Rhetological Fallacies

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

A brain-blending categorisation and visualisation of errors and manipulations of rhetoric and logical thinking. How many do you use?

The word ‘rhetological’ is made up. Just so I can munge two types of entity: rhetorical techniques and logical fallacies.

Both are used heavily by institutional powers – governments, religions, political parties, across the entire spectrum to sway opinion, confuse and obfuscate. And, unfortunately, we internalise them, like bad habits, into our own decision-making and mental processes.

How many you recognise? Or use?

UPDATE 11th April: We now have a French version – and printable French PDF to download. Thanks to Gilles Peyroux!
UPDATE 22 Jan, 2013: We’ve now has Rhetological translated into German, Italian and Spanish. Thanks to Klaus-Michael Lux and Iván Galarza for their great work.

appeal to method

This is an attempt to elucidate and name a few of the most common fallacies. I’ve drawn from the many, great collections and lists out there online (see the sources below).

Quite a few suffer from being over-abstract and heavily philosophical. Some have difficult-to-grasp examples. Sometimes these fallacies are so simple, or basic maybe, that they’re actually hard to grasp mentally. You need examples.

So I’ve condensed all the definitions and tried to write them in the plainest of plain English. Also, I’ve roved for everyday, topical examples to give a sense of each fallacy and technique. As a team, we also created little ‘roadsigns’ to give you a visual-conceptual flavour of each.

In philosophy, there are some formal ways of categorising fallacies. I ignored those. Mostly, I admit, because I didn’t understand them. Instead I went for more intuitive groupings. That may not be canonical. Sorry!

I think it works though. Here’s an example. The most senior Catholic bishop here in the UK recently outlined his argument against same-sex marriage. Here’s our rhetological matrix applied to his speech.

appeal to your brain

If you want to play Rhetological Bingo during political speeches or at work feel free to instantly download a quick-ref, hi-res PDF.

It also occurred to me as I uploaded the final, that the imagery could work very well in HTML. And it’d be easy to translate. If anyone can help me with that, please get in touch.

As ever, we welcome your feedback and corrections. We’ve probably suppressed a few key fallacies. Confused cause & effect. Maybe even garbled our definitions. Help us out!

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Show Comments ( )

  • Paul C

    Article 16 Human Rights – Manipulating Content – Article gives rights to men and women equally, it does not state or infer they can only marry each other.

    Correction – Bishop is a cardinal

  • Jon

    May I take this chart and rebuild it as a site where forum users, when faced with one of these situations could easily insert the graphic and description of the fallacy to highlight the fact that the writer has used a fallacious argument? Maybe even make it a hot-link to the wiki page describing the fallacy in more detail. This could really make the internet a better place. Over 450000 experts would agree with me, because it’s something I strongly believe to be true! :)

    (If I can’t have permission, would you please do this yourself?)

    • http://www.theskepticsguide.org/ Jonathan Wooldridge

      Here here! I have the same desire to link individual images into forum conversations!

    • Line Noise

      Look at the copyright notice at the bottom of the page. It’s covered by “Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial” which means you can remix it however you want as long as you attribute this site and/or David.

    • Alex

      Excellent idea Jon. Just do it! All the best. (Please do post the link here after you are done)

    • Jeff

      You accuse the author of this article of using a fallacy yet you yourself use a fallacy (your comment regarding a link to wikipedia- an appeal to an unreliable source). So here we have an author discussing fallacies, being accused of using a fallacy, by someone using a fallacy… It’s like inception although with fallacies instead of dreams!!!

  • Billy

    “The most senior Catholic bishop here in the UK recently outlined his argument against same-sex marriage. Here’s our rhetological matrix applied to his speech.”

    Fine, but I feel a caveat is in order. The arguments both for and against same-sex marriage are not logical arguments. Logical arguments should work from a fixed and common set of axioms and be independently verifiable, but the arguments for and against same-sex marriage are based on very variable moral judgements and values. Secular ideas of human rights and the Church’s ideas of human rights differ in many key points, including their definitions of the word “marriage” itself (and whether it even deserves a mention), and no conclusion anyone comes to is a logical conclusion from anything other than their own personal values. They can’t possibly engage in a logical argument about these values – all they can do is try to win each other over, because if one side were definitively logically right there’d be no argument, and they know this. This doesn’t mean you can’t apply logical techniques to do so (e.g. “if you believe A, it follows logically that either you believe B or your views are inconsistent – which is it?”), but ultimately the technique here is rhetoric, not logic. It’s somewhat misleading to point out the logical fallacies in a deliberately non-logical argument, and if your aim is to use this to show that the argument is flawed, I think you’re attacking a straw man here. ;) Still, it’s a nice illustration!

