New World Record? Six Logical Fallacies with a Single Sentence promoting Genetically Modified Food

(c) Copyright 2012 David Dilworth

This is an article about an Analysis(1) of a web article (“The anti-GMO campaign’s dangerous war on science”). The web article by Michael Eisen is a hypocrisy drenched assault on Informed Consent, Food Safety proponents, and the possibility of harm from Genetically Modified (GMO) food.

It shows admittedly “mad scientist” and genetic researcher Michael Eisen’s impressive use of fallacious reasoning(2) while ironically brandishing the banner of “Science.” (And No, contrary to his claims, Eisen did not provide any evidence of a war or attack on science by Food Safety proponents; nor did he show GMOs can be proven harmless.)

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Well I’m angry, making sense gets in the way.(3)
Coupling” British TV comedy series

Hypocrisy Meter -- Pegged

Hypocrisy Meter — Pegged

An article on Genetically modified (GMO) food entitled “The anti-GMO campaign’s dangerous war on science“(4) is written by an admittedly “infuriated” genetic researcher in California named Michael Eisen claiming to support Open Science.

Eisen’s article initially attracted me because I’ve been helping to inspire people with the wonders of science and promote science-based governmental decisions for a few decades, I’m aware of real attacks on science philosophy and its credibility, and I’m a bit familiar with environmental impacts — so sounds good right ?

Wow, was I ever in for a disturbing surprise. With deeply profound irony the admittedly angry Eisen claims he’s fighting to defend science (“My vested interest here is science, and what I write here, I write to defend it”). Instead his article pummels and batters science reasoning and logic so relentlessly I had to set it aside for a few days to recover from my shocked dismay.

Wildfire demonstrating Eisen's False Claims

Wildfire demonstrating Eisen’s False Claims

The article’s overarching theme is based on attacking GMO Food Safety proponents for not meeting a set of standards (presumably “science reasoning”) – and to do so Eisen violates those same standards. In short — well . . . hypocrisy.

His article attacks Informed Consent, GMO Food Harm, and Food Safety proponents themselves, with a non-stop blast of logical fallacies (meaning they prove nothing) and demonstrably misleading and false science “facts.” My analysis turned up more than two dozen fallacies that mortify rational discourse and science reasoning – including a single sentence that commits six (6) logical fallacies !(5)

Commentary: What disturbs me most is how his article ignites a wildfire of false claims about GMO harm using numerous serious logical and factual errors – while fiercely and falsely proclaiming he is doing so in the name of Science with a capital “S”. — Ouch.

Eisen never mentions (or realizes?) that he and Food Safety proponents might each embrace science philosophy but have different values. Not a different view of science methods, reasoning or facts, but different judgments on how to apply scientifically generated facts to potential harm from GMOs to the real world, to real people, to real farmers who don’t want GMOs, and to actual living animals and ecosystems.

That’s not a conflict with science methodology or facts, its just another political dispute between different values for harm and benefit. Eisen apparently sees all benefits and no possible harm from GMO food, and Food Safety people presumably find serious potential harm and little to no benefits.

Here’s what I found after carefully reviewing his article.

Red-Herring or Distraction Fallacy

Red-Herring or Distraction Fallacy

What really makes me uncomfortable is when Eisen claims high authority as spokesperson for “Science,” then he’s purporting to speak for me and anyone else who cares about science based research and reasoning.  In that case he darn well better have his logical ducks in a row. But, he doesn’t. Not even close.

If you enjoy a logical puzzle – before you read my analysis, see if you can identify the sentence with the six logical fallacies in Eisen’s article “The anti-GMO campaign’s dangerous war on science“. Warning note: Eisen’s article contains two other sentences with at least three logical fallacies each – this guy’s work is a marvel.

Here is the entire analysis in PDF format: “Michael Eisen’s Angry, Hypocrisy Drenched Assault on Informed Consent using Massive Fallacious Reasoning while Ironically Brandishing the Banner of ‘Science’

# # #

Next, lets have a Contest to see who can find the most logical fallacies in any single sentence that was intended as a public statement.

The best answers will get a copy of Darrell Huff’s book “How to Lie with Statistics.” To enter – just write up your findings in a reply.

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Notes and References for this article:

1. Click here for the full Analysis (in PDF) “Michael Eisen’s Angry, Hypocrisy Drenched Assault on Informed Consent using Massive Fallacious Reasoning while Ironically Brandishing the Banner of “Science”

2. Logic Fallacy Resources: Logically Fallacious, by Bo Bennett, Wikipedia’s list of logical fallacies, a “Master List of Logical Fallacies” courtesy of the University of Texas, and a (sometimes hilarious) list of wonderfully ironic examples of fallacies.

3. Susan in “Patrick’s Love Cupboard” episode

4. Michael Eisen’s article “The anti-GMO campaign’s dangerous war on science

5. Full (Award Nominated) quote of sentence with six logical fallacies —

“For the backers of the initiative to claim otherwise as a finding of fact is an outright lie, and an outlandish attack on science.”

6. “Do Seed Companies Control GM Crop Research?”, Scientific American, August 13, 2009

Scientists must ask corporations for permission before publishing independent research on genetically modified crops. That restriction must end

and

“… when scientists are prevented from examining the raw ingredients in our nation’s food supply or from testing the plant material that covers a large portion of the country’s agricultural land, the restrictions on free inquiry become dangerous.

Update Oct 2013: It appears I have been duped by a standard PR technique of the GM industry. Here’s an exerpt from expose by Peter Melchett

“Monsanto’s pro-GMO propaganda efforts take the same form:

1. Choose an “objective” scientist who is not directly associated with the company but is beholden to the industry;
2. Start with the standard fear-mongering about world population growth and food supply;
3. Grab a few convenient supporting facts and misrepresent their true weight with confident bravado;
4. Claim that only GMO has chance of providing food for a growing world if only opponents would get out of the way;
5. Suggest that anyone who has a contrary fact or opinion just isn’t smart enough to understand.”

Update March 2014: Here are two jaw-dropping resources illuminating how Genetic Engineering money is corrupting scientific findings, research and publication – as well as public media about Genetic Engineering. Why haven’t we read about these facts?

