.5 times as much of your children die compared to ours.

    Thinks about that again. 2.5 times as much of your children die because of the manipulation of a few Neocons in shady back-rooms…

    There’s your death panel for you.

  49. @22. Dave H,

    I quit following you and your blog a few months back, because I was looking for more on astronomy and less ranting about everything else. Just thought I’d check back to see if anything has changed. Apparently not.

    If you wish to control the content, perhaps you should start your own blog.

    Perhaps you should change the title of this blog to “Siege Mentality Sceptics,” before you are procecuted for a violtion of some truth in advertising statutes.

    Are you looking for the place to file your claim for double your money back?

    Does it really matter if you are an AVN, IDer religious whacko? You seem to be more along the lines of the woman who stalked David Letterman, insisting she was his wife. You wish to control the content of this blog, yet you have no more authority than David Letterman’s stalker to influence content.

    Did you ever post comments on the posts about astronomy, or do you just look for posts that are not on astronomy, so that you can complain? Should we really worry about the specific DSM-IV category your whacko-ness falls into?

    Prosecuted? :-)

    You will be much more likely to be successful in starting your own blog, than prosecuting BA for content that you do not like. Of course, you can put up fliers for your brilliant blog at your world domination meetings.

  50. Cory

    Ad hominem is always a fallacy. You can use someone’s character to determine whether or not they are a reliable source, but you cannot use it logically to judge the truth value of their statement directly. Hitler was a crazy guy who also happened to be a (pseudo)-vegetarian. If he says “eating meat is brutal”, the veracity of that statement has absolutely nothing to do with his beliefs, character, appearance, actions, etc.

    @48.: A high infant death rate doesn’t say all that much about quality of care, tbh. It says something about access to care, which may or may not have much to do with the health system. It also says a lot about lifestyle choice, and young American women (those most likely to be pregnant) are also our greatest binge drinking demographic. There’ s a lot of data to examine, in any event. One single statistic does not tell you everything. I’m on the fence about national health care for the record. I like the idea, but the American federal government is a corrupt and indolent beast who will sell out our health as much as corporations do. The main difference between that situation and what we have now is that it is generally much easier to switch health providers than it is to switch governments (particularly with our 99% Congressional retention rate).

    Back to my point, correlation does not imply causation. I could say that your healthcare system is what makes you fall prey to making the mistake of believing in such an implicature, for instance. You have to explain why there is a difference, and you’re just making postulations until you can really exhaustively look at all the angles of the question.

  51. PeteC

    Chris: You’re right that it has little to do with Australia and Meryl Dorey, but the thread had already veered off course before I added my little contribution.

    It’s also not intended to be a statement of what is appropriate for the US – that’s something for US citizens to decide – but it was intended to be a skeptical post. When complete lies are told about a topic purely for political purpose, whether it is evolution, vaccination or the nature of another nation’s health care system, it is appropriate, I think, to challenge these lies.

  52. Roen

    Attacking a person’s credibility is not at all the same as attacking the person.

    “You are a complete dolt, which is why this idea of your is a bad one.” Is attacking the person. The fact that the person is a dolt is not relevant to whatever the idea is. I suppose even a dolt can have a good idea or say something profound on occasion. But being a dolt does not preclude the validity of one’s statements.

    This is very clearly a personal attack, but what makes it personal is the subject of the attack, being a dolt. The focus is removed from the topic, the idea, and placed on the person… making it personal.

    “You have lied many times before so I resist the credibility of your statement.” Is attacking the persons credibility. If the person is known to have lied a number of times in the past or is known to be a liar, then it is perfectly okay and even necessary to call their credibility into question.

    The attack may seem at first glance to be personal, but when the truth in the presented argument is important it is not in fact a personal attack; it is cautionary. Now, the person who lied can, and likely will, feel like they themselves have been attacked personally; however, perception does not make a personal attack personal, the subject being attacked does.

  53. Meryl Dorey continually touts that all her information comes only from”medical sources” and medical journals;

    From a recent interview on North Coast Radio, August 6th, 2009.

    “..all of our information is sourced from medical journals, referenced. We certainly do not give out misinformation”.

    Then, today she twitters this;

    “155% greater risk of autism in vaccinated boys vs the unvaccinated..”

    Turns out, like the David Icke “story” this comes from a phone poll study done by Generation Rescue.

    http://www.mycolleaguesareidiots.com/archive/2009/08/17/422.aspx

    Meryl?