  • frint frinterson

    Isn’t there a fallacy called, “Retreat to the possible”? It seems like one famous Christian apologist likes to do something like that, of course I’m probably just a guilty of it. I am not knocking said apologist, just noting one of his techniques. I’m not trained in rhetoric or logic … I really am asking. Perhaps it is not a fallacy so much as an often unconvincing argument?

  • Geoff

    I’m no authority, but I think I found two issues with the examples in the fallacies below:

    Appeal to Ridicule:
    “Faith in God is like believing in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy” is actually a statement that can be supported with evidence. While it may be condescending in tone, the statement may refer to the level of evidentiary support for whichever deity is in question. I suppose this could be true if no evidence was given to support this claim…

    The Appeal to Ignorance:
    “Nobody has proved to me that there is a God, therefore there is no God.” That seems like it may be proper burden of proof… if the claim is made that a god or gods exist, and no support is made for it, then the default belief position would still be that that god does not exist – unless I am misunderstanding what you mean and you’re trying to get across that since no proof has been provided for a god or gods that no god or gods *could possibly* exist.

    On a different note, I *love* logical fallacies, and I’m in love with this chart. Thanks for making such awesome info graphics!

    - Geoff

    • Phu

      Burden of proof is a judicial term, not a logical one.

      Logically one can assume anything, and as long as no one cleary shows the assumptions wrongness, any sound argument derived from that assumption cannot logically be called wrong.
      To this day, nobody has proven or disproven God’s existence. It is in fact proven, that certain definitions of God are unprovable as well as undisprovable.

      Also the thing about “default belief positions” is, that they are strongly correlated to what one believes in the first place. ;-)
      (your argument for example would work 100% the other way around: “if the claim is made that a god or gods does or do not exist, and no support is made for it, then the default belief position would still be that that god does exist”)

      • Eric

        While the phrase “Burden of proof” may be judicial in origin, it does not change the validity of the concept. That would be questioning its origins instead of its validity.
        The assertion of existence over non-existence always requires proof. Existence adds an assumption. I can assert an explanation for gravity through a new unknown kind of matter, but the physics community would be right to require that I show evidence to support my claim before they lend credibility to it. If I simply say I don’t know, but there might be a way to to prove it, then we’re talking. If its existence is truly unprovable, then it is indistinguishable from non-existence and need not be given any additional time.

        • Bas

          If you were to make a claim about how physics works contrary to the already established consensus, then the first question is whether or not your theory conforms to the empirical observations that one can make. If this is the case and experiments cannot disprove your theory, then it can become a different – albeit probably not leading – research paradigm. Contemporary science is built on a form of empiricism, so I am making the assumption here that empirical results can serve as evidence for a theory.

          The difference between physics and religion is that we have a theory for gravity that can be confirmed by empirical results, while – to the best of my knowledge – we have no empirical evidence to prove or disprove the existence of a deity.

      • RosuGD

        Actually the term Burden of proof is also a philosophical term not only a judicial one. In an epistemic dispute there is an implicit burden of proof on the party asserting a positive claim rather than on the party denying the claim.

        In fact failing to take into consideration the burden of proof in philosophy is an argument from ignorance so the the example fails exactly by the same fallacy that it supposed to illustrate.

        Geoff has spotted really well these fallacies in the fallacy chart. ;d

    • Lagerbaer

      Ha, I was just about to comment on the same point.

      While the verbatim statement “God hasn’t been proven to me so there is no god” is indeed fallacious, since, who knows, a proof might come along, it’s really borderline, because it is typically understood as “God hasn’t been proven, so there is quite probably no god”, or “God hasn’t been proven, so I don’t believe in god”.

      These are not fallacious, and asserting otherwise would be shifting the burden of proof.

      Better examples for the appeal to ignorance would be Bill O’Reilly’s “Tide goes in, tide goes out”, or basically everything in Ancient Aliens. Or, for a textbook example, McCarthy’s claim that a certain person was a communist because there was nothing on the files to prove otherwise.

  • http://www.thesilentballet.com Tom

    I would actually go even further than Paul C. The bishop states that in Article 16 “marriage is defined as a relationship between men and women.” But this actually isn’t true. In fact, the UDHR does not define marriage at all, either in Article 16 or anywhere else in the document. The most it says is that “men and women of full age… have the right to marry…” It makes no pronouncement upon whom they right to marry.

    In other words, this is just a simple case of Manipulating Content—it’s an outright lie.