1. European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility

Press Releases include:

10 Dec 2013 -“297 scientists and experts agree GMOs not proven safe“,
21 Oct 2013 – “No scientific consensus on GMO Safety“, and
17 Dec 2013 – “End double standards in evaluating GMO safety studies – say scientists

2. Fighting for Genetic Engineering, Pamela Ronald’s Lab had two papers retracted and other researchers have raised questions about a third. The two retracted papers form the core of her research program into how rice plants detect specific bacterial pathogens. The article is — “Can the Scientific Reputation of Pamela Ronald, Public Face of GMOs, Be Salvaged?”

dd: Pamela Ronald’s a mean one. Her public columns use name calling logical fallacies (ad hominem) attacks on those who oppose her pro-industry opinions with facts.

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David Dilworth is the editor of possibly the largest database of environmental impacts which compiles the best available science — experiment based research, on over 1,000 different kinds of environmental harms, mitigations, and thoughtful, reasonable alternatives to avoid those harms.

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22 Responses to New World Record? Six Logical Fallacies with a Single Sentence promoting Genetically Modified Food

  1. Vince says:

    Based on what he presents in his original article, Mr. Eisen should support labeling foods as GMOs so that he can be sure that he is eating his GMOs and avoid the GMO-free foods that we prefer.

  2. Clay Olson says:

    I request that we stop referring to foodstuffs derived from plants, whose genes have been changed by humans, as genetically-modified or genetically-engineered. The nomenclature given by businesses to making genetic changes in plants and animals, such as “genetically-modified” or “genetically-engineered” are mis-leading. Genetically-modified sounds like genetically-mollified, a gentle, no-big-deal thing. Genetically-engineered implies certainty and precision.

    The long-term effects of changing the genetics of food in relation to how those crops will interact with unmodified crops, and how the eating of tampered food will affect humans is unknown and un-certain.

    I request that we refer to these organisms as GTO’s or “Genetically-Tampered Organisms” in order to put a negative spin on the subject. We need to put a negative “spin” on this subject with our choice of words, just as the promoters of this technology have put a positive spin on this subject with their choice of words. Share with friends.

  3. Brett says:

    Here’s what I find in this little anaylsis:

    “Eisen apparently sees all benefits and no harm from GMO food…”
    Probably because benefits are obvious and no harm has been shown from GMO food. That would be a pretty rational position to take.

    “…and Food Safety people presumably find serious potential harm and little to no benefits.”
    So they don’t find any actual harm? Only “potential” harm, eh? And these Food Safety people, what are their qualifications to make these findings? Are they geneticists? Are they running labs and producing peer-reviewed papers that stand up to scrutiny like the recent Seralini study? Oh wait, that one didn’t stand up to scrutiny and was shown to be xxxx with an anti-GMO agenda looking to confirm pre-determined bias by flawed methodology and massaged statistics reporting.

    “Contrary to the article’s inflammatory title, there is no evidence of war or attack on science by Food Safety proponents”

    By actively promoting an scaremongering smear campaign that not only ignores the science but runs contrary to the accepted scientific consensus, how can this not be seen as an attack on science? Advocating for science-based policy to be decided not based on scientific results but by the court of (ignorant and uninformed) public opinion is most definitely saying “I don’t trust science!”

    “GMOs cannot be proven harmless”

    Nothing can be proven 100% harmless; this is asking for an unreasonable burden of proof that is impossible. GMO food only needs to be shown to be at least as safe as other “conventional” food, which itself is impossible to show that it is 100% safe.

    Seed Makers, including Monsanto, threaten Researchers investigating GMO harms

    Citation needed.

    The article provided no fallacy-free pro-GMO arguments
    Since the entire article was about a completely different topic, it’s not surprising that it doesn’t include something that you think it should. Most telling is that you don’t provide a list of the arguments that you DID see and WHY they were fallacious instead of simply asserting that they are.

    Eisen should support labeling foods as GMOs so he can avoid GMO-free food.
    This is just an absurd attempt to put words into someone else’s mouth and you should be ashamed for trying it.

    I count that as 7 errors in logic and argument, so it appears that you are the current reigning champ in your little contest.

  4. David says:

    So Brett is critiquing my analysis of — Michael Eisen’s pro-GMO blog article that committed six logical fallacies in a single sentence.

    That’s absolutely fine and in fact everyone is welcome and indeed encouraged to do so. As I mentioned if I make a logical error, I’ll rapidly acknowledge and correct it.

    Brett claims I made “7 errors in logic and argument” in my analysis. Lets take a look and see if there is any fact in that claim – and whether he can do so without making his own logical errors.

    Brett: “Here’s what I find in this little anaylsis:”

    dd: I believe the word is spelled “analysis.”
    (That’s so funny. Brett makes the same kinds of spelling errors with which Eisen fills his writing . . . I wonder . . . naahh.)

    1. (Brett quoting my original comment) “Eisen apparently sees all benefits and no harm from GMO food…”

    Brett: Probably because benefits are obvious and no harm has been shown from GMO food. That would be a pretty rational position to take.

    Brett doesn’t point out any logical error on my part or even a dispute here. However, Brett wrongly counts this as an error in either my logic or argument with no evidence or rationale.

    That’s Brett taking the lead with 1 (one) logical error, Dilworth – none.

    2. (Brett quoting my original comment) “…and Food Safety people presumably find serious potential harm and little to no benefits.”

    Brett: So they don’t find any actual harm? Only “potential” harm, eh? And these Food Safety people, what are their qualifications to make these findings? Are they geneticists? Are they running labs and producing peer-reviewed papers that stand up to scrutiny like the recent Seralini study? Oh wait, that one didn’t stand up to scrutiny and was shown to be xxxx with an anti-GMO agenda looking to confirm pre-determined bias by flawed methodology and massaged statistics reporting.

    Again Brett fails to point out any logical error on my part. He purely argues against GMO-Food Safety advocate’s position, but somehow equates my reporting their position as my making an error. He may believe he won that point against a GMO- Food Safety advocate. Even if correct, that’s not a logical or argument failure on my part. If I had incorrectly reported or interpreted the GMO-Food Safety position that would be my error.

    Brett again wrongly counts this as an error in either logic or argument with no evidence or rationale. That’s one error. But he commits a second error by confusing my reporting for the position of GMO-Free advocates.

    Brett also commits a logical fallacy called “Appeal to Authority,” making a third error on this topic alone.

    dd: While I now sympathize with GMO-Free advocates position, for these analyses I’m only reporting their position, not advocating it. When I advocate for a position, there’s no question of whether mine is advocacy or not. The only concept I’m arguing for in the original analysis and here is rational discourse..

