Phactum's Roster of Infamous (Ir)Rational Errors

The following collection has accumulated over time, and includes many of the most egregious flaws of thinking, devious tactics of argument, and cool Latin phrases. As others are recalled, recognized, or created -- through the natural evolution of thinking -- we hope that PhACT members will submit them for addition to this roster. Keep the list handy, for quick reference when discussion seems to have taken a turn into the weirdness zone. (NOTE: Some effective modes of thinking are mentioned as well, for comparison.)
-Paul Schlueter III

Readers are invited to submit new words, corrections, or examples for inclusion in this list. Send to Ray Haupt at phactpublicity@aol.com

We acknowledge the following sources and individuals for contribution of updates to this document.
  • Skeptical Inquirer
  • Wikipedia
  • M. Dragoni, Philadelphia
  • M. Paul Menga, Philadelphia
ABSENCE OF EVIDENCE IS NOT DEFINITIVE EVIDENCE OF ABSENCE
(See Transposed Conditional Fallacy) A self-explanatory aphorism.
ABSOLUTISM
A philosophical base position from which one can only perceive arguments in "black or white" terms, having no nuances or shades of grey.
AD HOMINEM
Literally, "against the man." The practice of attacking the person making an argument, rather than addressing their statements, claims, or premises. Where a person is ASKING to be believed solely on the basis of his personal credibility and reputation, those characteristics may reasonably be investigated and challenged. Otherwise, the person making an argument should reasonably be held separate and irrelevant to the truth or falsehood of the claims he posits. (NOTE: The argument "Take my word for this" is an Appeal to Authority, another form of logical fallacy.)
ALL OR NOTHING COMMITMENT
A tactic which refuses to consider any half-measure, compromise, moderation, or shade-of-grey. A party asserts that the proposition is either wholly true, or it must be wholly false. Consider the social history of such commitment in such areas as: Investment strategy; Social/marital commitment; Acceptance of religion; Military secrecy/intelligence; Sports competition. Persons who frequently adopt this tactic may also be prone to supporting it with unreasonable levels of physical threat, social exclusion, or religious excommunication. (See also: Buying the Pot, False Dichotomy)
ALTERNATIVE BLINDNESS
A cognitive failure to recognize or consider possible alternative explanations or scenarios (for an experimental finding or a phenomenon) which might be superior in explanatory power to the "first hypothesis" stumbled upon.
AMBIGUITY
Using double meanings or ambiguities of language to mislead or misrepresent the truth.
ANCHORING
A bias through which one relies on one (or a few) firmly anchored old impression as a sort of foundation for other judgements. Despite newer, better, or more recent evidence, we tend to cling to the anchored belief without reconsideration. (See also, Confirmation Bias)
ANCIENT WISDOM FALLACY
The belief that a particular group of "ancients" had wisdom to which modern people are blind, or which is inaccessible through modern science. Particularly, relating to ancient superstitions, magical practices, and/or natural/herbal medicines and foods. May also be present in the practice of traditional religions.
ANECDOTAL
Using personal experience or an isolated example instead of valid argument, especially to dismiss statistics.
ANTHROPIC PRINCIPLE
The belief that the properties of the Universe which physicists measure are "selected for" by the fact that this Universe CONTAINS physicists (with the implication that an Universe without physicists, or sentient life, might be altogether different).
ANTHROPOMANCY
Divination performed using human entrails.
ANTI-HOMINEN BIAS
The refusal or reluctance to credit or accept evidence or work presented by a person one considers undesirable. (Dislike may be based on race, nationality, age, alma mater, or any other antagonistic prejudice.) (Opposite to: Prestige Bias) (See also: ad hominem)
APHORISM
A brief statement of a principle, a truth/opinion, a belief, or an adage. Example: "One cannot cheat Fate."
APOCRYPHAL
(a story) Told as if it actually occurred, though in reality it didn't. By usual implication, the subject(s) take the form of superstition or myth (faithfully believed), rather than outright "lying."