    On the other hand, your second assertion of an ad hominem attack isn’t correct. It’s not an ad hominem attack to assert that those who disagree with the bishop are acting to “attack or dismantle” the institution of marriage. This is a potentially relevant point—if those who disagree with the bishop actually did want to dismantle the institution of marriage, then it would be a fair argument. But, as it happens, most of those who oppose the bishop do not want to dismantle marriage, so the argument fails for a number of potential reasons (Hasty Generalization, Jumping to Conclusions, Straw Man, possibly Division, etc.)—but not because of ad hominem.

    Anyway, this is a great post! Thanks for putting it together!

  • http://www.betterprojects.net Craig Brown

    Deck of cards!

    We can carry them and play them when we suspect something is amiss, and then talk it through :-)

  • Phu

    What you do here, I’ve seen it happen before. Even in a publicized book.
    People go to great lengths to talk abolut logical fallacies and mean rhetorics. And then they apply that to a topic near their hearts. And they fail. And they fail, because of their own prejudices.
    The thing is: A valid argument has to work even when one exchanges specifics, else on applies double standards.

    Let me show you:
    Your analysis of the cardinals speech, for example, it only works for people who already share your opinion:

    2nd paragraph:
    You say: Appeal to fear by “increasing fear and prejudice”. And how does he do that according ro you? By assuming, that the topic in question looks harmless on the surface but may not be so, when looking deeper.

    There are three possible positions:
    pro-gay-marriage: I’ts harmless, the cardinal implies it isn’t. Look: It’s an appeal to fear.
    against-gay-marriage: It’s dangerous, the cardinal implies it is. Look: He’s fair and balanced.
    netraul: i don’t have an opinion yet. lets look at what the cardinal says. ah. he says it’s one has to look at the details of the matter, because the surface may not hold the whole truth. sounds pretty scientific to me.

    Look at these arguments:
    “On the surface, the question of bio-engineering may seem to be an innocuous one.”
    “On the surface, the question of nuclear power may seem to be an innocuous one.”
    “On the surface, the question of genetic engineering may seem to be an innocuous one.”
    “On the surface, the question of a mission to mars may seem to be an innocuous one.”
    “On the surface, the question of xyz may seem to be an innocuous one.”
    By your logic, each and every one of these statements is an appeal to fear.
    By your logic, implying that what one sees on the surface might not always be the hole truth, is an appeal to fear.

    But then I don’t think you really are against looking under the surface. Only under the surface of certain questions, hence: double standard.

    3rd paragraph:
    While you are formally correct, you should note, that an universal appliance of your strict standards (it is wrong to refer to the opinion of a whole group of people if you cannot garantuee that that is the opinion of every single individual in that group) would render most if not all political statements obsolete.
    *I* actually would be okay with that.

    But look at these arguments:
    The tea party supporters don’t believe in global warming.
    The republicans wanted the war in Iraq.
    Or even something pretty heavy like: The Nazis hated the Jews.

    By your logic all these are cases of a “compostion” error.
    By your logic all these arguments are just as wrong as the cardinal is about same sex marriage.

    4th paragraph:
    Need I really ax something about this? You’re not even trying to be logical.
    The cardinal says:
    I. we believe same sex marriege is harmful
    II. we said: in the future, same sex marriage will be discussed
    III. for saying statement II. we were attacked for being “scaremongers” [i.e. statement II. is wrong and saying otherwise is just spreading fear]

    a neutral watcher would say:
    argument I: well, harmful or not, this is what this whole discussion is about. bring on the arguments.
    argument II: indeed, that they said.
    argument III: indeed, that’s what was said back then
    so in conclusion: you where right about II and III, but that has nothing to do with I, so start talking about that please.
    and this is what you see in this paragraph:
    1. you did scaremonger!!!!!
    2. you think gay marraige is harmful!!!!!
    conclusion: two wrongs! and because it is said that two wrongs don’t make a right, you can’t be right!!!

    Now, at this point I stopped reading your “matrix” and started crying a little bit. Not only do you not go into his argument, but you totally misunderstand the the meaning if of “two wrongs dont make a right”. Really, just look it up on wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two_wrongs_make_a_right). I’m still crying. Rereading your argument hurts more every time.

    So my conclusion
    You obviously are of a different opinion than the cardinal. That’s okay. I don’t care.
    But trying to analyze, big fail. Why: Because all your agruments are only valid, if one first assumes, that you are right and the cardinal is wrong. Little advice: That’s not what sound arguments are about… ;)
    So this is for you: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-pwGjrD84z_g/TmEEfD27RjI/AAAAAAAAADk/md0TUggbtQA/s1600/doublefacepalm.jpg

    Is this all sad or is it actually funny?

    • david

      Thanks for this thoughtful break / smack down. I think I agree with you and have amended the diagram accordingly. Thanks! David

  • Anon

    @Geoff: Agreed.
    “Nobody has proved to me that there is a Tooth Fairy, therefore there is no Tooth Fairy.”