    I’m only a referee here because of the outrageous avalanche of logical fallacies by contra-rational claims of genetic researchers Michael Eisen and John A. Pickett of UK Rothamsted that undermine science (here’s my definition) as a body of reliable processes, rational conclusions and credible information.

    After only two topics, Brett is now leading with 4 logical errors, to Dilworth with none.

    3. (Brett quoting my original comment) “Contrary to the article’s inflammatory title, there is no evidence of war or attack on science by Food Safety proponents”

    Brett: By actively promoting an scaremongering smear campaign that not only ignores the science but runs contrary to the accepted scientific consensus, how can this not be seen as an attack on science? Advocating for science-based policy to be decided not based on scientific results but by the court of (ignorant and uninformed) public opinion is most definitely saying “I don’t trust science!”

    a. Just like Eisen, Brett fails to define “science.” Does Brett mean methodology, reasoning or facts – or some combination? Each choice makes a difference. That’s another Ambiguity logical fallacy. So until Brett tells us what he is talking about – his is just an ungrounded, baseless opinion.

    (And while Brett argues with passion, just like Eisen, he fails to provide any evidence of war or attack on science by Food Safety proponents; only arguments.)

    b. “ignores the science” Again, just like Eisen, Brett fails to provide any evidence that GMO Food-Safety advocates “ignore the science;” he only provides arguments.

    c. “Contrary to the accepted scientific consensus.”
    This unfortunate comment tells me Brett doesn’t quite seem to understand —

    1) how science as collection of methods and facts works, and
    2) how there is no “scientific consensus” on GMO Food Safety.

    First of all GMO Food safety has no scientific concensus. The topic is highly controversial. Worst of all the GMO manufacturers threaten legal action against anyone who conducts independent research that might show any harm from GMO food (Seed Makers, including Monsanto, threaten Researchers investigating GMO harms) – making a fully-informed and balanced conclusion difficult for any independent (no financial ties to the GMO industry) and objective expert.

    Second, almost all new research reported in Scientific American and other science journals contradicts the accepted scientific consensus. If they didn’t contradict scientific consensus – there would be nothing to report.

    Here’s an example from today’s Scientific American website “Easter Island Statues Might Have Been ‘Walked’ Out of Quarry.” Correct or not, reasonable or not, this contradicts the scientific consensus that the statues were rolled into place with logs.

    Brett then seems to argue that no one but some ambiguous set of researchers can have a valid opinion that contradicts accepted scientific consensus. That commits several logical fallacies; a double appeal to authority and an inverse ad-hominem. Who judges murder? Only murderers? Are movie critics part of Hollywood movie studios?

    (The correct grammar is “a scaremongering [campaign]” – not “an scaremongering [campaign]” But he doesn’t lose any points for grammar errors.)

    But by claiming that I made an error in logic or argument – he fails again.

    These numerous claims in a single topic, luckily for Brett only add up to one false claim that I made either a logic or argument error, and his commission of two logical fallacies: Three errors.

    After three topics, Brett is now leading with 7 logical errors, to Dilworth with none.

    4. (Brett quoting my original comment) “GMOs cannot be proven harmless”

    Brett: Nothing can be proven 100% harmless; this is asking for an unreasonable burden of proof that is impossible. GMO food only needs to be shown to be at least as safe as other “conventional” food, which itself is impossible to show that it is 100% safe.

    dd: That’s Brett conceding, agreeing with me no GMO food can be proven 100% harmless.

    Amazing though is how Brett pulls a new “standard of review” (only as safe as “conventional” food) — out of thin air. No citation or reference to anything. There’s nothing logically wrong with providing a new “standard of review” – but it would be more persuasive if he had it accepted by someone other than himself; perhaps a consumer group. And probably importantly – explained how that might be measured.

    *** Most importantly, and precisely on the biggest point I hope to make – any “standard of review” should be accepted by the folks who will be affected by it. That’s the core of “Informed Consent.” I think I understand the GMO-Food Safety folks position well enough to feel confident they would reject Brett’s proposed “standard of review.”

    Brett’s logical error is claiming I made a mistake in either logic or argument on this topic – when he agrees with my claims.

    After four topics, Brett is now leading with 8 logical errors, with Dilworth staying steady at zero.

    5. (Brett quoting my original comment) “Seed Makers, including Monsanto, threaten Researchers investigating GMO harms

    Brett: Citation needed.

    dd: The full citation was provided, as is a link to the original Scientific American editorial in the references section at the end of this article and in the analysis itself. By claiming that there is no citation in the news report, it shows Brett never read as far as the references section or actual analysis. Nevertheless I have now put the link in the news report (above), to the original Scientific American editorial entitled “Seed Makers, including Monsanto, threaten Researchers investigating GMO harms

    Brett gets another point for a false claim, but dodges getting yet another for not even reading the Reference section to the article, or the actual analysis where the complete citation and link exist. Lets make that my error in not making the link painfully obvious in more places, and not Brett’s failure to look for it or try to open and read it.

    My oversight in lacking a link in a news summary is an omission, but it is not even close to a logical or argument failure on my part, especially when the full citation and link is provided in the article itself and in the original Analysis.

    Click here for the analysis “Michael Eisen’s Angry, Hypocrisy Drenched Assault on Informed Consent using Massive Fallacious Reasoning while Ironically Brandishing the Banner of “Science””

    After five topics, Brett now has a huge lead after making 9 logical errors, and Dilworth stuck at zero.

    6. (Brett quoting my original comment) “The article provided no fallacy-free pro-GMO arguments”

    Brett: Since the entire article was about a completely different topic, it’s not surprising that it doesn’t include something that you think it should. Most telling is that you don’t provide a list of the arguments that you DID see and WHY they were fallacious instead of simply asserting that they are.

    dd: This didn’t make any sense at first until I realized Brett didn’t read the analysis, he only read the news article / summary. Otherwise he would have realized the analysis does provide a list of the fallacious arguments and detailed why they were fallacious.

    Just to cover all bases – Click here for the analysis “Michael Eisen’s Angry, Hypocrisy Drenched Assault on Informed Consent using Massive Fallacious Reasoning while Ironically Brandishing the Banner of “Science””

    After six topics, Brett now has made at least 10 logical errors, Dilworth still has none.

