A Handbook of Logical Fallacies 

   "The Art of Reasoning" by David Kelley is by far the best textbook on 
logic I have ever encountered. You can get it from: 
   The Institute for Objectivist Studies 

   * DONUT 
   * I-CUBED 

   (Against Self-Confidence) If you cannot directly refute someone's 
principles, you strike indirectly with an attack on their confidence in 
those principles. Question their certainty of the principles' validity: 
   "How can you be sure you're right?" 

   To commit this fallacy is to use a collective term without any meaningful 
delimitation of the elements it subsumes. 
   "We"  "you"  "they" "the people" "the system" "the general public" and 
"society as a whole" are the most widely-used examples. This fallacy is 
especially widespread and devastating in the realm of political discussion, 
where its use renders impossible the task of discriminating among 
distinctively different groups of people. 
   The term "society as a whole" is an assertion that a group of people 
somehow becomes an entity endowed with attributes other than those 
attributes possessed by individuals in an aggregate. It would be better to 
use the expression "composite" than "as a whole" as this preserves the 
awareness that the group is merely a collection of independent elements. 
   Social problems are difficulties resulting from the interactions of 
groups of people. Before a social problem (or indeed any kind of problem) 
can be solved, it is imperative that the problem be precisely identified. To 
identify a social problem, you must delineate precisely the groups of people 
who are involved in that problem. The Ambiguous Collective fallacy prevents 
this identification. 
   An antecedentless pronoun is an example in the singular of the Ambiguous 
Collective fallacy. 
   I often challenge those who commit this fallacy to eliminate from their 
discussion all general collective terms, and each time they want to use such 
a term to use instead a precisely delimiting description of the group the 
term is intended to subsume. Very few people are able to do this. 
   I suspect that quite often an Ambiguous Collective is used as an attempt 
to make a flimsy idea seem more important or more valid by making the 
entities it refers to seem larger or more important. 
   One reason this fallacy is so prevalent and difficult to deal with is 
that it is built into the English language. Consider the question "Do you 
love anyone?" The ambiguity involved here arises from the fact that the word 
"anyone" can denote either of two completely different meanings: 
   1. An individual, specifiable human being. A single, particular person, 
in the sense that there is some one person whom I love. 
   2. A non-selected unitary subset of the human race, in the sense that I 
love whichever person happens to be in my proximity. 

   Here are some examples of the Ambiguous Collective fallacy: 
   "Last November, 77% of us voted in favor of term limits." 
   In this statement, who exactly are the "us"? The speaker wants to convey 
the idea that term limits are very widely supported, but if in fact the 77% 
refers only to those who voted, the supporting subgroup may well be a quite 
small percentage of the total population. 
   "We need to train doctors to teach us how to get and stay healthy." 
   In this statement, who are the "we" and who are the "us"? Is the speaker 
trying to promote socialized medicine by advocating government control of 
the medical schools? When he says "we need to" does he really mean "the 
government should"? And is the "us" merely a subtle way of saying "me"? 

   The economic sanctions against South Africa provide an example of the 
consequences in real life of the ambiguous collective fallacy: 
   "I imagine you support your government's sanctions against South Africa?" 
   "Of course. Every decent person does." 
   "What about disinvestment of American business from my country, you are 
all for that too?" 
   "I campaigned for it on campus. I never missed a rally or a march." 
   "Even if it means a million blacks starve as a direct consequence? Your 
plan is similar to trying to convert a country by withdrawing all your 
missionaries and burning down the cathedral. You forced your own businessmen 
to sell their assets at five cents on the dollar. But it wasn't the 
impoverished blacks who purchased those assets. Overnight you created two 
hundred new millionaires in South Africa, and every one of them had a white 
face! That's maliciously stupid! We would be grateful to you if your efforts 
had been failures!" 

   Perhaps the most widely-known example of the Ambiguous Collective fallacy 
is the statement: 
   "Government of the people, by the people, and for the people." 
   In this statement "the people" has three distinctly different meanings: 
One group of "the people" (the victims, or producers) are ruled by another 
group of "the people" (the bureaucrats, with their action arm, the police) 
in order to achieve the goals of yet another group of "the people" (the 

   The anti-conceptual mentality treats abstractions as if they were 
perceptual concretes. It regards a concept as a self-contained given, as 
something that requires no logical process of integration and definition. 
This syndrome is motivated by the desire to retain the effortless, automatic 
character of perceptual awareness, and to avoid the mental independence, 
effort and risk of error that conceptual integration entails. In the anti-
conceptual mentality, the process of integration is largely replaced by a 
process of association. 
   The anti-conceptual mentality breeds an identification with and 
dependence upon the group, usually a group united by such concrete traits as 
race, sex, or geographical proximity. The moral universe of such people 
consists of concrete substitutes for ethical principles: customs, 
traditions, myths, and rituals. 
   The anti-conceptual mentality is incapable of abstracting from concrete 
differences among people and formulating general principles of common human 
rights, or common standards for judging an individual's moral character and 
conduct. Its sense of right and wrong is anchored not in reason but in 
loyalty to the tribe and its practices. The solidarity of the tribe is 
sustained in part by xenophobia - thus the bigoted racism frequently 
manifested by these people. 
   For the anti-conceptual mentality, relativism is the only possible 
alternative to tribal prejudice because for him the refusal to judge is the 
only alternative to judging by concrete-bound criteria. If one does not 
think in terms of principles, one has no way of distinguishing those aspects 
of human conduct and character that are essential from those aspects that 
are optional. 

   (bandwagon fallacy)  "All societies require military service. We are a 
society. Therefore we should require military service."  

   The appeal to authority. 
   Whose authority?  If an argument is to be resolved by such an appeal, the 
authority must be one recognized by both parties. A justice system which 
does not recognize the rights of the individual will not provide a 
satisfactory authority. The only way the appeal to authority can be a viable 
means of conflict resolution is if both parties can agree on a completely 
neutral, objective authority to decide the issue. Where does one exist? Only 
in the facts of reality. 
   Who decides? In all issues pertaining to objectivity, the ultimate 
authority is reality - and the mind of every individual who judges the 
evidence by the objective method of judgment: logic. 

   (The Virtue of Selfishness, chapter 19)  
   "Only the most degenerate, morally depraved, cretinous imbecile could 
fail to see the truth of my argument." 
   Usually, however, this is somewhat more subtle: 
   "It would be unwise to exclude the possibility that my surmise is 
   To dare is to challenge someone to perform an action as proof of his 
courage. This is the behavior of a pitiful little creature with the 
aspirations of a tyrant but without the power to compel. Since you do not 
have the power to compel, you attempt to swindle him into the acceptance of 
your goals and the use of your judgements as the standard for his actions. 
You trick him into performing the action by impugning his character. This is 
a form of the Argument from Intimidation. 

