Conspiracies and plot holes

I don’t usually notice plot holes when at the movies. I tend to have a very strong suspension of disbelief, meaning a hole has to be pretty glaring for me to be unable to ignore it and particularly egregious for it to significantly hinder my enjoyment of a film.

One such example was in the recent film District 9, when the entire plot revolved around a two-dimensional, monolithic evil corporation, MNU, that was also possibly collaborating with the government, which devoted twenty years and presumably trillions of dollars to trying to figure out how to operate alien weapons. Those weapons could only be operated in the hands of the aliens themselves and the corporation is seen in the film forcing captured aliens to demonstrating some of those weapons’ capabilities. But later in the film, when we’re finally shown the full capabilities of the alien weapons in real combat, they turned out to be at best no more powerful than a common bazooka, and certainly insignificant compared with the atomic bombs made here at home and which without a doubt would have been far easier for the corporation to obtain. This left me scratching my head and hoping MNU fired whichever moron was heading up the project in first place. I was also left feeling sympathy for the MNU shareholders and the villainous MNU employees who would soon to be out of work because their company has clearly bankrupted itself by taking wasteful spending to a whole new level. … continue reading this entry.

Faulty logic: Post hoc, ergo propter hoc

For the next in the series on faulty logic, we have:

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc

It’s a natural tendency for people to make connections between events. “When I do this, that happens.”

When I touch something hot, I get burned.
When I don’t water my house plants, they die.
When I eat that kind of mushroom, I get sick. … continue reading this entry.

The ‘you haven’t read everything I’ve ever written’ fallacy

Several days ago, I came across a link to a web forum hosted by Dorothy M. Murdock, also known as D.M. Murdock, but far better known as Acharya S. For those who aren’t familiar with the name, Acharya S is an author and proponent of the Christ myth theory.

But while numerous historians share the position that Jesus was a myth, few go as far as Acharya S, who, from my understanding, believes Jesus was deliberately invented as part of a grand conspiracy. Acharya’s popularity particularly rose after she was prominently featured in the first part of the controversial Zeitgeist film, which became an instant hit among 9/11 deniers. To date, I can’t find any instances where Acharya has made any public statements regarding her own beliefs about who caused 9/11.

But all that is just background. Since I’m not a historian myself, I can’t comment with any authority on the validity of Acharya’s fringe historical claims one way or the other. That is best left up to the experts. … continue reading this entry.

Faulty logic: Appeal to Popularity

It’s been too long since I’ve written an installment of the series on faulty logic. It’s time to continue it, with…

Appeal to Popularity

There was a time when pretty much everyone thought that the Earth was flat. There was a time when anyone who thought about it was sure the sun went around the Earth. Come to mention it, there was a time when that was widely attributed to its having a ride on Apollo’s chariot. These were popular ideas.

But an idea’s popularity doesn’t make it right; it only makes it popular. … continue reading this entry.

Faulty logic: Appeal to Authority

Continuing the series on faulty logic, today we’ll look at:

Appeal to Authority

In our society, we hold various people up as authority figures, those we’re inclined to pay attention to. It’s not always clear why we have some folks on that list, really. Political leaders, such as presidents, prime ministers, kings, queens, senators, and governors are obvious. Educators and other academics — professors, scientists, and the like — also make sense. I’m never sure why actors and sports figures are there, but they do seem to be. … continue reading this entry.

Thank You, Mrs. Walkman: OR How I Won a Drunken Argument with Seventh Grade Logic

This is what was inside of me

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One of the most annoying questions that can be asked of a middle school math teacher is, “When am I ever going to use this in the real world?” Part of the annoyance is that for most kids, it’s kind of true. I don’t know about you, on a daily basis I find a lot of use for arithmetic, but on the whole I don’t really have to rely on all that much else. Sure, I recently solved a quadratic equation, but I can’t honestly say I needed to.  However! The other day, I discovered a great reason for any kid to learn math: winning arguments with annoying people. … continue reading this entry.

Faulty logic: False Dichotomy

It’s time for number two in a series of posts on faulty logic. Today’s fallacy:

False Dichotomy

We like things to be black or white, tall or short, here or there. We like to consider two sides to every story.

Unfortunately, there aren’t always two sides. Sometimes there’s only one; more often, there are multitudes. Many facets on the stone. Nooks and crannies in abundance. Things are usually not either black or white, but multicolored. As it’s hard to argue a case with so many variations, we tend to narrow the scope, and argue one side against another.

The trouble comes because we tend to define the two sides in a lopsided manner, revealing our biases and mischaracterizing one side or the other. If you’re not “pro-life”, what are you? Anti-life? Of course not: it’s a false dichotomy. … continue reading this entry.

Faulty logic: Confirmation Bias

In “On being a skeptic”, I said that skeptics look at evidence and make rational judgments based on the evidence:

We don’t say, “Bullshit!”, and we don’t say, “It’s a scientist saying it, so it must be true.” We look at the evidence.

Even the most hardened skeptic is susceptible to confirmation bias. We might think, “that traffic light is always red,” even when we know it is programmed to change at regular intervals.I note that non-skeptics — or those who style themselves as a different kind of skeptic — also put forth “evidence” and claim support from it. But their evidence turns out to be faulty, and, often, the fault is in their reliance on one of more logical fallacies. They’re using faulty logic, which is generating faulty evidence, which is supporting… not any judgment they might make from what they see, but what they’ve already determined they want to believe.

I thought I’d have a look, in a series of posts, at some of the common logical fallacies. I’ll start with the one that’s perhaps the hardest for us to avoid, one that most of us have to work hard not to fall into ourselves.

Confirmation Bias

Simply put, confirmation bias is seeing what you want or expect to see, and ignoring what contradicts it. … continue reading this entry.

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