    7. (Brett quoting my original comment) “Eisen should support labeling foods as GMOs so he can avoid GMO-free food.”

    Brett: This is just an absurd attempt to put words into someone else’s mouth and you should be ashamed for trying it.

    While Brett may not like the conclusion, it is a reasonable conclusion given Michael Eisen’s claims and admissions in his blog article. Eisen writes that he is “a big consumer of organic foods.” (Which Brett would have known if he had read either my Analysis or Eisen’s original article). I wonder how Eisen would identify his organic food while shopping – if they aren’t labeled?

    In any case, once again Brett wrongly counts this as an error in either logic or argument with no evidence or rationale.

    After seven topics, Brett made at least 11 logical errors, and failed to point out a single logical error in my news article / summary which he did read, or in my Analysis (which he apparently did not read).

    8. (Brett on his own)

    Brett: I count that as 7 errors in logic and argument, so it appears that you are the current reigning champ in your little contest.

    Brett is wrong yet again. he failed to point out a single error in my logic or argument. All he did was argue against GMO Food-Safety and in doing so commits 11 logical errors of his own. (I’m not counting his conclusion’s two additional errors, as they are not directly based on my work, they are dependent on his earlier errors.)

    The concept of a logical fallacy seems to escape Brett Guillory entirely. Nor does he seem to understand (just like Eisen) that there is a difference between an error in argument and a dispute in values. He seems to believe that I made errors in argument and logic – when any analysis shows he merely disputes the substantive points about GMOs and believes his arguments are stronger.

    Interestingly enough, his logical fallacies, while overlapping and similar to Eisen’s, are not as extreme or as dense. Therefore, Eisen’s six logical fallacies with a single sentence remains, as far as we know, the world record.

    Perhaps Brett would understand better if he had read the analysis. However, I do not have much hope that he would change his mind after reading it. (Some minds are like concrete – all mixed up and set solid) I would be pleased to be wrong about that.

    Click here for the analysis “Michael Eisen’s Angry, Hypocrisy Drenched Assault on Informed Consent using Massive Fallacious Reasoning while Ironically Brandishing the Banner of “Science””

    Click here to learn more about logical fallacies

  5. Skeptico says:

    David:

    Is there anywhere where you have you quoted just the sentence with the six logical fallacies? I’m sorry if you have already done this – I just haven’t been able to find it and I don’t fancy reading Eisen’s entire article. I ask because finding logical fallacies is a bit of a hobby horse of mine. Thanks.

  6. Skeptico says:

    Thanks for the clarification. Now I’ve seen it though, I have to say I thin you’re reaching quite a lot. And I’m pretty sure you misunderstand at least one of the fallacies you are quoting. Here goes:

    Ambiguity (twice)

    I don’t see any ambiguity, even once, let alone twice. What he says, to me, is completely unambiguous and crystal clear. Please note, I’m not saying I agree with him, just that I think it’s clear what he meant. Where is the ambiguity?

    Also, ambiguity per se isn’t really a fallacy. It’s more bad writing, unless it’s done deliberately, as in (for example) equivocation (which is a fallacy).

    “Can’t Prove a Negative”

    Here you really puzzle me. It’s a fallacy to ask for someone to prove a universal negative, but that’s not what he’s doing. An example of this fallacy would be if an opponent of Eisen said something structurally like, ‘if you can’t prove GMOs are safe in all cases, then they are dangerous.’ That would be a fallacy because the person would be asking Eisen to prove a universal negative (ie that GMOs had never and never would be dangerous) – an impossibility. But it doesn’t make sense to say that Eisen is doing this.

    Perhaps you think he is saying that he has proven backers of the initiative wrong (their claim is a “an outright lie”), and that this is “proving a negative”? But if that’s what you meant, that isn’t a fallacy. Showing that someone is wrong is not a fallacy.

    Unless you meant something completely different.

    a Non-Sequitur (it does not follow),

    I’m doubtful about this one too. If he is correct that the backers’ claim is an outright lie, then it’s not unreasonable to say this is an attack on science. A bit hyperbolic, to be sure, but to say it simply does not follow is not correct. (Please note, I said “if” he is correct – I’m not saying he is or isn’t. But for the sake of the argument, to evaluate if he is using the non sequitur fallacy, you have to accept for now that he is correct.)

    Contradiction, and “Proof by Assertion.”

    It seems to me these are the same thing. Contradiction is not a fallacy, otherwise you’d never be able to disagree with anyone (check the list on your own cited page of fallacies – it’s not there). It’s only a fallacy if it’s not backed by evidence – ie if it is pure assertion. So you’re double counting.

    But is he really asserting? Well, only if you take this one sentence alone and out of context. If you read the rest of his article, he provides a lot of information to back up the apparent assertion. Now, I’m not saying he’s right, and perhaps you could refute much of what he wrote. But you refute his article by refuting the examples he gives later in the article, not by quote-mining one sentence and saying he’s just asserting. When you take one sentence out of a 3,500 word article and highlight one thing you say is an unsupported assertion, you are not being intellectually honest. More to the point, you are engaging in a logical fallacy of your own – a form of straw man (you are ridiculing one sentence while ignoring his more serious arguments).

    From where I look at it, that sentence is a bit hyperbolic, but not fallacious.

    • David says:

      Thank you for your note and I do appreciate your analysis.

      For the amount of laudable work you put into this – it appears that it is unresponsive to the analysis that fairly carefully explains each point, particularly the ambiguities.

      You might enjoy reading it — “Michael Eisen’s Angry, Hypocrisy Drenched Assault on Informed Consent using Massive Fallacious Reasoning while Ironically Brandishing the Banner of ‘Science’

      I look forward to having time to respond to each of your points.

      In the meantime let me repost a portion of my original analysis of those six fallacies

      Half dozen fallacies with a single sentence: Ambiguity (twice), “Can’t Prove a Negative,” a Non-Sequitur (it does not follow), Contradiction, and “Proof by Assertion” fallacies with “For the backers of the initiative to claim [ GMOs might be harmful ] as a finding of fact is an outright lie, and an outlandish attack on science.”

      1. Ambiguity fallacy: His claim of an “attack on science” is ambiguous about what he means by “science.” Does he mean scientific methodology, reasoning or facts derived from experiment – or some combination? It does make a difference. (It is also possible he means GMO scientists – but that would add an additional fallacy of falsely equating scientists with ideas of science.)