    To be pedantic, the correct statement is that no compelling evidence or theoretical requirement of Fairies have been brought forward, so there is no reason to seriously expect Fairies or inject them into explanations of other phenomena. (Bayes Theorem priors, Occam’s Razor, etc) For practical purposes: provisionally non-existent. Same for dragons, leprechauns, gods, and elves.

    Proving a universal, negative or positive, doesn’t work (nowhere-never/everywhere-always). But you can posit a universal, then disprove it by finding an exception. “Fairies always swap teeth everywhere for cash,” can be disproven. This does not mean Fairies are non-existent everywhere. “Fairies are inconsistent, elsewhere, or dickish,” will technically always remain a possibility, though negligible.

  • Jonathan

    I like the list.. although I have to say, some of the descriptions are incorrect or incomplete.

    “Gambler’s Fallacy: Assuming the history of outcomes will affect future outcomes”

    Now, I know what the author was getting at, but the way this is stated is incorrect. The example given was:

    “I’ve flipped this coin 10 times in a row and it’s been heads therefore the next coin flip is more likely to come up tails”

    So in the example, the author is correct — those events are independent (where the probability of the subsequent flip is not dependent on the outcome of previous flips.. aka Bernouli Trial). However, in the ‘definition’ of Gambler’s Fallacy, the author left out the critical word ‘independent’. If the events are not independent (e.g. the weather conditions observed at the start of an hour), then the future outcomes are different depending on the outcomes observed in the past. For example, we are more likely to observe rain at 2pm if we have observed rain at 1pm, with some measurable increase in probability.

    Using the author’s own list, they fell prey to ‘Composition Fallacy: Assuming that a characteristic or beliefs of some or all of a group applies to the entire group’. (That sentence needs some work.. If a characteristic applies to all of a group.. then it does, in fact, apply to the entire group..).
    Anyway, back to my point – Not all events are independent, and would lead someone to fall prey to a ‘Gambler’s Fallacy’, even though some events are independent.

    • david

      Thank you Jonathan. I’ve edit the diagram in line with your comments.

  • Josg

    The appeal to probability isn’t as sharp as the statement used for it. I would probably either change the example to match the description or change the description to something like:
    “Assuming that if something could very likely happen, it will inevitabely happen”.

    • Lagerbaer

      However, probabilities and outcomes are something that can be quantified.

      As an example, if I roll a die 1000 times and never roll a six, that could be either due to chance or due to an unfair die. I can precisely calculate the probability that a fair die would result in 1000 rolls without a six and then I could very justifiably conclude that the die is indeed unfair.

  • Drew

    This infographic is being actively discussed in the comments over at Skepchick: http://skepchick.org/2012/03/skepchick-quickies-3-28-2/

    A lot of what’s in here is problematic, either because the fallacies are mislabeled or because the examples do not actually exemplify the fallacies. Also, there’s at least one typo. :)

    • david

      great – i look forward to reading…

  • DDA

    Your examples might be more convincing if they didn’t express your political opinions so clearly. For example, for an “Appeal to Authority,” your example is,” Over 400 prominent scientists and engineers dispute global warming.” You might as easily have said, “Over 400 scientists and engineers support global warming”; what makes it a fallacy is that they aren’t climate or statistical scientists and/or engineers, right?

    Perhaps you should pick less politically charged examples or explain them more clearly.

    • david

      It’s not an ideal example, I’ll admit. But I tried to pick examples commonly seen in the media or online, from both ends of political spectrum.
      If you can suggest a better one, let me know.

      • DDA

        The one I always see is, “The consensus among scientists is that AGW is true.” That is just as much an appeal to authority as the example you gave since it does’t say which types of scientists and ignores the fact that agreement of “experts” doesn’t make something true or false.

        • Zyada K

          DDA – I disagree that your example is as much an appeal to authority as the given one. An appeal to authority as a fallacy needs to be vague in specifying which authority, and/or invoking an authority that isn’t an authority on the particular subject.

          First, the given one lumps scientists and engineers together, but engineers do not have any specialized knowledge about climate science, or even about science in general, that any reasonably intelligent person doesn’t have.
          Secondly, it is invoking only 400 people, in two fields. According to the National Science Foundation, there are over two million working scientists in the U.S. cite Unless the argument goes into more detail about the composition of that group, it can be assumed that the group was cherry-picked for their position.

          While your example is vague, you can at least guarantee two things – scientists respect well-constructed research, and scientists are going to weigh another scientist’s position based on the other person’s area of expertise.

          Mind you, a better statement would be “over 85% of scientist accept AGW (based on a survey of over 3000 scientists)” http://tigger.uic.edu/~pdoran/012009_Doran_final.pdf

  • http://dontsave.com dontsave

    hey you got begging the question wrong….