APOPHENIA
The experience of perceiving patterns or connections in random or meaningless data. (See also: Paredolia, Simulacrum).
APPEAL TO AUTHORITY
The practice of supporting one's argument (or rebutting the opponent's argument) by claiming that some "authority" (a book, a person, or an institution) agrees with one's position. Example: My teacher told me so, therefore it must be true. NOTE: Reference to various written resources ("authorities") is a common practice, tending to help maintain consistency and build up related findings. It is therefore not reasonable to require a party to re-prove extensively supported positions in order to establish the foundation of his claim (See: Requiring Unreasonable Detail). However, there are reasonable conditions:
  1. the text should be accepted by those involved as being correct and authentic
  2. the cited claim must be clearly referenced, so that opponents are able to easily find and review it
  3. if the opponent has a reasoned objection to the authority of the text, or holds that its assertions can be disproven, or even objects to the relevance of the citation, the cited authority must be challengable.
APPEAL TO EMOTION
The practice of attempting to frame a position in an emotional context. This tactic may use the desired emotion to cover over or create distaste for the opponent's argument. It may also be approached as a means to build emotional (rather than rational) support for one's own argument. May include using terms or gestures intended to inflame the passions of listeners.
APPEAL TO NATURE
Making the argument that because something is natural it is therefore valid, justified, inevitable, or ideal.
APPEAL TO PURITY
An argument which relies on one's national, cultural, or racial purity faithfulness to discourage dissent. (See "no True Scotsman")
APPEAL TO TRADITION
Appeal to Tradition is a fallacy that occurs when it is assumed that something is better or correct simply because it is older, traditional, or "always has been done." This sort of "reasoning" has the following form: 1. X is old or traditional 2. Therefore X is correct or better.
A PRIORI
A contested issue which has been decided beforehand, prior to hearing arguments or reviewing evidence. Essentially, to decide on the basis of prior prejudices. It remains possible for an a priori judgement to happen to be correct, but it is still undesirable for not having been arrived at in a reasoned manner subject to critical examination.
ARGUMENT FROM INCOMPETENCE
"I can't explain these events, therefore Science has no explanation for these events." Alternatively, "If I don't know the answer, there must not be an answer."
ARGUMENT FROM INCREDULITY
The proposition that, just because the speaker "cannot believe" a proposal, it therefore must be false. (Ex.: "I just can't believe that the earth is some sort of ball, suspended by nothing, spinning around within some vast emptiness.")
ARGUMENT FROM IGNORANCE
Any argument which claims that a lack of knowledge or understanding relevant to a subject supports his own position. Ignorance can be neither "proof" nor "evidence."
ARGUMENTUM AD POPULUM (Latin for "appeal to the people")
A fallacious argument that concludes a proposition is true because many or most people believe it. In other words, the basic idea of the argument is: "If many believe so, it is so."
ASYMMETRIC ARGUMENT
Any condition in which one side of an argument has far more power of persuasion than its opponent (not necessarily related to the credibility of the perspective arguments, but may include asymmetry in credibility). When argument is deliberately contrived to be asymmetrical, it is often a sign that the weaker side is the stronger side's own "Straw Man argument." Also, this may include instances of severe asymmetry in authority, financial backing, threat of force, etc. Care should be taken to take note of, and discourage influence by, the mere presence of asymmetry between opponents.
ATTENDEE'S PRESUMPTON
The implication made by one who (allegedly) attended or was present at some significant place/event, claiming that they therefore have superior knowledge/authority re. what occurred and the ramifications which follow. (Ex.: I was at the conference of physicists, so I have special grasp of the importance of the Higgs boson. Never mind that I was just a waiter, there.)
AUGURY
The practice of divining the future by observing "omens" or "signs" (often, the behavior of animals, shapes in clouds, the clustering of tea leaves at the bottom of a cup, etc.). Distinguished from science by its lack of demonstrable causative (or metric) link to the foretold event. A form of prophecy.