      2. Ambiguity fallacy: Nor does he define the careless way he uses the word “safe.” (The word “safe” is not explicitly in the offending sentence, however the sentence refers to its earlier use.)

      Does he mean “not harmful” or that the harms are only relative to the benefits?

      3. Next, assuming he intends safe to mean “not harmful” his position (claiming there is no possible harm from GMOs) requires a Proof of a Negative fallacy. However, the rules of logic prevent us from proving a negative (e.g. There is no harm).

      This fallacy means his position that “GMOs are safe” is invalid, proves nothing and refutes nothing.

      4. His claim of a “lie” is false since it is a Non-Sequitur fallacy (it does not follow).

      That’s because committing a Lie requires more than making a false claim; it requires the person making the claims to understand it is false.

      However, Eisen provides no evidence of that. Even if we assume, without accepting, his own unproven claim that “GMOs are safe” — he provides zero evidence that Food Safety people had any understanding that GMOs are safe.

      5. (Self) Contradiction fallacy: He claims GMO harm is a lie even though admitting “I’m sure they have a reference that justifies their making this assertion.” (!)

      So — the first part of his sentence claims its a lie that GMOs might be harmful – while later admitting Food Safety people will have a study justifying their claim. That’s a Contradiction fallacy.

      So he’s contradicts his own harshest claim while standing in the quicksand of four other logical fallacies in a single sentence to exclaim this attack.

      6. Proof by Assertion fallacy: This leaves his seemingly powerful assault with zero valid support (there is no attack on science (however defined), no lie, and no valid argument supporting anything he claims with that sentence). That means his sentence taken as a whole is worthless, making it a mere unattached opinion; not a logical argument. “Proof” without facts is called a Proof by Assertion fallacy.

  7. Skeptico says:

    Thanks for the clarification. It’s now taken two attempts for me to understand the points you were trying to make. Purely an opinion here, but if you want to show a sentence has logical fallacies, it helps your reader to include the full analysis with the original sentence, all in the original article.

    Anyway, I’m afraid I disagree with every one of your arguments. My analysis:

    Ambiguity Fallacies 1 and 2

    You’re calling this a fallacy because you say there are ambiguous definitions of “science” and of “safe.” This is ridiculous.

    Equivocation is a fallacy if you deliberately use different definitions of a word to win an argument. For example, people have said to me I have “faith” in science, therefore science is my religion. They’re using the different definitions of “faith” – (a) one meaning “trust” and (b) another meaning “blind faith with no evidence.” The fallacy is to claim I have definition b, when I have definition a. There has to be an intention to take advantage of the different meanings, otherwise this is not a fallacy. Your own cited link even says this:

    As a logical fallacy, Ambiguity occurs when linguistic ambiguity causes the form of an argument to appear validating when it is not.

    Because of the ubiquity of ambiguity in natural language, it is important to realize that its presence in an argument is not sufficient to render it fallacious, otherwise, all such arguments would be fallacious. [My bold.]

    Clearly Eisen isn’t doing this – he is not using linguistic ambiguity to try to win a point. He is simply using everyday words in the way most people understand them, with no attempt to switch between different definitions. You are overreaching massively. At most he is guilty of careless writing, but even that is a stretch. It seems to me you are arguing like a lawyer – expecting every word to be fully defined with no ambiguity at all. But that’s not how people write. It’s not how I write and I’ll bet it’s not how you write every sentence. There is a reason legal documents are long and unintelligible to most people: it’s so there is no ambiguity and so that no clever lawyer will in the future be able to use the ambiguity get for his client a benefit that was not originally intended. This is not a legal document, but you are nit picking it the way a lawyer would a contract. You just come over here as just being silly and trying much too hard to find something that is not there.

    There is no “debating advantage” to Eisen for using words that may be interpreted slightly differently. Eisen isn’t even using the words implying different meanings at different times. Consequently there is no equivocation. Your 1 and 2 are not fallacies.

    3 Proof Of Negative

    Next, assuming he intends safe to mean “not harmful” his position (claiming there is no possible harm from GMOs) requires a Proof of a Negative fallacy.

    No it doesn’t.

    First thing – it is not a fallacy to say you can prove a negative. That would be ridiculous. For example, imagine I were to publish a study of some specific GMO food that showed this individual item was safe. Now, imagine it was a fraudulent study – I had hidden some of the data where people were made sick, or I had used bad statistics, or had unblinded the study to tamper with the data. Now, if someone was able to discover these frauds of mine, then they’d be able to show where the study was wrong – ie they would prove a negative. Same thing is my study showed GMOs were dangerous, and I had done that fraudulently. Same if they were just errors, not deliberate frauds. Clearly it’s not fallacy to show that such a study is wrong, or no one would ever be able to show any study was wrong, ever, for any reason. Clearly ridiculous. Obviously you can prove a negative.

    The fallacy is to say you can prove a universal negative. For example, I can’t prove there are no white crows. I can search the world and take pictures of millions of black crows, but that wouldn’t prove there wasn’t one white crow somewhere. If Eisen had said GMOs were never dangerous, had never harmed anyone and never would, he would be claiming to have proved a universal negative. (He’d be saying there were no white crows, anywhere.) But he isn’t doing that. He’s saying that the claims of the backers of the initiative are wrong (or as he puts it, a lie). He’s not “claiming there is no possible harm from GMOs” as you put it. He just says that the studies, evidence or whatever the backers of the initiative are claiming as facts, are not true. (ie he’s just saying that none of the crows they have shown him, are white.) Now, you may claim he hasn’t read all the pro-initiative evidence, or that he hasn’t refuted it all. Maybe he hasn’t, I don’t know. But he has not claimed a universal negative, he is claiming a limited negative. That’s not fallacious. If it were, then the backers’ claims (in fact, anyone’s claims about anything) would be unfalsifiable always.

    If you read a little further down his article, you can see what he is really saying:

    There is no compelling evidence of any harm arising from eating GMOs, and a diverse and convincing body of research demonstrating that GMOs are safe.

    Note, not “no possible harm”, but “no compelling evidence of any harm…” Different things. The first would be a fallacy, the second, not.

    Incidentally, your statement: “his position (claiming there is no possible harm from GMOs)” is not anything I can find Eisen saying. He doesn’t say that in the famous sentence, and I’ve searched his whole article and the phrases “no possible harm” or “no harm” do not appear anywhere. So ironically, to build a case for a fallacy, you had to build a straw man fallacy of your own.