   He assumes (implicitly) that I will correct his mistaken assumptions. 

   (See Rothbard, FOR A NEW LIBERTY, Chapter 10) - "If government didn't 
exercise control over the manufacture, distribution, price and sale of shoes 
we would all go barefoot!" If "shoes" doesn't suit you, just substitute 
"police" or "fire protection" or "mail delivery" or anything else the 
government claims to provide. 
   Nothing the government claims to provide cannot be provided in a more 
humane, just, and economical manner by free associations of individual 
   "Hey, mister, you better buy a bottle of my Elephant Repellent. If you 
don't buy it, the elephants will come into the neighborhood and trample you! 
My proof that this stuff really works is that there are no elephants around 
here."  for "Elephant Repellent" substitute the word "Government" and for 
"elephants" substitute the word "crime" or "Russians" or "poverty" or 
"chaos" or anything else the government claims to prevent. 
   Nothing the government claims to prevent cannot be prevented in a more 
humane, just, and economical manner by free associations of individual 

   All statists use one or both of these fallacies. A good example, and an 
illustration of the motive underlying their use, can be found in the 
Commentaries of William Blackstone: 
   "...the whole should protect all its parts, and that every part should 
pay obedience to the will of the whole; or, in other words, that the 
community should guard the rights of each individual member, and that (in 
return for this protection) each individual should submit to the laws of the 
community; without which submission of all it was impossible that protection 
could be extended to any." 
   Under the spurious claim that the State will "guard the rights of each 
individual" Blackstone demands their obedient submission. In reality, the 
rights are never guarded but the slavery is always imposed. 

   (From "Free To Choose" by Milton Friedman) What would you think of 
someone who said, "I would like to have a cat provided it barked"? Your 
statement that you favor a government provided it behaves as YOU believe 
desirable is precisely equivalent. The political principles that determine 
the behavior of government agencies once they are established are no less 
rigid than the biological principles that determine the characteristics of 
cats. The way the government behaves and its adverse consequences are not an 
accident, not a result of some easily corrected human mistake, but a 
consequence of its nature in precisely the same way that a meow is a 
consequence of the nature of a cat. 

   An assertion that implies and/or uses its answer. 
   "Why should you be good to people?" (He expects me to be good to him by 
responding to his question.) 
   "We must institute the death penalty to discourage violent crime." (He 
assumes that capital punishment does in fact discourage crime.) 

   Choosing to view a continuum as represented by only its extremities. It 
consists in dividing a range of options exhaustively into the two extremes 
and then insisting that a choice be made between one or the other extreme, 
without regard to any of the intervening alternatives. An example would be 
to insist that if a man does not behave like a genius he must therefore be a 
moron. A more subtly dangerous example is the attitude of a person who has 
an aversion to the necessity of defining one's terms. She may attempt to 
avoid this necessity by maintaining that "defining every single term used in 
a discussion would result in such a tedious and turgid presentation that 
communication would be impossible." What she ignores is the intervening 
alternative of defining only the terms that are SIGNIFICANT to the 
   In fact, some phenomena are Boolean by nature and some are Gaussian. 
Human intelligence is Gaussian, the Law of Identity is Boolean. 
   The Excluded middle is another name for what I call the Boolean Fallacy. 

   Touting the existence or effectiveness of an idea that has been dead for 
a long time. 
   "The forthcoming election could be the big turning point in the 
Libertarian Party's electoral significance." The LP has been a political 
zombie since 1980 but he is still cherishing it. 
   "The President's statement casts doubt on the administration's 
credibility." The Zombie is the idea that the administration has any 
   Chief Justice Warren Burger: "We may well be on our way to a society 
overrun by hordes of lawyers, hungry as locusts." The Zombie is the self-
blinded belief that America has not already become such a society. 

   An attempt to impose his own intellectual or moral context on another 
person by someone who has closed his mind to reality and manufactured a 
fantasy, then expects (or if he is a tyrant, demands) others to share it and 
help him sustain it. He ignores the objective realities of the situation, 
concentrating instead on subjective perceptions that are false. (See the 
definition of Social Metaphysics in the DICT file.) 
   "If you were terminally ill, you too would advocate life preservation." 
   "There are no atheists in foxholes."  
   [While cringing in the foxhole, the atheist realizes fully that he does 
not believe in God: What sort of bloody-minded deity would let the creatures 
he created perpetrate something like this?] 
   Imposition of the Slave Mentality: "Aren't you thankful that they allow 
this?" [I am expected to limit myself to the context of "their" allowables.] 
The proper answer is, "No, I am resentful that they forbid other freedoms I 
should possess." 
   They behave as though by naming your opinion in advance they will make 
you unable to alter it. 
   They have a six-inch knife and have stuck it four inches into me. Should 
I be thankful they have not shoved it in the final two inches? Or resentful 
that they have shoved it in four inches? [I am expected to accept their 
behavioral context and to judge my situation from within that context.] 
   "Let 'em eat cake!" 

   * I-CUBED 
   You assume that your adversary is Ignorant, Incompetent, and/or 
Inexperienced and then impose this context on the discussion. I almost 
always encounter this from astrologers, who admonish me to "examine this 
before you reject it!" They always assume I have not done so. 
   An attempt to subsume something into a frame-of-reference that is too 
small to incorporate the thing. 
   You call me a name so you don't have to see me - you just see the name 
that you call me. 
   Tyrants have a need to call other people names; it soothes their 
consciences when they exerise coercion. Oppression of people offends their 
Christian values; but it is no crime to tyrannize a "wog" or a "raghead." It 
is the nature of tyranny to reduce its victims to names of disparagement. 
   Define by using the Genus only. 

   Eclecticism consists of selecting the good parts from a set of ideas and 
discarding the bad parts. But this process implies that you already know how 
to do the selecting, and have a standard of judgment to use for evaluating 
the ideas. 
   If you in fact do, then there is no problem and eclecticism is a valid 
intellectual process. But if you approach a set of ideas from a state of 
ignorance, you are not intellectually equipped to pick and choose from among 
them. You could not know whether what you accepted is true or false. 
   Herein lies the danger of eclecticism - if you are going to pick and 
choose you must already have enough knowledge to do the selecting. 