AUTOMATIC ANTIPATHY
The normal tendency of either side in a debate to feel automatically opposed to anything said by the other side. May be unthinking defensiveness, obliged antagonism, or any of a handful of similar reactions. Ironically, often results in making arguments which don't actually fall into the party's usual line of reasoning, perhaps even contradicting other parts of one's argument.
THE AVAILABILITY BIAS
A situation in which a person assesses the probability of an event (its statistical likelihood) according to the ease with which anecdotal reports, or verified instances or occurrences of the event can be brought to mind (or located with cursory research). Example: Evaluating the likelihood of winning the Lottery according to how easily one can recall reports of others having won, which results in an unjustifiably high evaluation of one's own chances.
THE AVAILABILITY HEURISTIC
See: The Availability Bias
BANDWAGON
Appealing to popularity or the fact that many people do something as an attempted form of validation.
THE BARNUM EFFECT
The practice of wording predictions or prophecies so broadly that they will be guaranteed to apply to a wide spectrum of circumstances and subjects, while maintaining the (illusory) appearance of specificity and unique focus on the circumstance or subject of immediate interest. (Note: This is why your horoscope always seems to sound like it's actually talking about your personal life.)
BACKFIRE EFFECT
The manner in which reason or a rational argument can backfire by causing the proponent of an irrational idea to dig in their heels, shut down their mental receptivity, and resist changing their mind. Once recognized, further argument is pointless.
BEGGING THE QUESTION (Also called Circular Thinking)
The practice of using the desired outcome of an argument as one of the premises employed to prove that conclusion.
BLACK OR WHITE
Presenting two alternative states as the only possibilities when in fact more possibilities exist.
BUYING THE POT
From the game of Poker, the tactic of betting so much on one hand that opponents fear the potential cost of a loss, and therefore fold their hands, giving over any ante and earlier raises to the opponent. In argument, one party may "bet" on the correctness of his own position (generally to be settled by some outside Authority, later). By raising the stakes of the bet to a degree so perilously high that the opponent becomes unwilling to wager, the party forces his opponent to concede, and may then declare himself "proven" even without consulting the Authority. May involve "bets" other than financial, such as wagering for social standing, professional reputation, legal settlement, or political influence.
CALUMNY
The unjust damaging of the good name of another by imputing to him a crime or fault of which he is not guilty.
CASCADE LOGIC
A tactic, especially in conspiracy theories, where one progresses in stage upon stage of supposition or rationalization to support a claim that ever-deepening levels of conspiracy are arranged to prevent disclosure of the truth.
CHERRY PICKING
The selection of favorable facts or evidence from observation, to the exclusion of unfavorable facts or evidence. (See also, Conservation Bias)
CIRCULAR THINKING
see Begging the Question.
CITATION BIAS
The (often deliberate) failure to cite other work which might contradict one's own findings or conclusions. (See also, Conservation Bias)
COGNITIVE DISSONANCE
Per psychiatrist Leon Festinger, the conflict between what a person believes and what he knows or learns is true.
CONFIRMATION BIAS
The tendency to only seek argument or evidence which supports one's a priori position, or information one can modify so that it will fit the initial premise. This bias may lead one to conceal, dismiss, or discard evidence or information contrary to a desired conclusion. Put in plain English, "You only hear what you want to hear." Related to "The Fallacy of Positive Instances."
CONFORMIST BIAS
The inclination to see or find that which conforms to a societal/cultural/institutional "position" or expectation. Example: By conforming to the cultural expectation of patriotic support for "our own" soldiers, one sees only their heroism and sacrifice, excusing or ignoring any negative or undesirable behavior they might demonstrate as well.
CONSERVATION BIAS
Selecting only those facts which conserve the standing or existing doctrine.