  54. The story of the boy who cried wolf isn’t a lesson that it’s good to stop believing people who repeatedly make false claims. Wikipedia gives the moral as “Even when liars tell the truth, they are never believed. The liar will lie once, twice, and then perish when he tells the truth.” That doesn’t mean it’s not logically false to say or imply that a claim is false because the claimant has made other false claims. The moral is simply pointing out that humans are very prone to taking this shortcut, because it’s usually pretty accurate and a usually saves a lot of time. I certainly don’t mean to imply that I’m immune, simply that it’s important for anyone who considers him or herself scientifically minded to be aware when using such fallacious shortcuts, and when others use them.

    Attacking the person vs. attacking the person’s credibility: I’ll grant that there’s a difference, but I don’t think either have a place in scientific discussion. We should deal in proof, something I’ve seen many times on this site and related sites, and hope to see again. But it gets boring to keep presenting proof, because proof rarely changes, and it’s frustrating because there are always more people who need to be taught. Once we are aware of the proof, it’s natural to have a little chuckle at the expense of those who still adhere to what we’ve disproved, and to wonder if there might not be something wrong with them mentally. But we have to come back to the science, to the fact that we don’t believe or disbelieve something based on who’s saying it, but based on facts and logic. As I said, fallacious thinking is often a convenient and not-too-dangerous shortcut – it’s generally okay not to believe the claims of the certifiably insane, or the certifiably educated – but we should take that shortcut with our eyes open to its pitfalls, which include the possibility that the less-cautious might follow us at their peril.

  55. Dave H

    Rogue Medic:

    Apparently you missed my second post. See comments 29 and 31. And I believe a rapprochement has been reached.

    I made a mistake and violated my own stance that there is a damaging lack of civility that will create more stone walls than tear them down.
    And yes, I was a regular reader and participant (all topics) here and at his old blogsite before the “Hive Overmind”–er Discover picked up the tab for him.

    Ernest @47’s quotes from Sagan reflect, albeit more elequently, the point I was trying to press.

    As regards, starting my own blog: I would, but for the most part, I really have nothing interesting or important to say.

    BTW, Nice Blog you have there–I work with several EMTs and I’ll pass along your URL

  56. Roen

    55. Paul:
    “Wikipedia gives the moral as “Even when liars tell the truth, they are never believed. The liar will lie once, twice, and then perish when he tells the truth.”
    Sorry, due to the high risk of Wiki being outright wrong, I will use it as a case where credibility is important.
    “Attacking the person vs. attacking the person’s credibility: I’ll grant that there’s a difference, but I don’t think either have a place in scientific discussion.”
    I dare to disagree here. No place is it most important than in science to ensure that credibility is satisfied. As an example, one would have a diminishing trust of a researcher who habitually lies, or at best is so careless that he/she does not check to be sure their information is correct. In the eyes of his/her colleges that person’s research will have less credibility. This is not to say that the occasional error does not happen to the best of us, however habits are hard to ignore.
    Who here remembers “The Big Bang Never Happened” by Eric J. Lerner. Lerner is (was?) a plasma physicist, I read his book, cover to cover… then proceeded to check his sources. Much of the information he presented was factually and categorically WRONG. Whether he was far too lazy to check those sources he cited or if he was simply lying does not change the fact that I will never believe a word he says (writes), nor will any physicist. Not only did Lerner not go back to recheck those sources (after being repeatedly told that the information presented by him was factually wrong) but he kept arguing those same wrong points of fact. I wish I retained the text from the forums I was viewing at the time. But, I assure you, credibility is very important. The funny thing is that I argued those points and cause quite an embarrassment for myself because I took his information as fact, when it was not.
    So, after being so thoroughly humiliated due to my lack of skepticism at the time, it became very clear to me that credibility is, perhaps, the most important factor in these discussions; and especially in science. From what I gather, Phil understands this importance, and is thus more credible to me than Mr. Lerner. Lerner let me down, Phil has not.

  57. The reason credibility is important is BECAUSE the logical fallacy is so pervasive. I’m not saying it’s not prudent to weigh a person’s reputation against their present claims (although sometimes it’s not), I’m saying it’s not logical. You can never prove that the falsity of a statement follows logically from the fact that the person saying it has spoken falsehoods, except in hypothetical situations in which a liar ALWAYS lies.