  • Wes

    There’s a minor mistake under the “Circular Logic” fallacy, which reads “Stripping privacy rights only matters to those with something to hide. You must have something to hide if you oppose privacy protection.”

    I believe that should be “You must have something to hide if you _support_ privacy protection,” or “You must have something to hide if you oppose _stripping_privacy_rights_.”

    • david

      nicely spotted!

      • http://geotheory.org Robin

        Regarding the ‘circular logic’ point – I’m no logician but I wonder if the example given is misleading:

        “stripping privacy rights only matters to those with something to hide. You must have something to hide if you oppose stripping privacy protection.”

        First we should expose an underlying assumption that introduces ambiguity: that ‘matters to’ only denotes opponents of such a policy. It could be argued that ‘matters to’ includes policy proponents, else there would have been no debate in the first place! Probably a good idea of remove all ambiguity from an example illustrating deductive logic.

        More fundamentally is the statement really circular? It seems to me that the second statement is not being used to logically validate the first in any way, but merely to apply it in a specific instance. If one accepts the premise that “stripping privacy rights only matters to those with something to hide” (and we acknowledge the matters/opposes assumption) then it DOES logically follow that ‘you’ (assuming you are a person!) who oppose the policy must also have something to hide.

        The statement seems to me equivalent to saying: “All swans are white. Therefore if you are a swan you must be white.” This is certainly a fallacy of inductive logic, but I’m not sure about circular logic. Perhaps someone more acquainted with this terrain can clarify.

        • david

          yes please clarify – anyone?

        • DVJ

          People who want privacy protection have something to hide, because people who have something to hide want privacy protection.

          Maybe? Circular reasoning is giving me a headache.

  • Eric

    I think this would make a great app. Simple and quick to navigate. Just six panes of scrolling graphical lists almost exactly like the ones posted above. Swipe left and right to change categories, up and down to scroll.

  • http://pedanticpoliticalponderings.blogspot.com Some Teacher

    Thank you for a wonderful take-down of Cardinal O’Brien. I have linked to it from http://pedanticpoliticalponderings.blogspot.com/2012/03/repudiation-cardinal-keith-obrien-on.html

  • Dev

    Sheesh. This infographic seems to be getting a lot of flak. I think the discussions here and at skepchick don’t talk enough about this being a blending of rhetorical techniques and logical fallacies. That’s probably where a lot of the confusion is coming from.

  • Agustin

    Hi David, I think you’ve got Begging The Question wrong on your visualisation.

    Here’s what Wikipedia tells us:

    Begging the question (Latin petitio principii, “assuming the initial point”) is a type of logical fallacy in which a proposition is made that uses its own premise as proof of the proposition. In other words, it is a statement that refers to its own assertion to prove the assertion.

    Here’s an example:

    Person A: I know that action is harmful because it’s illegal.
    Person B: Why is the action illegal?
    Person A: Because it’s harmful.

    • david

      Ah good thanks!

  • DVJ

    Oh, David, not “begging the question”! You’re breaking my heart. That is its common usage, but not its correct meaning. From wikipedia (which seems perfectly adequate for this purpose):
    “Begging the question (Latin petitio principii, “assuming the initial point”) is a type of logical fallacy in which a proposition is made that uses its own premise as proof of the proposition. In other words, it is a statement that refers to its own assertion to prove the assertion.”

    It is closely to related to circular logic, but not quite the same, for reasons best left to Aristotle. For the purposes of your chart, “Circular Logic” covers the accurate meaning, and “Suppressed Evidence” covers the common usage. Making an argument with obvious holes in it that cause others to ask questions isn’t really a type rhetological fallacy at all.

    One could argue this is a totally lost cause, but, I beg of you, be kind to the grammar cranks and leave it off the next version!

    From the UK website “The Phrase Finder” (obviously I am in the mentioned minority):
    “Most authorities now view the current ‘raise the question’ meaning as acceptable, even if that is a somewhat grudging recognition that the weight of numbers of those who use it that way is overwhelming. It is also suggested by some that the minority who know and understand the original version should avoid using it, unless they are amongst consenting adults, as they aren’t likely to be understood. That would be an unfortunate route to take. Whatever we might prefer, it is very likely that the percentage of the population that knows, or cares, that they are using the phrase incorrectly will continue to decline.”

    To be honest, I’ve had exactly one conversation in which someone used the phrase accurately (and it wasn’t me), but it still pains me every time I hear it used incorrectly.

    I still think you’re awesome!

    • DVJ

      Awesome in the American sense. Some of my Brit friends don’t seem to like our promiscuous usage, but I imagine you don’t have a problem. You have gotten pretty close to filling me with awe, I’ll let you know if it happens.

