Build Your Own Baloney Detector

A tool-kit for avoiding being fooled

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Argument by Innuendo

I’m adding this one because I just heard it on the radio yesterday. You actually hear this sort of thing a lot, but what really disturbed me was that I heard this argument on NPR during All Things Considered.

What is “Argument by Innuendo”? It’s an argument made by vaguely referencing some perceived lack of reliability in someone or some group. It’s generally not stated outright, probably because that might tip you off.

Here’s an example: the speaker on NPR, arguing for why the federal government shouldn’t regulate something (never mind what) said that they shouldn’t, “because they’re politicians”. This isn’t an argument for not doing something. What about politicians make them unsuited to regulate? There may, in fact, be reasons and those reasons may make a valid (or even convincing) argument. But that’s not presented. We’re just to assume that our prejudices against politicians make them unsuitable to regulate this.

What makes this argument particularly nasty is that it plays on prejudices most of us have. Most of us don’t trust politicians. Or lawyers. Or (insert political party here). And, of course, it doesn’t outright state the prejudice, so we can each fill in our own personal interpretation. It therefore goes with the grain of our views and subtly wins us over without every making a case. Do not be fooled!

posted by John Weiss at 16:21  

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