    It’s a nice shortcut, and often works, to conclude that the claims of a liar/ignoramus/criminal are false but it’s not logical. It’s a fallacy. When someone committing this fallacy then goes on to urge others to commit the fallacy, well, then THEIR reputation, and the reputation of everyone who believes them gets a bit tarnished – because, lamentably, of the same fallacy at work in other people. I’ll keep trying to weigh the claims on this blog on their own merits, but I’ll also keep trying to make it clear when I see logical fallacies being passed off.

  58. Roen

    Sorry Paul, I simply do not agree. Maybe Phil can do a peice on Eric’s garbage still being sold on ebay.

  59. Well, I’m happy to discuss this further. I’m hoping it won’t have to come up again on this site, though.

  60. Roen

    Don’t get me wrong, Paul, I do understand your POV and can respect it. Embarasment can be a very powerful teacher, as you can likely imagine.

  61. Gary Ansorge

    58. Paul

    PAul, if a person is known as a consistent liar, why would you pay any attention to their statement “The sky is falling.”?

    Those of us oriented to a critical mind set have to weigh the statements of anyone, based upon what we already know of their proclivities. If they’ve already demonstrated they have a poor grasp of reality then everything they say is suspect and pointing that out to them is merely an attempt to shock them into awareness of their own inconsistencies. How unfortunate it rarely accomplishes its goal. Our anchor to reality is evidence, hard, replicable, consensual evidence. Release that anchor and you float away into uncharted territory. Few are those who successfully find their way back.

    GAry 7

  62. PeteC

    Paul, while your point does indeed need to be included as part of the whole, I think it needs to be mitigated slightly by the constraints of reality – specifically, the limited time available to us all.

    Spending the full amount of time to debunk claims like “you’re all part of the conspiracy to cover up the orbital mind-control satellites!!!!” or “it’s obvious the earth is flat, just look at it, any evidence to the contrary is part of the pixie conspiracy”, or “yes, it’s been proved that every claim I have ever made is rubbish, but my claim that the president is a Reticulan from Zeta Pavonis IV is true!!!!” is just not worth the time taken away from anti-vax, moon hoaxers and other, more pervasive nonsense.

    Of course, a conspiracy nut who announces he saw his neighbour beat his wife is a different issue – that’s a topic that might be grounded in reality. However, people who have a consistent history of deception or downright crazy inability to distinguish reality from fantasy and who then make vastly improbable and ridiculous claims are not worth the argument.

  63. @PeteC: The point is that I wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) disbelieve any of the ridiculous claims in your example simply because of what I know (or think I know) about the person making the claims. At the worst, that kind of thinking leads to the maginalization of groups of people based on their backgrounds, and at best it’s lazy thinking. I have (and I suspect most of us have) the mental groundwork laid so that I don’t have to reconvince myself every time someone mentions UFOs, astral projection, mental telepathy, ESP, clairvoyance, spirit photography, telekinetic movement, full-trance mediums, the Loch Ness monster, or the theory of Atlantis. That groundwork required me to at least _consider_ the claims, but that didn’t take long. I’m not talking about debunking everyone who makes those claims, I’m talking about proving or disproving claims to myself. If they’re ridiculous, they really don’t take anymore time than it does to find out about the person making them.

    Science is not a religion. We don’t believe or disbelieve things based on who says them and what THEY believe (or claim to believe). We believe or disbelieve things based on PROOF.

  64. Roen

    64. Paul:

    “At the worst, that kind of thinking leads to the maginalization of groups of people based on their backgrounds, and at best it’s lazy thinking”

    Of course it’s based on their backgrounds; proficiency and credibility is built that way, by the education and work in your given field. What good is your education and experience if some lying wackjob can put anything past the system and printed as truth?

    I will grant that if the person is careless and/or a liar their lack of evidence other than the falsified would take care of things on their own. This would seem to preclude the need to suggest that the person was a liar, even when based on factual evidence that the person was indeed a liar.

    “Science is not a religion. We don’t believe or disbelieve things based on who says them and what THEY believe (or claim to believe). We believe or disbelieve things based on PROOF.”

    Fine, when I have enough PROOF that another lies or is careless then then I look elsewhere for my information.

  65. [grumbles]

    I can’t make a comment.

  66. Hrm, okay, I can make a comment, I just can’t make the one I’ve been trying to make all day. WTF?

  67. Kyle

    #58 is by far the most accurate comment here. A bit of critical thinking about post #62 illustrates the point very well.

    “if a person is known as a consistent liar, why would you pay any attention to their statement “The sky is falling.”?” is a logical fallacy waiting to happen. What if you replace “The sky is falling with:”
    “The moon landings were real”
    “The Earth orbits around the sun”
    “vaccines cause autism”
    “creationism should be taught in public school”
    “Universal, tax sponsored healthcare is the best solution for the US.”