   When a disputant insists on introducing irrelevant considerations, 
ignoring his opponent's logic and evidence. He cannot grasp the whole of the 
issue - or the principle underlying it - so he focuses on some small part 
(usually just one word) and directs his rebuttal to an attack on that tiny 
bit which is all he can perceive. He views things through his specialized 
eyes, extracts a part of the truth and refuses to see more, sometimes 
quoting your least significant statements, in order to make it appear that 
you have said nothing better. When something is too strange or complicated 
to deal with directly or comprehensively, he extracts whatever parts of its 
behavior he can comprehend and represents them by familiar symbols - or the 
names of familiar things which he thinks do similar things.  
   "What do you mean by ------?" Where ------ is any word included in your 
presentation, usually a quite ordinary word which your opponent uses without 
any difficulty in other contexts. 
   Some Ad Hominem arguments probably have the same source: He can't see 
your ideas so he directs his rebuttal at your person. Or will simply start 
talking about something he CAN understand - the result being a jarring 
change-of-subject in the discussion. 
   He seizes upon one instance and constructs a generalization from it: 
Observing that I don't like clams, he concludes that I have an aversion to 
sea food in general. She sees something happen once or twice and concludes 
that it is a regularly-occuring phenomenon. 
   These responses are not consciously deliberated, but result from his 
inability to perceive the focal idea of the discussion. His only alternative 
to one of these responses would be bovine immobility - unless he possessed a 
sufficient degree of intellectual acumen to realize his lack of 
comprehension, and a sufficient degree of self-esteem to admit to it. 
   Appealing to a person's feelings or prejudices, rather than his 
intellect, with a trite phrase designed to reinforce a subjective rather 
than objective view of a situation. If the homily is not accepted in answer 
to the situation, the next thing that will be done is to attack the person's 
character rather than answer his argument. 
   To emphasize one element of a set at the expense of other equally 
significant elements. Or to place emphasis on a spurious aspect of a 
situation. You see this when people react violently to comparatively minor 
troubles but are seemingly unshaken by really serious ones. It is a sort of 
being at a loss for a proportionate emotional reaction - a shivering at 
   Take a small, inconsequential effect and magnify it to become all-
encompassing in its supposed influence. These are people whose fear of the 
snake in the grass is so great that they are unable to see the bear that is 
about to eat them. 
   When somebody gets all upset over something that makes no practical 
difference, you are dealing with a person whose world exists only within her 
mind (and the minds of her significant others) rather than outside it. So 
don't bother asking "What difference does that make?"  You will generally 
find that verbal assurances are the only way to calm her down. Repeated 
verbal reassurance plays the same verification role in the mind of a 
subjectivist that repeated experiments plays in the mind of an objectivist. 

   "Citizens support warfare through their tax dollars." 
   "Scientists are responsible for the danger of nuclear war." 
   "The advance of modern medicine underlies the present population 
   "Auto manufacturers are responsible for air pollution." 
   "Taxpayers are forced to finance policies that many of them would 

   These are frequently-heard statements nowadays. I believe they are cruel 
misrepresentation of the facts. They seem to be variants of the POST HOC 
fallacy. The designated entity may be a contributory cause but is certainly 
not a sufficient cause of the phenomenon specified. An attempt is being made 
to lay blame on someone who is only marginally (or not at all) responsible. 

   Consider the first statement on the list. The citizens do not do the 
supporting - the government does. The statement implies that the citizen is 
performing some positive action, when in fact he is only the passive victim 
of acts of theft committed by the entity that DOES support warfare. 
   The statement asserts that there is a chain of causation consisting of 
two links: the "citizens" and the "warfare." But in fact there is a link 
missing from that chain. The missing link in the middle of the chain is "the 

   That same link, government, lies between the "scientists" and the 
"nuclear war." 
   The missing link in the third statement, connecting "modern medicine" and 
the "population explosion" is "all these f___ing people!" (I just couldn't 
resist that.) 
   The missing links connecting "auto manufacturers" and "air pollution" are 
"the automobiles" and "the people who drive the cars." 

   Another example: The government contracts with Daddy Warbucks Corp. to 
provide the army with a New Gun. The gun turns out to be poorly designed and 
will not work. During a congressional hearing to investigate the multi-
million dollar boondoggle, congressman Flatula is heard to declare "This 
whole mess was financed by the taxpayers!" 
   The implication is that the Taxpayers paid for the New Gun. But this is 
not the case. Daddy Warbucks received payment from the accounting office of 
the Department of Defense - he got a cheque from the government for $Mega. 
If this particular contract had never been issued (and the New Gun had never 
been manufactured) the $Mega would have stayed, NOT in the pockets of the 
Taxpayers but in the coffers of the government. 
   In fact, the whole scheme was done at government expense. The fact that 
the government got its money by robbing a selected group of people does not 
in ANY way implicate those people in the actions of the government. 

   Consider a personal example: If you are robbed of $100 by a hoodlum, and 
the hoodlum subsequently uses part of that money to finance an abortion for 
his girlfriend, can it be said that this abortion occurred at your expense? 
   Did you participate in the abortion? No, you did not. It was performed by 
a quack doctor of whose very existence you were completely unaware. Did you 
sanction the abortion? No, you did not. You didn't even KNOW about the 
abortion! Did you finance the abortion? No, you did not. The doctor received 
his payment from the hoodlum. The doctor didn't know where the hoodlum got 
the money, or even that you exist. And the hoodlum, like the government, 
would likely neither know nor care which particular victim the money had 
come from. 

   And here we see the underlying motivation of those who use this phrase 
"at taxpayers' expense": the desire to impose upon YOU personally the 
ethical culpability of sanctioning the behavior of the government and the 
people who DO support it. What they say, in effect, is that because you are 
the victim of an act of robbery (taxation) you are therefore responsible 
ethically for the manner in which the thief uses the money he has stolen 
from you. 
   This same viciousness can be observed in another assertion I encounter 
frequently when I chide people for using the word "we" when referring to the 
actions of the government (see the Ambiguous Collective fallacy). They reply 
with "Well, you're a taxpayer too!" 
   The fact that I am a victim is being used as justification for assigning 
to me culpability for the behavior of the thief. 