CONSILIENCE
Inference to the best induction. Consilience is a mental process by which a conclusion is not reached because it is the only possible one, nor because it necessarily follows from formal deductive reasoning (such as would be used to prove a mathematical theorem), but rather because the available information "points to" or "suggests" a particular answer as being the most likely of the available alternatives. Science and Law are largely practiced with the use of consilience, for practical reasons of convenience; because much of knowledge is based on a process of cumulative consilience, reasonable persons must remain prepared to alter accepted ideas as necessary, if and when a better conclusion is reached by further examination.
CONSPIRACY ENJOINMENT
The practice of exploiting the general popularity of conspiracy theories (esp. those which hold Authorities to be conspirators) to enhance the attractiveness of one's own specious claim. (Ex.: Big Pharma conspires to crush CAM in general, therefore you can trust my own snake oil.) Need not require actual belief in the conspiracy theory cited.
CONSUBSTANTIALITY
(literally: "shared substance," per Kenneth Burke's (1950s) literary criticism.) A rhetorical device by which the narrator uses specific "value terms," jargon, "code words," linguistic phrases, etc., which his audience regularly employs, thus establishing a "link" between his statements and the mindset/philosophy of the audience. (Ex.: "Woo-woo" and "hokum" link well to an audience of skeptics, while "faith," "hope," and "belief" link well to a religious audience.)
CONVENIENTLY OVERLOOKING CONTRARY EVIDENCE
Largely self-explanatory, this tactic can be a passive omission, or an extensive active effort of concealment. At its worst, contrary evidence may be destroyed to prevent its disclosure. When credibly demonstrated, the tactic should be held to proportionately reduce the user's credibility and trustworthiness in his overall presentation. The desirable opposite tactic or mentality is to honestly and fully disclose ALL evidence, to share that evidence among even opposing experts in the field, and to fairly consider and evaluate the totality of evidence and interpretation, to ensure that conclusions will follow on all available evidence (as in deductive reasoning). (See also: Conservation Bias, Cherry Picking, Paradox of Sorites)
THE COPERNICAN PRINCIPLE
"The cosmos does not revolve around us." Also applies to situations in which we hold ourselves to be "special," though we are far more likely to simply experience coincidences. Ex.: It is probably unlikely that a patrol car was waiting for my particular car to pass, to check my speed and issue a ticket to me; more likely, the cop was doing his job, and I just happened to speed past him at the time.
CORRESPONDENCE THEORY OF TRUTH (CToT)
The premise that truth consists in a correspondence between one's statement and the way that the world actually is. Some substitute "coherence" for "correspondence."
THE COSMOLOGICAL PRINCIPLE
The idea that all parts of the universe are roughly the same, with no particular region/location having special position or ranking. (Compare to the Copernican Principle, which holds that the earth is not the center of the universe in importance or location.) (per Matthew P. Wiesner, SI vol. 30, #1, p. 50)
CUI BONO (literally, "Who benefits?")
A hypothetical approach which tries to identify causative actors according to their practical motivations. (Often used, with varying effectiveness, by conspiracy theorists.) Potentially misleading, because a benefit which might merely be incidental does not prove direct causation or involvement. However, with sufficient supportive, independent evidence, a cui bono inquiry CAN lead to truthful discoveries.
DAISY HOPPING
A tactic of argument by which one leaps from point to point faster than one's opponent can sufficiently address/refute the preceding point(s). A promiscuous pursuit of "talking points," as opposed to the responsible propagation of ideas which are each followed through to their mature development, in discussion/debate.
THE DECLINE EFFECT
A statistical trend for scientific results (statistically significant data or effects) to diminish across multiple attempts to replicate the research. Particularly in behavioral and medical sciences, this poorly-understood phenomenon frequently confounds even the best-designed studies.