    So #3 is definitely not a fallacy. Although you committed one.

    His claim of a “lie” is false since it is a Non-Sequitur fallacy (it does not follow).

    That’s because committing a lie requires more than making a false claim, it requires the person making the claims to understand it is false.

    Not really. Read, for example, the rational wiki on the non sequitur. See their examples – Eisen’s “lie” doesn’t really fit. If anything, this would be argument by assertion (ie he hasn’t shown it is a lie), but IMO it’s really just a bit of careless writing.

    So #4 not really a fallacy, but I agree you shouldn’t accuse people of lying unless you can demonstrate that they are. I’ll accept “argument by assertion.”

    5. Contradiction fallacy: He claims GMO harm is a lie even though admitting “I’m sure they have a reference that justifies their making this assertion.” (!)

    So — the first part of his sentence claims its a lie that GMOs might be harmful – while later admitting Food Safety people will have a study justifying their claim. That’s a
    Contradiction fallacy.

    First thing: the “while I’m sure they have a reference that justifies their making this assertion…” wording comes in the previous sentence. Therefore this is not a fallacy in “a single sentence” as you put it. (I’m sorry, but if you’re going to nit pick someone else’s arguments, you have to be careful your own arguments are flawless.)

    More to the point though, it’s not contradictory at all. It’s quite possible for people to have studies and references, and to quote them when needed, while at the same time they know the studies and references are lies. This should be obvious. You need to think a bit more before you post.

    #5 Not a fallacy.

    6. Proof by Assertion fallacy: This leaves his seemingly powerful assault with no valid support (there is no attack on science, no lie, and no valid argument supporting anything he claims with that sentence). That means his sentence taken as a whole is

    worthless, making it a mere opinion; not a logical argument. “Proof” without facts is called a Proof by Assertion fallacy.

    You’re double counting. By that argument, any fallacy is automatically two fallacies – the original one, plus proof by assertion, since the original fallacy means the argument has no valid support (that’s what a logical fallacy is) and is therefore just assertion. So #6 is not a fallacy.

    Also, your “there is no attack on science, no lie” claim is in fact two arguments by assertion of your own – you haven’t demonstrated there is no attack on science and you haven’t demonstrated there is no lie. You just tried to create ambiguity by introducing different definitions of science. You also demonstrated that Eisen hadn’t proven a lie, but you didn’t prove there is not one (we just don’t know).

    To summarize:

    1) At a stretch there is one logical fallacy (assertion that there was a “lie”). A bit lame though IMO.

    2) Your arguments to support the other five claimed fallacies involved your using a straw man fallacy, and two assertion fallacies of your own.

    David, it’s good you are examining articles for logical fallacies. Understanding fallacies is a key part of critical thinking – recognizing them in other people’s arguments, and not relying on them in your own. But you do have to understand them, and to do that you do need to understand why they are fallacies. You give the impression that you have just learned the names of some fallacies without fully understanding them, and are now trying to fit them to an article (a sentence, actually) that you disagree with. All I can ask is that you read the above and try to understand the reasons the fallacies you are calling, would be fallacies, and then see if they fit. You could also try reading my fallacies category – checking back just now, I remember I did explain equivocation in some detail.

  8. Skeptico says:

    I appreciate that you didn’t find the sentence as easily as you wanted, but then apparently you didn’t read the Analysis where the offending sentence is featured with point-by-point details. The blog article was only intended to guide interested readers to the Analysis exposing two dozen logical fallacies, it was specifically intended to not repeat the detailed analysis due to suggestions from an editor and a reviewer.

    The post is titled “Six Logical Fallacies with [sic] a Single Sentence.” The sentence was not quoted until the bottom of your post where it was listed merely as one of several numbered “Notes and References for this article” and it did not at that time include the words “Full (Award Nominated) quote of sentence with six logical fallacies” as it does now. Why it was listed as one of the notes (not even the first one), when it should have been the main feature of the post, is beyond me. I did check the two other links you have (two?) that cover the same article, but I did not see the sentence jumping out at me either. (Perhaps if it had, actually, contained six fallacies, I might have noticed it.) As I said, up to you.

    The impression was of a claim that wasn’t even explained, let alone justified. If I were being as pedantic as you are, I would say that you did not demonstrate, in this post, that there was a sentence with six fallacies. Therefore your entire post was a massive Proof of Assertion Fallacy. In fact, I would argue six Proof of Assertion Fallacies.

    Since you claim to know what he means by those terms “Safe” and “Science”, let me respectfully request – can you please provide your definitions / interpretations of the terms – in the context of how Eisen used them.

    Nice try. No. First, I didn’t “claim to know what he means by those terms “Safe” and “Science”,” – I just wrote “He is simply using everyday words in the way most people understand them” – so that would be a straw man argument or yours. For someone who is very quick to call dubious fallacies on someone else, you are very careless with your own writing. That is your second Straw Man.

    My beliefs about what Eisen meant, is irrelevant. The burden is with you to demonstrate that Eisen’s use of these words was fallacious. Read your own cited link – you need to demonstrate that Eisen used linguistic ambiguity to cause the argument to appear validating when it is not. What are the different definitions that caused an otherwise seemingly valid argument, to be invalid? Why would it be valid with one meaning, but not another? It seems to me you are saying they are all invalid, so how would the ambiguity be a fallacy?

    I see you’re determined to double down on this absurd idea that if a word with more than one meaning is used in a sentence (without a comprehensive definition) then a fallacy has been committed. OK then, let’s look at your post – the one we are commenting on. I found the following:

    Eisen’s article attracted me because I’ve been helping work for good science for a few decades

    Eisen never mentions (or realizes?) that he and Food Safety proponents might each embrace science but have different philosophies or values.

    What really makes me uncomfortable is when Eisen claims high authority as spokesperson for “Science,” then he’s purporting to speak for me and anyone else who cares about science.

    The only other contact I’ve had with the GMO debate is a cordial letter I penned to a British GMO researcher who seemed to have a misguided proprietary ownership of Science

    David Dilworth is the editor of likely the largest database of environmental impacts which compiles the best available science on over 1,000 different kinds of environmental harms, mitigations, and thoughtful, reasonable alternatives to avoid those harms.

    These statements are ambiguous about what you mean by “science.” Do you mean scientific methodology, reasoning or facts derived from experiment – or some combination? It does make a difference. (It is also possible you mean scientists – but that would add an additional fallacy of falsely equating scientists with ideas of science.)

