fallacies

An ongoing, telecollaborative project

This collection will serve as a resource for teaching and understanding the nature of logically flawed arguments as part of the critical thinking process of the scientific method.

Excerpt from Virginia Standards of Learning for Physics:

"The nature of science includes the concepts that scientific explanations are based on logical thinking; are subject to rules of evidence; are consistent with observational, inferential, and experimental evidence; are open to rational critique;..."

Physics PH.3

The student will investigate and understand how to demonstrate scientific reasoning and logic. Key concepts include:
[c] evaluation of evidence for scientific theories
[e] construction and defense of a scientific viewpoint (the nature of science)

What are logical fallacies and why are they important?

One device in the critical thinking toolbox is the recognition of flawed arguments in presenting scientific hypotheses and drawing conclusions from experiments or the observations of natural phenomena.  While the study of logical fallacies, as these flawed arguments are known, has more commonly been associated with disciplines such as philosophy, forensic debate, and law, understanding their nature is a powerful tool in scientific reasoning.  This project is dedicated to promoting the study and understanding of logical fallacies as a critical thinking tool in the sciences.  Recognizing how these fraudulent arguments are used to mislead and confuse will help students and teachers understand how bad science is foisted on the public without its knowledge.

In spite of the attempts of students of science to approach the analysis of scientific hypotheses and conclusions in a rational manner, invariably some individuals will attempt to derail the process by diverting the progression of the debate with fallacious arguments.  Such efforts have the intent of masking the indefensibility of a flawed theory by muddying the waters with emotive rhetoric and fractured logic, with the ultimate goal being to convince someone to believe some idea that is not scientifically valid or that they might not otherwise accept.

While this strategy of deceit commonly appears in such arenas as political debate, revisionist history, and consumerism, it is also associated with debate over proposed theories in the fringe sciences, pseudoscience, and paranormal phenomena.   Generally such attempted misdirection comes from those whose prejudicial perspective will not permit them to divest themselves of a pet theory in which they have invested a great deal of energy in promoting.  In some cases, the reluctance to abandon an undistinguished proposition is simply the consequence of shallow thinking reinforced by stubbornness.  In other cases, such efforts have the baser motivation of perpetrating fraud for personal gain.

This project can help students learn to recognize such manipulative and deceitful behavior and provide examples of how logically flawed arguments are used. The glossary will be a source of information that can be incorporated into the science learning experience in a variety of ways: enrichment material to enhance critical thinking, bonus test questions on recognizing fallacies, creative writing exercises where students incorporate dialog using fallacies into their science-related narratives. The project could be used to develop competitions on the use and recognition of logical fallacies.  It could be a support source for training forensic debaters to use and recognize these fallacies. For some, it can be just an entertaining pastime looking and listening for them in everyday experiences.

What is the history of this project?

The thirty-five logical fallacies below were chosen as representatives of the most commonly used fallacious arguments that students are likely to see or hear in the media or in day-to-day conversation. The definitions and examples were located or created by my physics students as a critical thinking research project during the 2008-2009 school year. I added brief commentaries to add perspective to the relevance and significance of each example. For many years, the study and discussion of logical fallacies has been an important component of my physics course in conjunction with the study of the scientific method. Understanding the relevance of logical fallacies uncovered during discussions of scientific issues is as important as understanding the necessity of having testable and falsifiable hypotheses and as valuable as using Occam's Razor in separating good ideas from bad ideas in science and science-related topics.

This ongoing, collaborative project is dedicated to the collection and publication of contemporary examples of these fallacies that are located in the public media. Students continue to locate and collect actual examples they read in newspapers, magazines, web articles, blogs, and that they hear on TV and in movies. The goal is to create a database collection of examples with accurate source documentation. As the collection grows, it will become a resource for teaching and learning about these fallacies and how they are used and misused.

How can my students participate in this project?

If you are interested in having your students participate in this ongoing collaborative experience, contact me, and I will send you information on collecting and forwarding material for inclusion. If you only wish to use the material in the database, feel free to make use of it in whatever way you feel will be valuable.

Charles McGlothlin
Physics & AP Physics

Heritage High School
Leesburg, Virginia

Contact me: Charles McGlothlin

A Glossary of Logical Fallacies