      It would be freaking fantastic if you put in the correct definition of “begging the question”, but I fear that may only lead to tears.

  • Rummy

    I think you’ve there is a mistake in Composition Fallacy, should it be:
    Assuming that characteristics or beliefs of some or all of a group apply to all with that characteristic.
    (that isn’t worded very well, but I hope you get the point I’m trying to make)
    Because if the a characteristic belongs to every member of a group, then it will apply to the entire group.
    ie all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares

    • david

      On it!

  • Tzod Earf

    I agree with Billy’s comments above. He is correct to point out basic disagreement about definitions, and axioms key to this debate from parties on both sides of the issue. Yet, for me to justify that last sentence, I’d have to overcome at least two fallacies you mentioned in your abstract: 1) Compostion, and 2) One of your own choosing. I’m trying to demonstrate in a brief way how ridiculous the application of logical conundrums can become. I’m don’t discount the study of logic and rhetoric. It is necessary to challenge the statements people make and test them against truth. It’s also a great way to kill a love letter. At the core of every argument is the burden that the logic depends upon what people believe to be true. Perhaps the shortcoming isn’t so much in the logic but in us. Having said that, I congratulate you for your card concept. I would like to see a similar analysis of someone arguing for ‘same-sex’ marriage (Don’t forget euphemisms) to remove the appearance of bias (Only homosexuals have valid, worthy views about marriage because clerics are illogical, old-fashioned, and distasteful). After reading Aristotle’s book I came to the conclusion the fallacies are a double-edged sword. They’re available for consumption, refuse & resale. These comments were not intended to be authoritative, logical, or taken as expert opinion on any subject discussed therein. They are intended to be slightly provocative, dryly humorous, and blandly hypnotic.

  • Scott Cragin

    Please offer a poster for sale. I don’t know how to get a .pdf blown up poster size.

  • http://wrytestuff.com dataguy

    I’d like to suggest an addition, The Shell Game, continual shifting of the point of an argument so that no matter what the result, it can be explained by a different argument.

    Example: “Please meet Paster Mark, he’s such an upstanding moral Christian man. Oh, Pastor Mark is cheating on his wife? Well, not everyone who says he’s a Christian is a Christian.”

  • Desundial

    Great example – would love to see this as a weekly feature for politicians statements in the U.S.!

  • LAS

    First off, thanks for all the hard work it must have taken to create and share this chart! The simplified language and organization will provide access for people from a wide variety of intellectual backgrounds. I would like to put forth one small idea for how you may improve the content of this chart, if only slightly. I’ve read through many of the comments but not all of them so I apologize if someone has already made the following suggestion.

    There may be some disagreement, but I think your definition of “Appeal to Authority” could benefit from some minor modification. Your definition seems to communicate that Appeal to Authority can be avoided as long as a reliable ‘expert’ is cited. The fallacy can still be evident in an argument even if the said person or entity used to validate a position is indeed an reliable ‘expert’. Logically speaking, the expertise of a person has no factual bearing on the conclusions presented via an inductive argument. To put it another way, the color of the sky is not determined by the credentials of a person making such a claim.

    I suggest you change the definition to something along the lines of “Claiming something is true because an ‘expert’ claims it is, without reliable supporting evidence.” Thanks for your consideration.

  • Lagerbaer

    Another suggestion: Many fallacies have a double version. There is, for example, the ad hominem fallacy fallacy, where an argument is dismissed because it is accompanied by an insult.

    The difference lies in the direction of inference:

    Ad hominem, fallacious: “You are stupid. Therefore, your argument is wrong”.

    Not an ad hominem, just rude: “Your argument is wrong because of [good reason here], you idiot!”

    Other variants are the appeal to authority fallacy fallacy. This often happens with scientists, where an opinion is dismissed precisely because it is held by the authorities of that field: “Big pharma”, “liberal climate scientists”, “evolutionists”

  • http://www.webinventa.com Webinventa

    Very informative. Please offer a poster for sale.

  • http://mhuzzell.wordpress.com mhuzzell

    I’m surprised you left out Equivocation. The example you give under Undistributed Middle could as easily be described as such (i.e. people confusing or obfuscating the technical scientific term ‘theory’ with its more general and less rigorously defined common usage), and it’s pretty common in general. See, e.g., “If global warming is real, why is it snowing outside?”

  • http://www.aech.cl/ Daniel


    Your fallacies infographic is awesome. So awesome, that in AECH, (Asociación Esceptica de Chile — Chilean Skeptics Association) we used the CC By-NC license and released an adaption/translation of your work, mentioning your site as original version, as required by the license.