    Do you want me to search the rest of your blog for undefined uses of the word science? How about use of any other words that can mean different things or can be interpreted differently? Do you really want to go down this route, or do you want to consider that maybe this was not fallacious at all? Considering all of the above, do you want to stop accusing Eisen of hypocrisy?

  9. Skeptico says:

    Actually Logical Fallacies do not require Intent.

    Maybe you’re correct in that they don’t have to be intentionally using fallacious logic. However, for it to be equivocation, the arguer has to intend you to agree with a false version of the argument (ie using one definition of the word), while in reality you only agree with the correct version of the argument (ie another definition of the word). You haven’t demonstrated this. Your own link says it is important to realize that the presence of ambiguity in an argument is not sufficient to render it fallacious. It’s absurd to call it a fallacy every time a word isn’t fully defined.

    I reconsidered my argument and I stated it differently a week and a half ago, in my comment above. I’ll try again.

    Read your own cited link – you need to demonstrate that Eisen used linguistic ambiguity to cause the argument to appear validating when it is not. For it to be a fallacy there has to be an advantage to the different meanings. There has to be one meaning of the word where the argument is valid, and another version (the one the arguer wants you to accept) where it is not – otherwise it is not a fallacy. What are the different definitions that caused an otherwise seemingly valid argument, to be invalid? What are the definitions of the words (“safe” and “science”) where the statement is:

    1) True.

    2) Not true.

    And to be clear, for it to be a fallacy, you need to demonstrate that Eisen wants you to accept definition (2). And it cannot be a fallacy unless you also agree that definition (1) is true.

    You claim that there are no possible conflicting or confusing definitions of “safe” or “science.”

    I didn’t claim that. I claimed that calling it a fallacy was ridiculous. Sorry if I wasn’t clear.

    btw, I could call that statement of yours a Straw Man, since that isn’t what I claimed – but then I realized you hadn’t intended to do that. You might claim that my statement was an ambiguity fallacy, since my sentence could be interpreted differently, but the ambiguity was unintentional, easily cleared up. Are you beginning to see yet how jumping on any slight ambiguity and then rather pompously calling it a fallacy, is absurd?

    As we saw above, in the context of Eisen’s post, conflicting meanings are easily possible for the term “safe.” That makes Einen’s use of the term “safe” an Ambiguity logical fallacy.

    As we saw above, just because there are “possible” conflicting meanings, this does not make it a fallacy. You haven’t shown the different meanings where (1) is true and (2) is not, and where Eisen is trying to get you to accept # 2. The mere existence of ambiguity is not enough to call a fallacy.

    You haven’t responded to my comment about the different (ambiguous) uses of the word “science” in your own post. If you’re sure this is a fallacy, don’t you want to apologize for all the ambiguity fallacies in your own writing? And for the hypocrisy?
    Getting tired of waiting almost a week for you to release comments from moderation, I wrote my own post explaining where you have gone wrong: Incorrectly Calling Logical Fallacies. Reading through your main article I found even more errors. I’m not going into them all, but the prime howler is this one:

    Shifting the Burden of Proof Fallacy, Argumentum ad Ignorantiam. The above quote also falsely implies that the burden of proof is now placed with Food Safety proponents.

    Of course the burden of proof is with those claiming GMOs are unsafe (for any definition of “unsafe”). This is one of the basic principles of critical thinking: the burden of proof is always with those making the positive claim. Your own link in your comment above, Burden Reversal fallacy, actually says this:

    … to dismiss something on the basis that it hasn’t been proven beyond all doubt is also fallacious reasoning.

    All GMO proponents can do is show tests, studies etc that show no harm has been demonstrated in those tests and studies. They can’t possibly prove a universal negative – that GMOs cannot, beyond all doubt, cause harm. That is the fallacy – asking for proof of a universal negative – and yet it’s what you expect Eisen to do. In your above paragraph, you expect Eisen to prove a universal negative. But in your “Fallacy #3” you accuse Eisen of claiming he had proved a universal negative and then state that this is a fallacy. So according to you, it’s a fallacy if Eisen claims to have shown GMOs are safe and it’s a fallacy if he says he can’t show GMOs are safe. They can’t both be fallacies.

    • David says:

      Thank you for acknowledging that a logical fallacy does not need to be intentional.

      Skeptico: “Maybe you’re correct in that they don’t have to be intentionally using fallacious logic.“

      Glad I could show you something new. I also appreciate your exposition —

      Skeptico: Equivocation is a fallacy if you deliberately use different definitions of a word to win an argument. For example, people have said to me I have “faith” in science, therefore science is my religion. They’re using the different definitions of “faith” – (a) one meaning “trust” and (b) another meaning “blind faith with no evidence.” The fallacy is to claim I have definition b, when I have definition a.

      dd: Nicely explained. Marvelous actually; the clearest I’ve found. It could prove useful for anyone uncomfortable with science equated with religion. (Might make a worthwhile “cheat sheet” that one could put in a wallet.)

      However, don’t you then contradict what you just agreed to about Intent ?

      Skeptico: “However, for it to be equivocation, the arguer has to intend you to agree with a false version of the argument…”

      and then don’t you resume exactly where you left off again claiming Ambiguity fallacies require intent —

      Skeptico: “for it to be a fallacy, you need to demonstrate that Eisen wants you to accept definition (2). And it cannot be a fallacy unless you also agree that definition (1) is true.”

      Isn’t that another Burden Reversal fallacy? How can anyone “demonstrate that Eisen wants you to accept [a] definition” when he doesn’t explain which definition he is using ?

      That’s the problem with ambiguity. It lets one get away with letting readers think one thing – while the writer can mean another (say for a different audience) – yet retain “plausible deniability. “

      Then you introduce what seems to be a Straw Man argument —

      “It’s absurd to call it a fallacy every time a word isn’t fully defined.”

      Of course I agree that not every ambiguity makes an argument fallacious, and am fairly sure I’ve never claimed that. (As I wrote before if I’ve made a error– I will correct it.)

      Conflicting Ambiguity in a Key Term is a Logical Fallacy

      However, when as in Eisen’s post, the ambiguous terms are the Key Ideas of the article where he claims Genetically Modified Food is “safe” and that Food Safety people are waging a “war on science.”