    2 statements are true, 2 are false, and 1 is an opinion that is neither inherently wrong or right. And the first part of the sentence that the person is a consistent liar has no bearing whatsoever on the truthfulness of the statement.

    What if Meryl Dorey were to be asked about teaching creationism in schools? If she said that religion should be kept out of the classroom and only evolution should be taught, are we now bound to support creationism? I would call that ridiculous, but according to Phil’s post we would have to.

    Ad hominem is a logical fallacy. But its very commonplace for many reasons. Its very similar to stereotyping in that it oftentimes yields trends, but in the end using it to prove something shows a lack of real thought.

  68. Kyle (#68) That’s baloney. I never said you discount everything someone has said if they say crazy things. I said it’s important to take that into account when evaluating claims made by someone. You’re exercising a logical fallacy yourself there.

    I bet Hitler liked chocolate chip cookies.

  69. Chris

    Peter Bowditch has reported on his website (dub dub dub dot ratbags.com/rsoles) two incidences showing Meryl Dorey is a liar.

    The first is posting a news release that even the anti-vax Natural News had to release a retraction of:

    For the record, what was factually incorrect about the story (which we confirmed by phone with a clerk of United States District Court of Trenton, New Jersey) is that no such injunction has been filed. Thus, the entire premise of the story was factually incorrect.

    And the second was a quote from Peter Bowditch that she completely fabricated that was posted on a news site. The quote was removed when Bowditch emailed the network, and that false quote was removed:

    I appreciate the ABC’s quick reaction but I didn’t really care if the words were removed from their web site or not. I don’t particularly care what people who don’t know me think of me, and people who do know me would not be surprised to find Meryl Dorey dragging me into the conversation and might even expect that what she had to say about me could be politely described as “inaccurate”. Three “inaccuracies” in 53 words, in this case.

    I would say that there is more than enough information to show that Meryl Dorey just makes stuff up, and should not be considered a source of any real information.

    Of course this was the person who said on national television that pertussis used to not kill anyone thirty years ago (um, yes it did).

  70. @56. Dave H,

    Apparently you missed my second post. See comments 29 and 31. And I believe a rapprochement has been reached.

    Rapprochement is a good thing.

    I made a mistake and violated my own stance that there is a damaging lack of civility that will create more stone walls than tear them down.

    That is something that does not have an easy answer. I do not want censorship, but I think we need to make it clear when there is little, or no, scientific evidence on one side of a debate, while there is a large amount of evidence and a consensus of scientists on the other side of the debate.

    And yes, I was a regular reader and participant (all topics) here and at his old blogsite before the “Hive Overmind”–er Discover picked up the tab for him.

    That is good. I get the impression that the pretty regular comments, that BA has too much non-astronomy, is often from people responding to whatever topic is being criticized in the form of Concern trolls.

    Ernest @47’s quotes from Sagan reflect, albeit more elequently, the point I was trying to press.

    It is a good quote. I am blunt, not one ever likely to be described as charming, unless by someone who has more than a fondness for sarcasm.

    As regards, starting my own blog: I would, but for the most part, I really have nothing interesting or important to say.

    With the right motivation, you may find that you have interesting or important things to say.

    BTW, Nice Blog you have there–I work with several EMTs and I’ll pass along your URL

    Thank you. I write mostly about EMS, but I include a bunch of posts on the various forms of anti-science, because I believe that they help to explain about how the scientific process works. It loses me some readers, but gains me others. While some of these posts are straight science, I find that ridicule is a very effective way of making a point. I have resigned myself not having a future as a diplomat. 😉

  71. Kyle (#68) I was looking over what I wrote, and now I do see that it can be interpreted in such a way that might make people think I am discounting what Dorey says because she appears to believe in whacko ideas. However, I still think that the meaning of my words is clear enough: when someone espouses really far-out nonsense, then you should take an even bigger grain of salt when you hear them talk on other topics.

    But as has been established here and in other venues, the tactics of the AVN are apparently not always honest, and in some cases are truly loathesome.

  72. @ Phil

    Not sure why your blog is refusing my substantive comment, but to make a long screed short with yet another rewrite attempt, Paul’s right (and amphiox and others), and you’re (in this particular case) wrong.

    *Not* in the meta sense, but in your comment “an ad hominem fallacy isn’t always a fallacy”.