    Thank you very much for your work, and I hope your work (and our and all spanish derivatives) will also echoed in the spanish spoken world as much as it deserves.

    BTW, I think you are already working on a Spanish version too. You may feed with some of our translation, and viceversa.

    Best wishes,


  • Jemima Boucher

    Printed and gave a copy to an Oxford professor (and celebrity atheist) after a particularly bad class this morning — “F*** that” was his response :D

  • Jon2

    No ‘Tautology’?? Surprised no one mentioned it. Seems important.


    Great chart though, thanks very much!

  • http://propag.wordpress.com/ Phloem Sev

    Merci, merci, merci.

    C’est exactement ce qu’il me manquait pour faire mon 5e module de mon cours d’autodéfense intellectuelle. Je vais pouvoir le refondre complètement et lui donner un style beaucoup plus attrayant grâce à vous.

  • briesch

    no clever comment from me … i am just in awe of you guys. you made my day.

  • Jotto999

    Some of these examples very misleading. Take the Appeal to Pity example. The reason atheists use this argument is because it illustrates the epistemic state of belief in a god, with some insult thrown in for fun. You can’t isolate just one aspect or part of an argument and declare it fallacious (in fact that is fallacious). When this argument is given, it is also using the premise that the evidence for Santa Claus and God are equivalent, which makes it not a fallacy.

    Ironically, it is fallacious to call something a fallacy just because it has an insult in there as well.

    If I said “2 + 2 equals four, and also you’re an idiot”, while that is rude, it isn’t fallacious in any way.

  • Seth

    Can I suggest that in addition to a common example of each fallacy you also include an obviously absurd example to highlight exactly why it’s a fallacy.

  • Q.E.D

    First praise: This is beautifully done.

    Now criticism: Your example for “Appeal to Ridicule” is incorrect. This has been pointed out above but I do not see that it has been corrected. If an argument is logically sound, the fact that the speaker intended ridicule and/or that a listener felt ridiculed does not make it illogical or fallacious. As has also been pointed out above, this is the same as ending a logical argument with an insult. The gratuitous insult does not make it an ad hominem (2+2=4, you idiot).

    “Faith in God is like believing in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy” is a perfectly logical claim. Stated differently, faith in one supernatural being is equivalent to faith in other supernatural beings. The fact that a religious person strongly believes in the existence of Yahweh but not Santa or the Tooth fairy (or Odin or Ra, or Mars) and objects to the comparison as offensive to their deeply held beliefs is irrelevant to the logic of the argument.

    Here are 2 proposed examples of Appeal to Ridicule

    “I think it is safe to ignore Alan’s argument since he is the only person at this table to have failed the MENSA test”


    “Young man, I will entertain your criticism of my theory when, like me, you have graduated from an Ivy League University, finished your PhD, won the Lorentz medal for theoretical physics and published over 30 peer reviewed papers”

  • nm

    Hats off to you this is amazing. Small amendment on the bishop/same sex marriage example. The first statement isn’t even true. He states “the government is this month launching a consultation on same sex marriage, asking the public whether it should be introduced in England and Wales”.

    However, the first page of the consultation explicitly states “this consultation is about how we best remove the ban on same-sex couples having a civil marriage, not on whether this should or should not  happen.”. I don’t know if this should go down as a simple lie, or something else along the lines of re-framing the agenda?

  • Matt

    Isn’t using the Apple Inc. logo as the icon for “Appeal to Novelty” itself an appeal to tradition? It implies that novel things aren’t better, rather than emphasizing that such claims must be backed by evidence.

  • http://oranse.net Chris Helenius

    I suggest of an addition; Appeal to Shame into the Emotions.

    It’s seen around the media and politics all too often these days: “I am offended by that.”

    No argument is presented, it is only an appeal to moral obligations, manners, shame. In common language, it’s just “How dare you say that, have you no manners? Take that back immediately.”

    Beautiful work, btw. I almost want to print these into small cards to hand to people when they execute the fallacies.

  • mo tibbs

    Appeal to Traditon + Genetic fallacy means just because they did it back in the day doesn’t mean they were wrong.

  • Pax Romana

    I think I found a couple mistakes:
    The argument under the topic “Appeal to Fear”:
    “Before you know it, there be more mosques than churches”
    How is that a fear?
    I think a better argument will be; “They come here and take our jobs and our girls”.

    Hasty Generalization and Spotlight are explained the same way, only the word are different.
    I find it better if the explanation and argument to Spotlight were something like this:
    Assuming an observation from a small sample size applies to the whole.
    One of the statements were wrong, therefore none of the statements can be trusted

  • http://www.hereswhereyourewrong.net aviel menter

    I have exactly one objection: “Appeal to Probability” isn’t a fallacy, at least not as you can describe it. given that our method of determining truth necessitates (in non-theoretical circumstances) induction, this means that we can only know things according to degrees of probability. If the probability of something being true is beyond a reasonable doubt, we can simply say that thing is true. Otherwise nobody would ever be able to make any claims at all because those claims could not be deductively proven.