   If someone comes up against a large bundle of particular facts, but has 
no general principles with which to integrate those particulars, and is not 
in the habit of thinking in principles, the multiplicity of facts will 
appear so complex to him that he will not be able to deal with the situation 
analytically. This is why to many people ethical issues seem a nightmare 
tangle of unanswered questions, a moral labyrinth. You will hear them say: 
   "This is too complex a situation to yield any easy solution!" 
   "Unfortunately, no easy answers exist. The solution to the problem will 
turn out to be as complex as the problem itself." 
   "That's a simplistic view of a complex situation." 
   "To try to take all this potential diversity into account right at the 
beginning would be a recipe for paralysis." 
   When somebody makes one of these assertions, he means that he doesn't 
perceive any principle under which to subsume all the specific consequences 
of that principle. For him the world is indeed too complex - he has no way 
to sort facts, to identify their distinguishing characteristics, and to 
grasp the fundamentals underlying them. Without any integrating principles 
he just cannot cope. He will manifest a Descriptive (rather than Analytical) 
intellectuality. He believes that his description IS an analysis, because he 
confuses a statement of the causal conditions of a process with an analysis 
of the process itself. He does not think in principles, but focuses his 
attention on the presentation of specific phenomena only. Thus his solution 
to the situation will be an Ad Hoc solution that will fail to address more 
than a few of the particulars. 
   Complexity does not make something unintelligible, any more than the 
complexity of the symptoms of a disease makes the cause of those symptoms 
unintelligible. What makes the phenomenon unintelligible is the attempt to 
analyze it without reference to fundamental principle - to a unifying cause. 
   Only cognitive abstraction offers a method for thinking about complicated 
issues in a precise way. 
   By resorting to particularizing rather than generalizing, pragmatists are 
left floundering in a mire of complexity. The contention that principles are 
simplistic is a spurious one; it is only by means of principles that man is 
able to retain and make use of the vast storehouse of knowledge relevant to 
any given issue. Concretes by themselves are meaningless, and cannot even be 
retained in the mind for long; abstractions by themselves are vague or 
empty. But concretes subsumed by an abstraction acquire meaning, and thereby 
permanence in our minds; and abstractions illustrated by concretes acquire 
specificity, reality, the power to convince. 
   People who don't think in principles will not be able to see the 
principles underlying a philosophy. Usually, all they will be able to see is 
the behavior of individuals who call themselves adherents of that 

   (Barbara Branden's lectures, Principles of Efficient Thinking - lecture 
#4) A generalization subsuming no particulars. 
   Here are two examples of floating abstractions manifested in the real 
   While I lectured my students on optimal strategies for economic 
development, just outside the classroom (in Bangladesh) I could witness poor 
villagers dying of hunger. The great distance that exists between the lives 
of the poor and the abstract world of economic theory had never before been 
so clearly illustrated for me. I was devastated. 
   We'd go to parties and he'd spin up thesse post-Jungian theories of 
racism and class struggle, and these phonies would stand around with their 
heads going up and down like they were bobbing for apples. Then I'd go to 
work and see a report on some twelve-year-old who shot his mom because he 
wanted to sell the TV to buy crack, and she wouldn't let him. Then I'd go 
back home and I couldn't stand listening to him anymore. 

   The inability to discriminate a scale delineating greater and lesser 
positives from a scale delineating greater and lesser negatives. This 
inability results in considering a lesser negative to be a positive. ("My 
government is a good government - because it's not as bad as other 
governments.") I call it the Greek Math fallacy because the Greeks did not 
have the mathematical concept of zero - that which separates positive 
quantities from negative quantities. See * RELATIVE PRIVATION 

   Trying to make an idea of limited applicability extend in its coverage to 
the inclusion of an overly large range:  "All human experience can be 
explained by a study of energy flows." 

   Assuming that only one alternative exists in a given situation, when in 
fact, other and usually more fundamental alternatives exist also. 
   This is frequently expressed by statements such as: 
   "What other explanation could there be?" 
   "I just can't imagine how any other theory could account for that." 

   "If there had been no other strategies possible, would you have voted 
against Hitler?" 
   This postulates a fantasy world which cancels out one of the basic 
realities of existence: the continued presence of alternatives. In essence, 
the question becomes "if the fabric of reality were rewoven into a different 
pattern, would you still take the same moral stand against voting?" Since my 
morals are derived from the nature of man and reality, it is not possible 
for me to answer this question. In essence, these sorts of dilemmas are 
perplexing not because they constitute moral problems, but because they 
constitute metaphysical ones. The "dilemma" being suggested would exist only 
in another universe that ran by rules inapplicable to our own. 
   * DONUT 
   A form of false alternative. It insists that all donuts be divided into 
two piles: large donuts and sugar donuts. 
   Coach to basketball team:
   All right guys, I want you to line up alphabetically by height.

   To consider only the immediate results of an action, ignoring the long-
term effects. Along with this is the fallacy of 
   People who do not look into the future beyond the end of their nose also 
do not look into the past beyond yesterday (and sometimes not even that 
far). If they did, they would readily see that the previous implementation 
of their schemes was invariably a failure. Not only do they fail to see that 
their scheme WILL BE a failure, they fail to see that it HAS BEEN a failure. 
   To insist on implementing something which is known to have failed.  "What 
we need is government control of the economy!"  

   The Straw Man syndrome. Present a false description of your adversary and 
then base your repudiation on that description. You caricature a position to 
make it easier to attack: 
   Objectivism advocates infanticide, therefore Objectivism is evil. 
   If we allow abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy, it will be 
impossible to prevent the killing of a full-term infant. 
   If the state prohibits abortions even in the ninth month, it will soon be 
telling us what to do with our bodies around the time of conception. 
   The defendant must be found guilty; otherwise, it will be an 
encouragement for other men to murder their wives. 
   As a justification for your proposal, you present your supposition of 
adverse consequences. 

   Also known as the Appeal to Ignorance 
   Karl Popper: A conjecture or hypothesis must be accepted as true until 
such time as it is proven to be false. 
   Popper maintains that scientists approach the truth through what he calls 
"conjecture and refutation." In actuality, scientists approach the truth not 
through conjecture and refutation, but through conjecture and CONFIRMATION - 
the demonstration, by means of careful experiment, that a hypothesis 
corresponds to the facts of reality.   
   This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized by the phrase: absence 
of evidence is not evidence of absence. 
   Until the phenomenon is proven TRUE there is no obligation to base your 
attitude toward it on the assumption that it MIGHT be true. If there were 
such an obligation, then you would be obliged to give serious consideration 
to every crackpot notion that has ever been put forward. 
   Falsifiability can be a valuable intellectual tool: it can help you to 
disprove ideas which are incorrect. But it does not enable you to prove 
ideas which are correct.  
   Devoting a lot of time and energy to solving problems that don't exist, 
such as figuring out ways to navigate on a flat earth. Generalizing from a 
hypostatization. Looking for an easy way out of a dilemma that does not 
   Theology is a study with no answers because it has no subject matter. 
   (The Virtue of Selfishness, chapter 10) Substituting a particular 
concrete for the wider abstract class to which it belongs - such as using a 
specific ethics (e.g., altruism) for the wider abstraction "ethics." 
   Restrict a wide abstraction to a narrow set of particulars and then 
conclude that an attribute of these particulars must be definitive of the 
abstraction, thus negating the entire principled structure underlying the 
   A similar fallacy is that of equating opposites by substituting 
nonessentials for their essential characteristics. Conservatives always do 
this when they claim to be Objectivists or libertarians. 