DEDUCTIVE REASONING
A method of "reasoning from premises" which follows the flow of facts and their necessary implications to reach a conclusion. Working from generalities to specifics by a logical train of thinking. (Compare to: Inductive Reasoning)
DEFERENCE TO THE CLOTH
The different degree of deference given to another (esp. an authority figure) based upon their clothing. Police and military uniforms are two examples. Religious authorities often cloak themselves in traditional garb, to which adherents readily defer (but notably, we seldom defer to religious authority when clothed in unfamiliar garb, or the garb of "other" religions). Doctors and nurses employ specific clothing to denote their role within the medical establishment, and we respect that. Compare to the use of specific clothing for cultural identity, such as the "gi" a martial artist wears, or the "colors" of a familiar outlaw gang. A person in jeans and a work shirt almost habitually defers to anyone wearing a suit and tie, even if worn by a peer.
DEINDIVIDUATION
Losing one's identity as an individual, as often experienced by members of an enthusiastic crowd (a.k.a.: mob mentality). Some results: rioting, looting, vandalism, lynching. Also: The ecstasy of Mass, the rapture of Theater/Cinema/musical concerts, or the enthusiasm of sports rallies.
THE DEMOCRATIC FALLACY
The practice of "voting" to determine what the majority of people believe to be "true." Voting can easily determine the popularity of a proposition, but popularity has no logical link to veracity or credibility; in fact, the general public's opinions can be so distorted by poorly informed, emotional, political, and/or religious thinking that they only rarely coincide with demonstrable, objective truth. Also, sometimes relied upon to evaluate (by seeking consensus) the "quality" or "morality" of an idea or action; again, popular opinion may or may not coincide with actual objective value. (See also: Wishful Thinking)
DE NOVO
(literally, "from/out of nothing") In debate, a claim or statement having no underlying support or traceable derivation.
DOCTRINE
  1. Something that is taught as a truth.
  2. A principle, or body of principles, presented for acceptance or belief, often by an organized religious, political, philosophic, or scientific group. An argument offered to perpetuate dogma.
DOGMA
  1. A system of doctrines proclaimed true by a group or sect, particularly in a religious or mythical context.
  2. A principle, belief, or statement of idea or opinion, especially one authoritatively considered to be absolute truth.
EGOCENTRIC BIAS
The tendency to overstress changes between the past and present in order to make ourselves look better than what we really are. According to the results from several conducted studies, individuals are also more likely to favor circumstances that are beneficial to themselves compared to those that favor to the people around them. See NAÏVE CYNICISM.
ENCLOTHED COGNITION
The difference in one's own attitude/behavior caused by wearing clothing that has idealized significance, (similar to: Deference to the Cloth, the different degree of deference given to another which is based upon their uniform, clothing, or costumery.) Distinguishes "blue collar" from "white collar." Supports identification within a group of similar dress (whether by circumstance, tradition, or official mandate).
EXTREMISM
An argumentative tactic which employs absolutism, generally taking every aspect of any argument immediately to its most extreme example, as if no more moderate argument can possibly exist. (See also: reductio ad absurdum)
FACTOID
(per Norman Mailer) Plausible statements made with great authority, but no empirical backing. Sometimes, erroneous statements made in popular media which are quickly and thoroughly adopted as "Truth" by a credulous audience.
THE FAIR DEBATE MEME
The proposition that "both sides of a debate deserve equal time and consideration" without a priori determination of the relative merits of either side's arguments. Arguably useful in ensuring that political candidates' campaign ads are given equal consideration by what might otherwise be a biased media outlet. Often used to gain an opportunity to air one's own views, no matter how ridiculous or unsupportable, in a public forum where an audience is free to decide which side it finds more attractive. A well-proven truth may require substantially more time to demonstrate and explain than an opposing statement of mistaken belief, or vice versa. Also, the mere presentation of specious arguments in formal debate against demonstrable truth lends the former an un-earned facade of credibility.
THE FALLACY FALLACY
Presuming that because a claim has been poorly argued, or a fallacy has been made, that the claim is necessarily wrong.