  • David Henderson

    I concur with Aviel a good bit on this. The number of trials is key. With an infinite number of trials anything that could happen (no matter how unlikely as long as it could happen) will not only inevitably happen; it will inevitably happen an infinite amount of times.

    I would think by adding (limited trials) or (finite trials) that the statement would become more defendable.

  • MediaTuck

    I love the design. The iconography is creative and artfully crafted.

    I wonder if you honestly don’t see an agenda in the examples, though. At best, the designs have an overt political/social ideology. It makes me feel like the purpose of InformationIsBeautiful isn’t actually to simply to make knowledge aesthetic, but rather to advance an agenda.

  • http://www.graceavery.com Grace Avery

    Love it.

    I made it into a bingo board you can play, with fallacies randomly assigned to the squares each board:


    (suggestions for further improvements to make it more fun are welcome!) :-)

  • http://pjakma.wordpress.com Paul Jakma

    I have to say, many of the “fallacies” given in this piece are not general, logical fallacies. They may be fallacious in specific arguments, but credible in others. E.g. “slippery slope” is an argument which may be logically sound in some cases. There appear to be a number of other errors in this infographic, such as incorrect or poor descriptions.

    On the whole, this infographic appears to have sufficient flaws in it that I feel it would be better if it were not left on the internet, presented as a semi-authoritative list of fallacies.

    • Dan

      Hi Paul, thanks for your comment. The list is an combination of rhetorical techniques and logical fallacies, which might explain why some don’t fall inside the expected categories. We’d really appreciate you sharing your observations, we will always amend errors whenever appropriate.


      Dan, Editor.

  • A Rhetorician

    On the whole, I think this is an excellent idea and a fine presentation. It’s certainly visually effective, and I love the way you applied the graphics to the Cardinal’s speech: very easy to follow, and an overall excellent idea for a class.

    However, as his been voiced already, your ideologies and biases are apparent here, and I’ll probably just take the idea and refine your examples. As has also been pointed out, many of these aren’t really “fallacies” at all, and many of the ones that are aren’t given a proper example. In your rush to wave your progressive flag, you’ve set up some very bad examples of, well, bad reasoning.

    E.g., your “begging the question” example should perhaps be, “Drugs are illegal because society has determined that they are worthy of criminal prosecution”; your “affirming the consequent” example should perhaps be . . . well, I can’t even put it into one because it’s so far off the mark. Affirming the consequent typically takes the form of a hypothetical syllogism, or could be easily put into one. Lots of other mistakes, but I’ll leave it at that, merely suggesting “Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student” (Corbett and Connors, Oxford Univ Press 1999) as an excellent resource if you have any interest in fixing your examples.

    Also, there are some issues of normativity here, some conflation of “truth” with “good or bad.” E.g., your example for “appeal to common practice”; the example isn’t arguing that something is true or not, yet your explanation says that it is; you should reword the explanation, “Claiming something is not worthy of blame because it’s commonly practiced.” But then, this kind of claim has nothing to do with logic; and rhetorically, it’s not necessarily a bad claim, unless you’re a a total Platonist. Again, it’s one of the things that probably shouldn’t be on this graphic at all; it’s just a good example of a problem that surfaces in other places, as well.

    Which brings me to my last point: the suggestion that “rhetoric” itself can only be used illogically or ingenuously is a bit extreme. Rhetoric is deployed by all sides in a debate, not just by “institutional powers.” We could easily use many of these tags on a speech given at a LGBT parade . . . which is not a bad thing because, as I said, all sides in a debate use rhetoric. The use of rhetorical tropes and literary flourishes is not the same thing as faulty logic.

  • Alex

    I can’t believe a website called ‘InformationisBeautiful’ is charging 5 bucks for a PDF!

  • Grant

    ‘Small Sample Size’ should be added to the ‘Faulty Deduction’ or the ‘Manipulating the Content’ list.

    From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sample_size_determination (on 9/13/2012), “A choice of small sample sizes, though sometimes necessary, can result in wide confidence intervals or risks of errors in statistical hypothesis testing.”

    However, I’m having trouble coming up with an example that doesn’t sound like ‘Confirmation Bias’, but it seems there is an issue of ignorance between the two. In ‘Confirmation Bias’ you intentionally leave skew data (people who read Fox News have different opinions than readers of NYT, and vise versa.) as opposed to making the assumption that a small set of data is indicative of a whole set for ‘Small Sample Size’.