Isn’t Logic Great?
Who doesn’t like logic? We idolize Sherlock Holmes’ ability to solve mysteries by “eliminating the impossible.” In arguments with friends, we try to prove we’re right using logic, rather than intuition or emotions. And we especially enjoy pointing out others’ logical fallacies–preferably using latin terms.
Don’t pat yourself on the back just yet. Finding logical fallacies is actually much less impressive than you might think. That’s because in the real world, all arguments violate the principles of formal logic.
Yes, perhaps every logical argument you have ever encountered was flawed.
On August 21, 2013, the war in Syria reached a new low. Horrific pictures and stories began to spread about an attack near Damascus. Reports of chemical weapon use in the Ghouta region soon followed.
It was soon confirmed that there had indeed been a chemical attack. Deadly sarin-gas rockets had hit multiple areas within the Ghouta region, causing hundreds of casualties. But while there had clearly been an attack, its origins were less obvious. Syria, Russia, the US, UN, and opposition fighters all argued about who was responsible. These claims often reflected political interests more than truth-seeking. At Rootclaim, we set out to sift through the evidence in search of more objective conclusions.
Discounting Weak Evidence
One pitfall to avoid is prematurely discounting seemingly weak evidence. Weak evidence can take many forms. It could be evidence that seems very unlikely under all hypotheses. Or it could be evidence that is non-intuitive and doesn’t seem to fit what we consider “conclusive” evidence.
When evaluating evidence, it’s easy to get distracted looking for “irrefutable” evidence (more on that in an upcoming blog post). However, that’s a mistake. What’s really important is the ratio between how likely evidence is under the hypotheses.
Strength in Numbers
How much does a snowflake weigh? How about a drop of water? If you’ve ever shoveled snow, or picked up a large jug of water, you know that the weight adds up. The same principle holds true with evaluating evidence. When starting an analysis, we often find little hints that slightly support one hypothesis over the other. Many people might think that these clues wouldn’t really have an impact. Or they might assume that a piece of evidence with a significant influence on the hypotheses renders other evidence meaningless.
However, just like snow, those little pieces of evidence can add up. It’s hard to shovel up thousands of snowflakes at a time (even though individually they’re almost weightless). Likewise, enough evidence pointing in the same direction can have a weighty influence (even if each individual “proof” is not that strong independently).
On Monday, John went to the mall. John left Green’s Grocery at 7:47 AM and drove home in his 2007 Honda Pilot. John forgot his blue umbrella in the store. That night John’s neighbor Martha, a retired engineer who lives down the block from him, called him. Martha had found the umbrella and was coming to return it. Is that a miracle? Or a largely predictable outcome? The answer depends on which of the many coincidences we consider.
Serial: A Game of Numbers
Every analyst has their methods: take a poll, measure social media buzz, weigh various key factors. Rootclaim’s analysis of Serial: Who killed Hae Min Lee provides a good example of how the Rootclaim system uses hard numbers in order to “calculate reality” – to determine mathematically which hypothesis is the most likely.
Rootclaim recently took on one of the most controversial criminal convictions: that of Adnan Syed, sentenced to jail for murdering his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. Syed’s conviction has been featured in the podcasts Serial and Undisclosed, and followers of the case have debated the minutiae on forums such as Reddit. Until now, discussion forums have focused on how a few particular pieces of evidence proved one hypothesis or another. Rootclaim has put together the first concerted effort to gather all the relevant information into one cohesive analysis.
The MMR Vaccine Controversy
The controversy over whether and how often to vaccinate children remains a volatile one. But how much does this debate match the empirical data and objective reasoning? The Rootclaim analysis of the MMR vaccine and its alleged ties to autism illustrates the challenges of objective, rational decision-making. Continue reading
What’s the Deal with Trump’s Hair?
Given Donald Trump’s flair for controversy, it’s not surprising that even his hair would be the subject of debate. In “What is the story behind Donald Trump’s hair?”, Rootclaim analyzes the most popular claims about the Donald’s trademark hair-covering to cut through the uncertainty.
Today we’re officially announcing the launch of Rootclaim – a collaborative analysis platform that outperforms human reasoning in understanding complex issues.
Calculating All Sides of the Story
The platform integrates all available evidence, assesses it for credibility and then uses probabilistic models to reach conclusions about the likelihood of competing hypotheses.
The False Dilemma
The Fallacy of Presumption can take many forms. One common example is the false dilemma. This fallacy is also known as the false binary or false dichotomy. As its name indicates, the false dilemma divides a scenario into only two alternatives. When the situation calls for a yes/no answer, that works fine. But in many situations, things are more complex. Thus the false dilemma tricks you into choosing between two imprecise, inaccurate or otherwise flawed options.