We are flooded with information, facts, and opinions every day. We constantly absorb them through our social media feeds, cute quotes, blogs, news articles, monologues from celebrities and public figures, other print and digital media, and those who are important to us in our lives. We often automatically accept that what they are writing or saying as true. Not taking a moment to use our critical thinking skills, to assess the validity of what has been written or said, or to question it’s applicability to our own lives and contexts.

This is something that I’ve become particularly aware of since establishing an online business and blog. Now more than ever before, I have realised the utter importance of critical thinking skills; the ability to apply “disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded and informed by evidence.” To consider the source. To question the argument. To reflect on the context. To assess, research where required, and make up my own mind. To take notice of when I automatically accept something to be true or fact, simply because it came from a public figure or blogger that I admire. To remind myself that I have my own mind and to use it.

In this post, I thought I’d share one useful tool for using your critical thinking skills, in the hope that you can practice it when reading or experiencing the plethora of information and opinions available to you. This tool is the ability to identify logical fallacies.

Logical fallacies are methods of reasoning that make an argument faulty or invalid. Below are 21 logical fallacies, along with an example.

  • False Dilemma (or Black Or White). When it is suggested that only two alternatives apply when there are more options. {When diagnosed with cancer, you must choose between a medical model or a natural model.}
  • Composition. Arguing that if something is true in part, it must be true of the whole. {Entrepreneurs on social media are fake and only show the glossy parts of their lives.}
  • Division. Arguing that if something is true of the whole, it must be true of the part. {The Department of Health must have the best health and wellbeing practices for staff.}
  • Loaded Question (or Complex Question). When a question is asked that has an underlying assumption or implication of guilt and puts one in a position where they feel compelled to defend themselves. {You are a muslim. Why aren’t you and your leaders condemning terrorism!?]
  • False Cause. Presuming that correlation equals causation. {Aboriginal people have lower undergraduate university degree completion rates than non-Aboriginal people. Aboriginal people are therefore not as intelligent as non-Aboriginal people. }
  • Appeal To Authority. Assuming or claiming that because someone of authority said something, it must be true. {Expert A says that you have to be an extrovert in order to be successful in business, therefore as an introvert, I must become more extroverted.}
  • Argumentum Ad Hominem. Rather than responding to an argument, a personal attack of the person is used. {Person 1: I am a feminist because I believe men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. Person 2: You’re a feminist because you’re a man-hating, crazy bitch!}
  • Slippery Slope (or Domino). Suggesting that if X happens, it will lead to Y, therefore we shouldn’t do X. {If we legalise same-sex marriage, it could lead to people wanting to marry animals or children. What’s next!?}
  • Bandwagon. Because something is popular, it must be valid or correct. {Person 1, 2 + 3 are doing X course or Y method, so in order to be successful, you must do it too.}
  • Circular Reasoning (or Circular Argument or Begging The Question). This is where one assumes the statement under examination is true, often because their argument is so ingrained in their thinking that it becomes a given or a fact. {Boat people arrive in this country illegally, and then want to be treated like legal, law-abiding citizens! We need to be protected from them.}
  • Shifting the Burden of Proof. Rather than proving or providing evidence for one’s own argument, they dare people to prove them wrong. {Paleo is the healthiest diet for all. I challenge you to prove me wrong!}
  • Middle Ground (or Argument to Moderation). When one argues that the compromise between two positions must be correct. (X association says that you should eliminate wheat from your diet because it’s bad for you. Y association says you should eat 5 serves of wheat per day. I therefore believe the truth must be somewhere in the middle and we should eat 2.5 serves of wheat per day.) 
  • Straw Man. This is where someone’s argument is misrepresented in order to easily attack it. {You believe in God? Well you must believe in suffering, paedophilia, misogyny, and fairies. I don’t believe in these things – therefore God does not exist.}
  • Appeal to nature. It is argued that just because something is natural means that it is valid, ethical, justified, or good. (This sunscreen is natural and organic – so it must be the best and safest product on the market.)
  • Anecdotal. Instead of providing a sound argument or evidence for an argument or position, an isolated experience or example is provided. (This winter we’ve had a record low. Global warming is obviously a lie.)
  • Appeal to Emotion. Rather than providing a sound argument or evidence, one attempts to manipulate an emotional response. (You must donate to X charity otherwise you condone the starvation and death of children.)
  • Tu Quoque (or Appeal for Hypocrisy). When someone avoids genuinely responding to an argument or criticism, by turning it back on the person who directed the original argument or criticism. In short, they are simply saying “you too!” (Person 1: Women are experiencing record-high levels of domestic violence and we need to take action to instigate change. Person 2: Men experience domestic violence too!)
  • Personal Incredulity (or Argument From Ignorance). This is where one argues that something is true because it cannot be proven false (or vice versa) – or where because something is difficult to understand, it must not be true. (There is no evidence to prove that ghosts do not exists – therefore ghosts must exist). 
  • Clustering (or The Texas Sharp Shooter). Where statistics or data are cherry picked to support an argument, position or presumption. (X studies show that these countries that consume high levels of alcohol are amongst the healthiest in the world, therefore alcohol must be good for you.)
  • The Fallacy Fallacy. Because an argument or claim was based on a logical fallacy or was poorly argued, one presumes it is incorrect. (Person 1: David Suzuki says climate change must exist, so therefore it must exist. Person 2: You have committed the Appeal to Authority Fallacy, so your argument is not sound and climate change must therefore be a myth.)

I hope that you find this list helpful in order to identify logical fallacies in the information you consume – and even in the information you put out there in the world yourself. 

For a quick and easy reference to the different types of logical fallacies we have created a one-page PDF printable logical fallacies cheatsheet that you can print and display at your desk. Click on the image above to get your copy via the Free Resources page.

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