    It always is. What you’re talking about is when someone uses an appeal to authority, you’re responding with an ad hominem, and that’s okay. Strictly speaking (in formal syllogistic logic) it’s not, the proper response is to challenge their appeal to authority, not to rely on an ad hominem.

    Alice claims “A”.
    Alice exhibits quality “X”.
    Quality “X” is undesirable.
    Therefore, “A” is false.

    That is, by definition, an ad hominem. The specific qualities and claims aren’t relevant.

    Instead what you say is

    Alice claims “A”.
    Alice also claims “B – Q”.
    “B-Q” indicate that Alice is not a reputable authority in general.
    Therefore, Alice’s claim “A” requires additional evidence.

    You’re not making any claims about the truth or falsity of Alice’s argument, just laying the (justifiable) claim that Alice is crazy :)

  73. @ Rogue Medic

    > I do not want censorship, but I think we need to make it clear when
    > there is little, or no, scientific evidence on one side of a debate, while
    > there is a large amount of evidence and a consensus of scientists on
    > the other side of the debate.

    Oh, I agree. I’m not even saying that a little ad hominem attack here and there isn’t a useful (rhetorical) device. But one should always be clear in what you’re arguing against, which is why the distinction is important.

    Challenging nutbars who set themselves up as authorities is important, but (IMO) when someone makes a crazy statement usually the right way to do it is to challenge their right to make the statements, as opposed to challenging the statements themselves.

    Quote your Wikipedia overlords: “citation needed”. There’s even lots of non-crazy arguments that have a perfect basis in theory, and do not make sense when applying real world scenarios (witness, for example, the efficacy of anti-drug laws). The theory is sound (make drugs illegal, people won’t take them), but the practice is not (we find that all we do is make people criminals without halting the behavior, which was the original point of the exercise).

  74. @74. Pat Cahalan Says:
    August 17th, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    @ Rogue Medic
    > I do not want censorship, but I think we need to make it clear when
    > there is little, or no, scientific evidence on one side of a debate, while
    > there is a large amount of evidence and a consensus of scientists on
    > the other side of the debate.

    Oh, I agree. I’m not even saying that a little ad hominem attack here and there isn’t a useful (rhetorical) device. But one should always be clear in what you’re arguing against, which is why the distinction is important.

    Challenging nutbars who set themselves up as authorities is important, but (IMO) when someone makes a crazy statement usually the right way to do it is to challenge their right to make the statements, as opposed to challenging the statements themselves.

    Quote your Wikipedia overlords: “citation needed”.

    Sometimes that works. Sometimes, especially with medical topics, there is no precise study to support either position.

    It is unlikely that there will ever be enough evidence to convince the anti-vaccinationists. Rather they will convince enough parents to not vaccinate their kids (although the parents will already have all of their vaccinations), so that a large number of children die, or become permanently disabled, due to vaccine preventable illnesses. This will convince the general public to ignore them, but I would prefer to see an educated public reject this nonsense without the torture, and killing, of children that Generation Revenue encourages.

    There’s even lots of non-crazy arguments that have a perfect basis in theory, and do not make sense when applying real world scenarios (witness, for example, the efficacy of anti-drug laws). The theory is sound (make drugs illegal, people won’t take them), but the practice is not (we find that all we do is make people criminals without halting the behavior, which was the original point of the exercise).

    There are many ideas that sound reasonable. I encourage free market approaches to economic matters, but there is plenty of evidence that people do not make rational economic decisions. The drug laws are an example – on both sides – of that lack of rationality.

    An interesting development in this area is the decriminalization of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin in Portugal. The real result was not at all supportive of strict drug laws, as opposed to the apocalyptic warnings of the end of civilization as the Portugese knew it.

    From the CATO Institute with a link to a more detailed PDF on the topic.

    Drug Decriminalization in Portugal – Lessons for creating fair and successful drug policies.

    A Google search of Portugal and drug and decriminalization will result in many other articles on the same information.

  75. Gary Ansorge

    74. Pat Cahalan

    “The theory is sound (make drugs illegal, people won’t take them), but the practice is not (we find that all we do is make people criminals without halting the behavior, which was the original point of the exercise).”

    You might also note, prohibition works great at creating an underground economy, as in, AL Capone made 100 million dollars from his illegal booze and prostitution business in 1933(which was a fair piece of change in those days) and today we have drug cartels making tens of billions,possibly more. A great deal of that money finds its way to other undesirables, like terrorists. See how cool we are? We create the problem, then throw a trillion dollars at it, hoping to make it disappear. How’s that working for us, do you think?

