Logical Fallacies in Pseudoscience/Anti-Science Arguments

io9 has an article on some of the various logical fallacies that you might encounter when running into people supporting pseudoscience or ant-scientific beliefs. If you’ve ever dealt with crackpots (most people who have gotten through grad school in physics probably have), you’ll almost certainly recognize at least some of these.

One notable absence is one of the most common fallacies used by crackpots: the argument from persecution (I don’t know if this has a more common name, but it probably does). This is basically the reverse of the appeal to authority: My idea is so revolutionary it will change how we think about topic X. The authorities on topic X vehemently disagree with me. Therefore, I must be correct and they are suppressing the truth. I suppose this is more or less a paranoid version of begging the question.

If you look at the abstracts from the crackpot sessions at APS meetings (yes, these really exist – I think APS has decided that it’s less of a hassle to let crackpots talk to an audience of crackpots than to try to prevent them from presenting anything), most of them follow some form of that logic. It’s also the basis of one of the more annoying classes of web ads (“Doctors HATE him …”).

Not all of the fallacies in the list are only used by crackpots and people arguing in bad faith. Some of them are common fallacies accidentally used by nearly everyone at some point. Observation selection is probably the most common and the most difficult to avoid. Just because you aren’t peddling your own pet theory of relativity doesn’t mean that you never use logical fallacies in your arguments.

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