      Do you dispute that these are core ideas in his arguments? Those words constitute fallacies of Ambiguity because they both have conflicting or confusing meanings.

      Skeptico: “For it to be a fallacy there has to be an advantage to the different meanings.”

      I agree and thought I had explained where “safe” as Food Safety folks means not harmful at all, whereas Monsanto has defined “safe” as equating a pesticide with table salt, and others want to “balance” food safety with economic benefits.

      I am happy to eat food that is “not harmful,” I will reject food that is only as “safe” as the pesticide Roundup.

      I hope you agree that those are conflicting definitions for “safe.”

      There is a clear advantage to Eisen if readers believe he means food that is “not harmful” as opposed to food that is only as “safe” as the pesticide Roundup.

      That fills your criteria “to be a fallacy there has to be an advantage to the different meanings.”

      This means you should accept that the term “safe” as used by Eisen to claim Genetically Modified Food is “safe” as a fallacy due to its ambiguity.

      ______________________

      Administrative Note : Let me request your patience “Skeptico.” I have a real life and as I wrote you privately I’ve been under the weather. I will address every point you’ve raised, indeed I look forward to it.

  10. Skeptico says:

    However, don’t you then contradict what you just agreed to about Intent ?

    No. I agreed that it’s still a fallacy if the arguer didn’t intend to deceive. (That was perhaps my initial, hurried, mistake.) But I also said that the arguer has to want people to accept the “wrong” meaning of the word – the version that isn’t true (although he might not realize it isn’t true).

    Look at “you have faith in science, therefore science is your religion.” Clearly this person wants me to accept I have the religious definition of “faith” (the wrong meaning of the word). You know that because he uses the word “religion.” Also, his argument wouldn’t make sense if he really meant just “trust.” There – that’s me demonstrating the meaning the person wanted me to accept. Also, he ‘tricks’ me into agreeing with his false definition, because of the ambiguity. (I put ‘tricks’ in quotes because it may not be deliberate – but I’m still tricked if I accept his argument.) It’s not sufficient to point out the ambiguity – the ‘faith in science’ claim is only a fallacy if I could be tricked into accepting the “blind faith” meaning.

    Where is the equivalent in Eisen’s use of “safe” or “science”? You need to demonstrate that he means a “wrong” meaning and that the ambiguity covers this up. You need to demonstrate how someone could be tricked by ambiguity into thinking GMOs are “safe.” Just demonstrating there are different (and wrong) meanings doesn’t show that ambiguity could get you could accept something that isn’t true.

    (Now, maybe strictly speaking the person doesn’t have to “intend” you to accept the wrong version. But it’s hard to imagine a person saying “you have faith in science, therefore science is your religion” when they don’t mean you to accept that science is a religion.)

    Read your own cited link – ambiguity is not sufficient to render an argument fallacious. You have to show that it is a fallacy.

    Isn’t that another Burden Reversal fallacy? 

    Of course not. The burden is always with the person making the claim. I’m astonished that you don’t understand this basic rule of logic and critical thinking.

    How can anyone “demonstrate that Eisen wants you to accept [a] definition” when he doesn’t explain which definition he is using ?

    That’s not really my problem, is it? You claimed it was a fallacy – it’s your burden to demonstrate it is. Look at the above – see how I demonstrated the person had the wrong meaning of “faith.” That’s what you need to do.

    Then you introduce what seems to be a Straw Man argument –

    “It’s absurd to call it a fallacy every time a word isn’t fully defined.”

    You picked on two words in a sentence and you said that just because these could be ambiguous, a fallacy had been committed. The only justifications for calling the fallacies were ambiguity in meaning and careless definitions (plus a few examples). No other reasons were given. Why would this ambiguity rule apply here but not elsewhere? To argue that this does not apply to all other cases would be special pleading. I just described what you were doing. It’s only now after several posts that you are trying to show why it is a fallacy in this case only.

    Do you dispute that these are core ideas in his arguments?

    I dispute that ambiguity is a core factor in his argument.

    There is a clear advantage to Eisen if readers believe he means food that is “not harmful” as opposed to food that is only as “safe” as the pesticide Roundup.

    Two things:

    One – Roundup is a herbicide, not a pesticide.

    Two – I see no advantage at all to the ambiguity.

    Look at the “you have faith in science” example that you liked so much. A person might read that and go, “yes he does have faith in science – science is a religion.” Now look at “GMOs are safe.” No anti-GMO person is going to look at that and go, “you know, he is right, GMOs are safe.” Why would they? What would be the thought process? It doesn’t make sense.

    How could we make the ambiguous “safe” wording a fallacy? Here are a couple of examples:

    1) The statement “Monsanto says GMOs are safe” (with perhaps a link to the ‘Roundup’ quote) would be fallacious. A rather slow witted anti-GMO person might see the Monsanto definition of “safe” and agree that it is true (GMOs are as safe as eating Roundup), and therefore accept that GMOs are safe. Actually, I doubt anyone would be that dim, but it’s possible. The logic is fallacious, anyway.

    2) Here’s another: “GMOs are safe” with a link to a “balancing” food safety with economic benefits justification. The person might read that and go “yes, on balance the benefits outweigh the disadvantages, I now agree GMOs are safe.” Again, a stretch, but possible. Also fallacious.

    Do you see what I had to add to the argument to make it a fallacy? I added wording so that the ambiguity could (in theory) trick someone into agreeing to a false conclusion. Just saying “GMOs are safe” doesn’t do that. No one is going to be “tricked” into agreeing that GMOs are safe just because of ambiguity. An anti-GMO person is either going to say “no they’re not” or “you’re just asserting – show me the proof” or maybe “what’s your definition of ‘safe’”. But there is no advantage to the ambiguity. No one is going to change their views on GMO safety because of the ambiguity.

    That fills your criteria “to be a fallacy there has to be an advantage to the different meanings.”

    Show me the advantage. Show how someone could actually be fooled into believing GMOs are safe when they were not, due to the ambiguity. I doubt you can show that. If you can’t demonstrate that, you have not demonstrated a fallacy. Your claim; yours to demonstrate.

  11. Skeptico says:

    On reconsideration, Roundup is a pesticide as well as a herbicide. Weeds are pests too. My apologies.

  12. Pingback: Skeptico’s Misconstruction of Basic Logical Fallacies – while Spreading his own Fallacy Fog | Deep Politics: Environment, Democracy, Health & Beyond

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