FALLACY OF SUPPRESSED EVIDENCE
One of the basic principles of cogent argumentation is that a cogent argument presents all the relevant evidence. An argument that omits relevant evidence appears stronger and more cogent than it is. The fallacy of suppressed evidence occurs when an arguer intentionally omits relevant data. This is a difficult fallacy to detect because we often have no way of knowing that we haven't been told the whole truth. See also: CHERRY PICKING.
FALSE CAUSE
Presuming that real or perceived relationship between things means that one is the cause of the other.
THE FALSE DILEMMA (also called The False Dichotomy)
The practice of framing an argument in terms of two opposing choices, which are then presented as the ONLY two choices possible, when in fact there exist other choices which are available,
FALSE EQUIVOCATION
The practice of applying a word, term, or concept to two different contexts, implying that it has an equivalent meaning in both contexts, Also, misusing one sense of a term, when one of its other senses tends to support a fallacious argument, Example: "Theory," as defined as follows:
  1. Systematically organized knowledge applicable in a relatively wide variety of circumstances, esp. a system of assumptions, accepted principles, and rules of procedure devised to analyze, predict, or otherwise explain the nature or behavior of a specified set of phenomena.
  2. Abstract reasoning; speculation
  3. An assumption or guess based on limited information or knowledge.
False equivocation might include the assertion that "Evolution is only a theory," implying the meaning offered in sense 3 when the Theory of Evolution itself falls under sense 1.
THE FILE DRAWER EFFECT
Because much research remains unpublished (for any of many potential reasons), the sum of "published information" is only a subset of the scope of actual knowledge, understood to omit some relevant facts (either supportive or oppositional). We can't know that which remains within a neglected file drawer.
THE FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER
The deity satirically proposed by the Pastafarian religion (see: www.venganza.org)
GAMBLER'S FALLACY
When an individual erroneously believes that the onset of a certain random event is less likely to happen following an event or a series of events. This line of thinking is incorrect because past events do not change the probability that certain events will occur in the future. Example: consider a series of 20 coin flips that have all landed with the "heads" side up. Under the gambler's fallacy, a person might predict that the next coin flip is more likely to land with the "tails" side up.
GENETIC BIAS
Judging something good or bad on the basis of where it comes from or from whom it comes.
GLOSSOLALIA
"Speaking in tongues," esp. as in the example of religious practice. (Some research indicates that, in trance states, some people are able to speak using the "emotional" areas of the brain, as opposed to the usual "linguistic" areas.)
HARUSPICY
The "art" of divining the future by "reading" the entrails of animals.
HINDSIGHT BIAS
  1. Once an event has happened or a belief is formed, it is simple to look back and "construct" not only a chain of presumptive causes, but also an argument stating why the result could not have been different. (Sometimes applied to justify belief in specific prophecies after they appear to have come true.)
  2. The tendency of people to overestimate the statistical likelihood of an event's occurrence after they know the outcome. Also, the tendency to overestimate one's previous expectation of a particular outcome after it has occurred (as in, "I knew it all along.") (See also: Retrofitting)
HEURISTIC
  1. serving to indicate or point out; stimulating interest as a means of furthering investigation.
  2. encouraging a person to learn, discover, understand, or solve problems on his or her own, as by experimenting, evaluating possible answers or solutions, or by trial and error: a heuristic teaching method.
  3. of, pertaining to, or based on experimentation, evaluation, or trial-and-error methods.
  4. Computers and Mathematics: pertaining to a trial-and-error method of problem solving used when an algorithmic approach is impractical.
HOMOPHILY
People having similar tastes or values tend to socialize with one another. Similar to the saying, "Birds of a feather flock together."
(Ray) HYMAN'S CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE
"Do not try to explain something until you are sure there is something to be explained."