    The real world is a whole lot more complicated than our models show. I think we need better models.

    GAry 7

  76. Roen

    @ Phil
    “I bet Hitler liked chocolate chip cookies.”

    Crap, this means I’ll be taking over Europe soon.

    @All
    The scenario some here seems to believe is:
    Wacko says A is true
    Wacko is a wacko thus A cannot possibly be true and no further evidence is required.

    Let’s be more careful when we make the kind of assumptions as above. I say this because the following is what I have been saying all along:

    Wacko says A is true
    Wacko is a wacko, which may warrant special care when going over the evidence
    Present evidence 1
    Present evidence 2
    Present evidence 3
    Present evidence 4
    Is A true? No, it is not based on the poor evidence presented by Wacko.
    “Yo, Mr. Wacko… in the future please use more care and attention when gathering and presenting your evidence.”

    I slept on my view point and would like to make a correction to my statement:
    “What good is your education and experience if some lying wackjob can put anything past the system and printed as truth?”

    The answer I found is that it does not matter if the person is a wackjob or not. The idea will either stand or fall on it’s own merits and there is no need to bring the very true fact that Wacko is a wackjob into the argument when we are talking strictly scientifically. Really, there is no risk of masses amounts of stupid slipping past the system, as it is the most robust system of discovery we have and it has served us so far darned well.

    However, from a social political standpoint, antivaxxers are entirely and psychotically moronic to the point of being criminal.

    This is a scio-scientific venue. Meaning that even though we speak scientifically we are also in a social environment. Last I looked this was not an official debate forum so strict rules of the kind normally used in a debate environment are not required here. We are simply members of the public communicating our ideas.

  77. Gary Ansorge

    Rational, rigorous discourse is our ideal but I’m the first to admit I sometimes fail in attaining it,especially when dealing with someone who says about evidence “AW, that’s just Big Science stuff, obviously promoted by Big Business, Big Medicine,etc.”

    Then one might hear someone ask “Hey! What’s that Skreek, Skreek sound I keep hearing?”

    Answer: “That’s just the sound of Gary unscrewing someones head. Amazing someone so old can still be so passionate.”

    Gary 7

  78. I appear to have been mistaken. I thought any argument based on a person’s credibility, good or bad, was not considered logical. According to the one textbook I have “Logic and Logical Thinking,” by Facione and Scherer, it’s only not logical when claims about a person’s background are irrelevant to the issue, or if an expert is not an expert on the issue in question. Still, I think we put ourselves on better footing for debunking bad science when we stay as far away from debunking based on credibility and cleave only to the facts of a given claim.

  79. Roen

    @ Paul

    Now we’re getting somewhere. That was my only point before, even though I have changed my position somewhat.

  80. @ Paul

    > I thought any argument based on a person’s credibility, good or bad,
    > was not considered logical.

    That’s different from what you said before :)

    There’s a difference between:

    Alice claims “A”.
    Alice exhibits quality “X”.
    Quality “X” is undesirable.
    **Therefore, “A” is false.**

    And

    Alice claims “A”.
    “A” is accepted as true.
    Alice claims to be an expert in “B”.
    “A” + “B”, if true, imply “C”.
    However, Alice is not an expert in “B”.
    **Therefore, “C” is not known to be true or false.**

    People often conflate the two (I see people cry “ad hominem!” in the second, and people cry “not an ad hominem!” in the first). They’re not the same.

    Phil’s top post said:

    “A lot of people think that using an ad hominem — an argument that attacks the person and not the issue –is a logical fallacy. That’s not necessarily the case. For example, if someone on the street walks up to me and say, “Aliens speaking with the voice of Glenn Beck are sitting on my shoulders and forcing me to eat brussel sprouts, and Obama’s health care plan will set up death panels,” then there is some merit in questioning the person’s sanity before wondering if what they say about the health care plan is true.”

    He’s somewhat wrong, because he’s misusing the definition of ad hominem, inclusively covering countering arguments from faulty authority. It’s perfectly okay to say, “You’re not an authority, and thus can’t support this claim without other evidence.”

    It is *still* (and always will be) an ad hominem to say, “You’re a nutbar, and therefore you are wrong.”

    You’ll notice that Phil doesn’t actually *make* an ad hominem in the example he gives. But he *calls* it an “ad hominem that’s not a fallacy” It’s not, really.

    This is really a pedantic thread. Did I say that before?

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