   The claim that if the government is not doing something about a problem, 
then nothing CAN be done about it. ONLY the government can solve society's 

   This consists of demanding that an idea be proven over and over again 
indefinitely before its validity is acceptable. (The name was conceived 
while watching an infant throw her toy onto the floor over and over and over 
again.) An open mind does not grant equal status to truth and falsehood. Nor 
does it remain floating forever in a stagnant vacuum of neutrality and 

   The National Association of Scholars proclaims, as the two foremost items 
in its platform for reforming the academic community of America, its aims 
   "enhance the quality and content of the curriculum" 
   "resist the ideological misuse of teaching and scholarship" 
   The NAS seems oblivious to the fact that these aims are merely two sides 
of a coin, and that what they call "enhancing the quality and content of the 
curriculum" their opponents will call "the ideological misuse of teaching 
and scholarship." One man's Meat is another man's Poison. 

   The Government Absolutist (or Stateolatrist) is the person who makes 
comparative judgments (usually of people's behavior) that are based not on 
any moral or ethical principle but are made by reference to a government 
(invariably his own government). The consequence is to make a spurious 
distinction between two people (or groups) who in fact manifest identical 
   Tom Clancy: "Terrorists don't relate to the people around them as being 
real people. They see them as objects, and since they're only objects, 
whatever happens to them is not important. Once I met a man who killed four 
people and didn't bat an eye; but he cried like a baby when we told him his 
cat died. People like that don't even understand why they get sent to 
prison; they really don't understand. Those are the scary ones." 
   What Clancy cannot see is that any policeman or any soldier of any 
country manifests exactly the same behavior that Clancy has condemned as 
   William Buckley: "The Cold War is a part of the human condition for so 
long as you have two social phenomena which we can pretty safely denominate 
as constants. The first is a society that accepts what it sees as the 
historical mandate to dominate other societies - at least as persistently as 
microbes seek out human organisms to infect. And the second phenomenon, of 
course, is the coexistence of a society that is determined NOT to be 
dominated or have its friends dominated." 
   Buckley does not realize that a Soviet analyst would make precisely the 
same identification that Buckley has made, but with the roles reversed. 

   "Computers might be able to understand Chinese and think about numbers 
but cannot do the crucially human things, such as...." - and then follows 
his favorite human specialty: falling in love, having a sense of humor, etc. 
But as soon as an artificial intelligence simulation succeeds, a new 
"crucial" element is selected (the goalpost is moved). Thus the perpetrators 
of this fallacy will never have to admit to the existence of artificial 
   The proponents keep changing their definition, presenting you always with 
a moving target that you can never get hold of. Rand referred to this as 
trying to grasp a fog. 

   A statement (or question) that gives (or elicits) no cognitively 
meaningful information: "Are you honest?" If he's honest, he'll say 'Yes' - 
but if he's a liar, he'll say 'Yes'  You learn nothing in either case.   

   "I'll stick with what I have, no matter how bad it is, rather than switch 
to something that is better - but not perfect." 
   I once knew a woman who refused to use any contraceptive. She was in her 
mid-20s and was sexually active with her boyfriend. Her rationale for this 
refusal, which she stated in a very clear and explicit manner, was that "no 
contraceptive is 100% reliable, therefore none of them is acceptable to me." 
(I knew her only briefly and was not present to observe the long-term 
consequences of this idiocy.) 
   Other such rationales for rejecting change include: 
   Reification of the Possible, which is to regard a possible outcome as 
being a foregone certainty, when making an evaluation of a cause. 
Reification of the Existent, which consists of the claim that one possible 
outcome of a scheme might lead to a state of affairs that already exists 
under the present circumstances. 
   We take risks every day of the week. When buying a house, for instance, 
you know you may have to spend money to repair it someday, but you don't go 
live in a cave instead in order to avoid the risk. You accept the risk 
because the benefits outweigh it. But the word "outweigh" implies an act of 
self-responsible judgment, and what the person who uses the Perfectionist 
fallacy is trying to avoid are self-responsibility, judgment, and risk. 

   Here the speaker assumes omniscience with respect to the subject under 
consideration. He assumes also that he speaks for the entire human race. 
   "We don't know what life is" (or insanity, intelligence, etc). 
   "We can't conceive of personal death." 
   "My contention must be true because we can think of no alternative 
mechanism as a cause for this phenomenon." 
   Just because your eyes are shut doesn't mean the sun has been turned off. 
If you believe so, then your belief system has locked you into a low level 
of awareness about a situation that has been resolved everywhere except in 
your own mind. 

   Having made a brief reference to, or speculation about, a phenomenon, he 
later asserts that the phenomenon has been fully explained. 
   Although the direct evidence he presents is extremely thin, he later 
assumes that his thesis has been established with certainty. 

   Richard Feynman: "Many years ago I awoke in the dead of night in a cold 
sweat, with the certain knowledge that a close relative had suddenly died. I 
was so gripped with the haunting intensity of the experience that I was 
afraid to place a long-distance phone call, for fear that the relative would 
trip over the telephone cord (or something) and make the experience a self-
fulfilling prophecy. In fact, the relative is alive and well, and whatever 
psychological roots the experience may have, it was not a reflection of an 
imminent event in the real world. After my experience I did not write a 
letter to an institute of parapsychology relating a compelling predictive 
dream which was not borne out by reality. That is not a memorable letter. 
But had the death I dreamt actually occurred, such a letter would have been 
marked down as evidence for precognition. The hits are recorded, the misses 
are not. Thus human nature unconsciously conspires to produce a biased 
reporting of the frequency of such events. If enough independent phenomena 
are studied and correlations sought, some will of course be found. If we 
know only the coincidences and not the unsuccessful trials, we might believe 
that an important finding has been made. Actually, it is only what 
statisticians call the fallacy of the enumeration of favorable 
circumstances." (Counting the hits and ignoring the misses.) 

   Another example is the Texas Sharpshooter effect: a man shoots at the 
side of a barn and then proceeds to draw targets around the holes. He makes 
every shot into a bull's-eye. For example: if an epidemiologist were to draw 
a circle around the greater Boston area, he would find an incidence of 
leukemia comparable with the rest of the USA. Draw a circle around Woburn 
and he'd find a worrisome elevation. Draw a circle around the Pine Street 
neighborhood and he'd find an alarming cluster. Is it a real cluster? Or is 
he just drawing bull's-eyes where he found bullet holes? 
   These people don't tell you how many possible combinations of data 
arrangements they searched through in the process of arriving at their 
conclusions, nor how many contorted definitions of "closeness" they used to 
get their "statistically significant" results. Correlations have a 
distribution just like any random variable. If you crank through enough 
data, a certain number of correlations, even from purely random data sets, 
will fall within the spread of a distribution where they appear significant. 
Every quantitative researcher knows this. If you torture the data long 
enough, it will talk.  
   Just go into the forest looking for any interesting leaf pattern. The 
odds are pretty good that you will find one. Then come out saying that that 
pattern is what you were looking for. 
   Prediction, or out-of-sample testing, is one very strong way to avoid 
accepting a spurious conclusion resulting from data manipulation, because 
coincidences in one data set are very unlikely to re-occur in a different, 
independent set. 
   A large professional organization once surveyed its members on a variety 
of topics. One of the questions on the poll was "Did you vote in the last 
society election?" When the responses to this question were compared with 
the actual voting records, the pollsters noted a large discrepancy - the 
percentage of respondents who said they had voted was significantly larger 
than the percentage of society members who actually had voted. 
   Of course! Those who responded to the survey were a self-selected 
subgroup of the general membership: those members who are more likely to 
participate in organizational affairs such as voting and polling. 

   "They say 1 out of every 5 people is Chinese. How is this possible? I 
know hundreds of people, and none of them is Chinese." 
   And then there is the optimist who exclaims "I've thrown three sevens in 
a row. Tonight I can't lose!" 
   And President Dwight Eisenhower expressing astonishment and alarm on 
discovering that half of all Americans have below average intelligence. 

   (The Objectivist Newsletter, April 1963) "Proving the non-existence of 
that for which no evidence of any kind exists. Proof, logic, reason, 
thinking, knowledge pertain to and deal only with that which exists. They 
cannot be applied to that which does not exist. Nothing can be relevant or 
applicable to the non-existent. The non-existent is nothing. A positive 
statement, based on facts that have been erroneously interpreted, can be 
refuted - by means of exposing the errors in the interpretation of the 
facts. Such refutation is the disproving of a positive, not the proving of a 
negative.... Rational demonstration is necessary to support even the claim 
that a thing is possible. It is a breach of logic to assert that that which 
has not been proven to be impossible is, therefore, possible. An absence 
does not constitute proof of anything. Nothing can be derived from nothing." 
   Doubt must always be specific, and can only exist in contrast to things 
which cannot properly be doubted. 

   To try to make a phenomenon appear good, by comparing it with a worse 
phenomenon, or to try to make a phenomenon appear bad, by comparing it with 
a better phenomenon. See * GREEK MATH 
   Consider junkfood. A very nutritionally-conscious person has a rather low 
opinion of junkfood. But what would be your attitude toward a greasy 
hamburger if you hadn't eaten for three or four days? You can malign 
junkfood because your nutritional standards are high enough to permit you to 
do so. But an Ethiopian would like nothing better than to have access to 
MacDonald's, Hardee's or Wendy's and, in fact, such access would be the best 
thing that could happen to the Ethiopian. Because you have alternatives that 
the Ethiopian does not have, he is in a position of relative privation when 
compared to you. 
   In just the same way, the people who labored in sweatshops at the turn of 
the century were in a state of relative privation when compared to you. 
Because your alternatives are different (and much better), the sweatshop 
seems to you to be an abomination, but in fact the sweatshop was immensly 
preferable to the alternatives available at that time. 
   "Eat your carrots! Just think of all the starving children in China." 
   "I used to lament having no shoes - until I met a man who had no feet."  
   The real danger from this last example of the fallacy is that if people 
believe that their own situation really is ameliorated by such a comparison, 
they will naturally conclude that their own situation can, in practice, 
actually BE ameliorated by MAKING somebody else worse off! This is what 
underlies the behavior known as "beggar thy neighbor." 
   "I know of no assumption that has been more widely and totally disproved 
by actual experience than the assumption that if a few people could be 
prevented from living well, everyone else would live better." ... George 
   "Misery loves company."
   The counter to the relative privation argument when applied, for example, 
to compare America with other more tyrannous countries is to note that the 
proper comparison to make should not be between America and other tyrannies 
but between America and the ideal of freedom. 

   An interview with a young woman who had seven children - all of them 
"crack babies": 
   Interviewer: "Didn't you ever think about the effect your drug use was 
having on your children?" 
   Woman: "Yeah, that thought entered my mind now and then. Whenever it did, 
I got high so that I wouldn't have to think about it." 
   The cause (drug use) has an effect (remorse). She invokes the cause in 
order to eliminate the effect. Thus the effect acts retrogressively to 
induce further implementation of the cause. 

   This is a form of the Stolen Concept fallacy. It denies itself. "Nothing 
makes any difference." (including this statement?) "Music is the only 
genuine form of communication." (but this statement, meant to be a 
communication, is not music) "True knowledge is impossible to man." (but 
this statement is meant to be knowledge) "There are no absolutes." (except 
this one, of course) "Words have no validity." "One should not make 
judgments." (but this statement is itself a judgment.) 
   "There are questions whose truth or untruth cannot be decided by men; all 
the supreme questions, all the supreme problems of value are beyond human 
comprehension."  .... Nietzsche 
   David Kelley: "To assert 'what is known depends on the knowledge of it' 
is to offer that very thesis as something known, and therefore as a 
statement that subsumes itself. But this is manifestly not what the 
proponent of the thesis intends. That facts depend on our belief in them, he 
implies, is objectively true, a fact of reality about consciousness and its 
objects, made true by the nature of things, not by his believing it. 
Otherwise he would have to allow that objectivity is a fact for the 
objectivist. He would have to allow that the primacy of consciousness is 
both true, because he believes it, and false, because the objectivist denies 
it. [The Marxist multi-logic dialectic does indeed assert this very notion.] 
To avoid this, he must assert that the objectivist is wrong, which means 
asserting the primacy of consciousness as a fact he himself did not create. 
He thereby contradicts his own thesis. It is an inner or performative 
contradiction, like that of the person who denies the axiom of action - the 
denial itself being an action." 
   If I say, "Anything is possible" I must admit the possibility that the 
statement I have just made is false. 
   Anything is possible, right? 
   No. It's not possible for you to be wrong when you claim that anything is 
   "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always 
so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." -  Bertrand 
   Why didn't he put "I think" at the end of it? By omitting the "doubt-
qualifier" Russell is unintentionally describing his own attitude. 

   Agglomerating several different superficial aspects of a subject, in 
hopes that the resulting verbal structure will be comprehensible. The 
aspects presented may be important, but they are treated topically, not 
hierarchically - as talking points, not building blocks in a structured 
argument. There is no sense of fundamentality, no sense of which concepts 
are primary and which derivative, no sense of which ones explain, justify, 
or depend upon which. And there may not even be any interconnection among 

   (The Objectivist Newsletter, Jan 1963) Using a concept while ignoring, 
contradicting or denying the validity of the concepts on which it logically 
and genetically depends. "All property is theft." "The axioms of logic are 
arbitrary." (something is arbitrary only in distinction to that which is 
logically necessary.) "All that exists is change and motion." (change is 
possible only to an existent entity) "You cannot prove that you exist." 
(proof presupposes existence) "Acceptance of reason is an act of faith." 
(faith has meaning only in contradistinction to reason)   

   "During the economic crisis, millions of people were thrown out of work." 
Who threw them out? The first answer to this would probably be, "their 
employers." The statement certainly invites the readers to infer this. But 
in fact, government, which destroyed the unfortunate workers' industries by 
means of taxation and regulation, is the causal agent that the passive 
construction of the statement suppresses or banishes from the mind. 
   Dehumanization of the Action: "During the first two years of Garcia's 
administration, the economy grew rapidly." This sentence establishes a 
strong, though implicit, causal connection between Garcia's interventionist 
programs and good economic news. "But inflation escaped the government's 
control and the economy soon began to contract." Economic developments are 
now pictured as things with their own, non-human, principles of action. They 
are not caused by anything that humans like Garcia do, but proceed on their 
own way. 

   (Atlas Shrugged Part3 Chap8 pg1076) Someone so far removed from your 
frame of reference that he is psychologically invisible. 

   (The Objectivist Newsletter, Jan 1963) "That which, by its nature, cannot 
be known. To claim it unknowable, one must first know not only that it 
exists but have enough knowledge of it to justify the assertion. The 
assertion and the justification are then in contradiction. To make the 
assertion without justification is an  irrationalism." 
   Branden's argument implies that the unknowable must be a particular, 
specifiable entity. I maintain that it can be merely an aspect of existence 
that consciousness cannot perceive. 
   To assert that all things CAN be known is to imply that existence is 
subsumed by consciousness. 
   I claim that there are unknowables. Not any particular, specifiable 
unknowable items (for that would indeed be the contradiction Branden noted 
above), but merely aspects of reality that are unperceiveable. For example: 
you cannot simultaneously perceive both sides of your cat. My justification 
for this assertion is the primacy of existence over consciousness. 
   Thus Quantum Indeterminacy is a genuine phenomenon. It is the closest we 
can come to specifying an aspect of reality that is truly unknowable: the 
simultaneous perception of position and momentum. 

   Generating dissimilar images from similar concepts. Certain kinds of 
crops, such as corn, are "harvested", but other kinds, such as trees, are 
"slashed" or "devastated". Who would forbid farmers to "harvest" a crop of 
beets? But who would willingly allow men armed with chainsaws to "devastate" 
the ecology? 

   "When did I say that?" There is a kind of denial of the past involved 
here. Unless you can specify the exact moment I made a certain statement, 
then I insist that I never made that statement. For a clever (and 
bewildering) retort reply: "About 20 minutes past 2 on Thursday afternoon." 
   The alteration of history by personal decree is done by the sort of 
person who tries to rewrite history in your mind, just as he rewrites it in 
his own mind as time goes on. 

   If you take the old tongue-twister: "How much wood could a woodchuck 
chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?" and make a slight homonymous 
substitution: "How much would could a wouldchuck chuck if a wouldchuck could 
chuck would?" you arrive at a label for a certain kind of dissertation made 
by people who are trying to "prove" an idea for which they have no factual 
corroboration, or who are simply trying to obliterate the distinction 
between the actual and the potential. 
   This is a description of much of scientific belief before the time of 
Galileo. For instance, it was believed that if you dropped a 5-pound rock 
and a 10-pound rock simultaneously, the 10-pounder WOULD hit the ground 
first because, being heavier, it WOULD therefore be pulled down harder and 
WOULD therefore travel faster. Notice the use of the word "would" in those 
statements. This expression of conditional probability is chucked around as 
though it were an assertion of factual reality. Implicit to such statements 
is the assumption that what seems plausible is therefore true and requires 
no further proof. 
   I became acutely aware of this "WouldChuck" phenomenon while reading the 
Tannehills' book, "The Market For Liberty." The entirety of Part2, which 
sets forth in detail their view of a free-market society, consists of the 
WouldChuck argument. Here is a typical example: 
   "This insurance would be sold to the contracting parties at the time the 
contract was ratified. Before an insurance company would indemnify its 
insured for loss in a case of broken contract, the matter would have to be 
submitted to arbitration as provided in the contract. For this reason there 
would be a close link between the business of contract insurance and the 
business of arbitration." 
   Sounds plausible, doesn't it? Yes... BUT, no proof of these conjectures 
is offered. They are nothing more than unsubstantiated hypostatizations. 
   They always say: "This is what would happen if...." 
   They never say: "This is what does happen when...." 
   The former is based on surmise, the latter is based on fact.  
   The proponent of a scheme, through the use of the WouldChuck fallacy, can 
articulate a comprehensive framework within which the implementation of his 
scheme seems undeniably plausible. But if the framework itself has no other 
foundation than this WouldChuck supposition, the whole scheme rests on a 
very shaky basis. He has a plausible argument for everything, but no 
detailed answers to anything. This type of presentation can often turn an 
un-informed audience into a misinformed one. 
   Michael Gazzaniga, director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at 
Dartmouth, while working with split-brain people (whose corpus callosum had 
been severed), identified what he calls "the interpreter mechanism," a 
cognitive structure in the left hemisphere of the human brain that 
automatically generates explanations for the events you experience and a 
supportive context for your memories of them. This structure continually 
seeks the meaning of events - insisting on finding some cause and effect 
explanation - even when there is none. And it always comes up with a theory, 
no matter how bizarre. 
   Unless you possess and use the intellectual tools by means of which to 
evaluate, control and modify the output of this structure, you will be stuck 
with explanations that are frequently outlandish and false memories that 
have nothing to do with the facts of history. 
   You must use your rational faculty to make a firm distinction between 
your conjectures and your knowledge of facts. Between what you THINK is true 
and what you KNOW is true. If you don't, you are simply allowing your 
interpreter mechanism to tell yourself lies. 

   Assertions based on what we do NOT know: "No one knows precisely what 
would happen if a core was to melt down." And the compounding of arbitrarily 
asserted possibilities. 
   What COULD happen is what is possible. The burden of proof is on the 
skeptic to provide some specific reason to doubt a conclusion that all 
available evidence supports. It is not true that "coulds" and "maybes" are 
an epistemological free lunch that can be asserted gratuitously. The case 
against the skeptic is that doubt must always be specific, and can only 
exist in contrast to things which cannot properly be doubted. 

   Consent to what? Just what is it I consent to when I do NOT vote? To the 
policies of Bush? To the policies of Clinton? To the policies of Marrou? To 
the policies of all those whose principled disagreement with the electoral 
system precludes their participation in it? 
   The process of implication contains a causal relationship. For one thing 
to imply another thing, there must be a causal sequence between the two 
things. People who make the assertion "silence implies consent" never 
propose any chain of logical connection between the silence and the consent. 
Precisely how does consent arise from silence? How can dead men be said to 
consent to anything? 
   If my silence does imply consent, then how far does that implication 
reach? If I am silent about one side of an argument, and also silent about 
the other, and contradictory, side of the argument, then what implication 
can be drawn concerning my consent to either side? Am I considered to 
consent to all things about which I am silent? Even those about which I am 
completely ignorant? To the fact that someone in Calcutta beats his wife? If 
I must express disapproval of all things to which I do NOT consent, for fear 
of reproach resulting from my silence about any of them, there would not be 
sufficient hours in the day for such a plethora of expressions as would be 
required for me to preserve my honesty and impartiality. 

   (The Objectivist Newsletter, May 1963) - "The doctrine of determinism 
contains a central and insuperable contradiction - an EPISTEMOLOGICAL 
contradiction - a contradiction implicit in any variety of dererminism, 
whether the alleged determining forces be physical, psychological, 
environmental or divine. In fact, Man is neither omniscient nor infallible. 
This means: (a) that he must work to ACHIEVE his knowledge, and (b) that the 
mere presence of an idea inside his mind does not prove that the idea is 
true; many ideas may enter a man's mind which are false. But if man believes 
what he HAS to believe, if he is not free to test his beliefs against 
reality and to validate or reject them - if the actions and content of his 
mind are determined by factors that may or may not have anything to do with 
reason, logic and reality - then he can never know if his conclusions are 
true or false....But if this were true, no knowledge - no CONCEPTUAL 
knowledge - would be possible to man. No theory could claim greater 
plausibility than any other - including the theory of psychological 

  Most theories of what is biologically inherited vs what is socially 
learned never take into account the third alternative: that which is 
volitionally chosen. 

   One of the catches to determinism is that you cannot argue with it. To 
argue is to make an attempt to induce someone to alter the actions or 
content of his mind. The determinist enters the argument with the claim that 
such alteration is impossible - that he has no power to volitionally change 
his state of consciousness. He says, and means literally, "My mind is made 
up - don't confuse me with the facts!" But at the same time, the determinist 
always counts on the free will he argues against, because he hopes to 
persuade YOU that HE is right; and to be persuaded is to choose freely 
between two or more competing options. 
   The fundamental question of free will does not involve Man's physical 
behavior but his psychological behavior. It concerns Man's ability to 
control the functioning of his own mind. 
   The argument is frequently heard that hormones control behavior. This is 
not quite true. Although hormones do have a controlling effect on much 
animal behavior, we humans have an organ whose size and functional 
significance enables us to override the influence of hormones on our 
behavior: the cerebral cortex. Indeed, it is the size and significance of 
this organ that primarily differentiates us from our fellow animals. In 
human beings, hormones don't exactly control behavior, what they do is 
provide motivation for the behavior. It is my mind that chooses whether or 
not I will act according to that motivation. 
   Under justice, individuals are held to be responsible agents for the acts 
that they commit, and they are held responsible for the consequences of 
those actions. Under all the forms of determinism you can't have justice, 
because individuals are not held to be causal agents. Instead, they are 
regarded as billiard balls, as entities who are merely acted upon, and 
therefore helpless in doing the things they do. 
   On the Determinist premise, men are not merely unfit for freedom, they 
are metaphysically incapable of it since they do not have fundamental 
control over the choices made in their minds. Political issues become 
matters of pure pragmatism: there is no right or wrong, but only effective 
or ineffective techniques of social manipulation. 
   Biologists have tacitly assumed that when they have understood the 
operation of each molecule in a nerve membrane, they will understand the 
operation of the mind. But both the digital and the analog paradigms of 
computation make it clear that this assumption is wrong. After all, a 
computer is built from a completely known arrangement of devices whose 
operation is understood in minute detail. Yet it is often impossible to 
prove that even a simple computer program will calculate its desired result 
or, for that matter, that it will even terminate. 
   Wilder Penfield explored the brain with electrical probes. By stimulating 
different parts of the brain he could cause a subject to turn his head, 
blink his eyes, move his limbs and a host of other things. But though he 
could make the patient's hand move he could never make the patient feel that 
he had WILLED the hand to move. Penfield found that the effects of 
consciousness could be selectively controlled by outside manipulation. But 
however much he probed, he could not enter consciousness itself. He could 
not find the mind and invade its autonomy. 

   Weasel words - calling wars something else - "police actions" or 
"pacification." Euphemisms for war are one of a broad class of distortions 
of language for political purposes. Talleyrand said, "An important art of 
politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have 
become odious to the public." (Or have been shown to be failures.) 
   Some subtle methods of media distortion: the use of emotionally loaded 
images. The limitation of debate to "responsible" options. The framing of 
dissident viewpoints in ways that trivialize them. The personification of 
complex realities (Saddam = Iraq). The objectification of persons 
("collateral damage"). The isolation of events from their historical 
context. (By taking a person's statements out of their historical context 
and judging them by present-day standards, the journalist or politician 
effectively hides the real author under a mask of caricature.) 
   Remember that journalists and politicians must look for strong, quick 
impact, so they avoid the thoughtfully analytical and the cerebral, which 
take too much time and mental effort. 
   "The death rate among American soldiers in Vietnam was lower than among 
the general population." But the soldiers in Vietnam were young and healthy. 
They are being compared with a data base including non-young and non-healthy 
   "You are safer walking down a dark alley than sitting in your living room 
with friends, because most murders are committed in the victim's home by his 
acquaintances." This ignores the fact that most people spend much more of 
their time at home than walking down alleys. 
   Some journalists bias their reports by expressing outcomes in terms of 
relative changes rather than of absolute numbers. Thus, reporters of one 
experiment claimed a 19 percent reduction in coronary deaths among men 
treated with drug Alfa when in absolute numbers there was only a 1.7 percent 
difference between the two groups: from 9.8 percent of the untreated group 
(187 of 1,900) to 8.1 percent of the treated group (l15 of 1906). Similarly, 
reporters of another trial which used the drug Beta, described an absolute 
difference of 1.4 percent as a 34 percent relative reduction.  
   The museum guide says the dinosaur skeleton is 90,000,006 years old - 
because when he was hired six years ago he was told that it was 90 million 
years old. 
   The time for the Olympic 30-kilometer relay race, which takes almost an 
hour and a half to run, is measured to one one-hundredth of a second. 

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