HYPERBOLE
An exaggerated or extravagant statement. In argument, the tactic of making a point more inflammatory than its factual value would justify, in order to enhance its effectiveness.
HYPNAGOGIC HALLUCINATION
Extraordinarily vivid hallucinations perceived by a person when just entering or awakening from sleep. Such hallucinations can seem to blend in with perceptions of the actual real surroundings, thus making the hallucinatory aspect seem even more real. Such hallucinations may often be responsible for the perception of ghosts, alien abductions, nightmares, and autoerotic stimulation. On occasions, such perceptions have led persons to believe they were being attacked, causing them to thrash out violently against a person trying to awaken them.
IDENTITY BIAS
a group of ideas, beliefs, and mores, which serve to distinguish a group's orientation (in time and/or culture), and which members of such groups adopt and propagate as a means of establishing their personal identity and cultural heritage. Frequently, a set of "stances" or "positions" taken on special issues of controversy, generally adopted as "articles of faith." a.k.a., group ideology. (See also: Conservation Bias) (Thanks to Shawn K. Stover, Skeptic Vol. 19, No. 3, p. 55)
THE ILLUSION OF EXTERNAL AGENCY
A perceptual error which causes one to credit events (sometimes personal behaviors) to "outside" or unseen intervention (often a supernatural force or social compulsion). (Ex.: The "observation" of a "miracle" or other divine intervention; the experience of "demonic possession.")
ILLUSION OF TRUTH EFFECT
That people are more likely to identify as true statements those they have previously heard (even if they cannot consciously remember having heard them), regardless of the actual validity of the statement. In other words, a person is more likely to believe a familiar statement than an unfamiliar one.
INATTENTIONAL BIAS
The tendency we have, when focusing on one aspect of a situation, to miss other aspects (even major, obvious aspects) through inattention. (Visit www.theinvisiblegorilla.com/videos.html) The reason why distracted driving (such as while talking on a cell phone) is so dangerous.
INDUCTIVE REASONING
A method of reasoning which derives generalities from specific cases or instances. Also, a precedent-based process in which one first proves "the first case," which is then used as the proof for an unrelated subsequent case for which the essential factors are presumed to be identical. Because the matching of "comparable cases" may be of variable consistency or accuracy, the risk is that an inductive conclusion may wrongly infer parity where it is not factually supportable. However, because the more cautious deductive reasoning often requires more time and expense by separately reasoning through each case in its painstaking specifics, we tend to take the shortcut of inductive reasoning in order to reach a workable conclusion more quickly. (Compare to: Deductive Reasoning) (See also: Consilience)
INEDIA
The claimed ability to survive without food. "Inediates" are those who practice such beliefs. "Breatharianism" is a variety of inedia in which humans are thought to be capable of being trained to survive on air and sunlight alone.
IRRATIONAL ESCALATION
The bias in which one feels too invested in a decision or belief to let it go and reverse course, even when logic and evidence make it clear that we should. Sometimes involves a prideful unwillingness to be proven wrong. Instead of changing the mind, many people escalate the argument (often with increasing degrees of irrationality) in a determined effort to prevail at any cost. (See Buying the Pot). A defensiveness meant to avoid apostasy.
IRREFUTABLE PRESUMPTION
(Esp. in Law) An a priori condition or dogma that may not be questioned or criticized. Because such conditional positions may not be challenged (usually because they are imposed by Authority), critical thinking cannot be used to evaluate and/or change them. Example: The Jury of one's Peers is the most competent body to determine the facts, and thus the truth, of a contested matter. Also: The writings in the Bible are the true and literal Word of God.
KNOWLEDGE
Per the philosophy of Plato, a belief which can be demonstrably or verifiably shown to be true. We can claim to "know" something if: a.) we believe it to be true; b.) it is in fact true; AND c.) our belief is justifiable according to reason and evidence. (On the other hand, simply proclaiming a belief to be "true" without having the ability to explain and prove it does not constitute knowledge.) (Note: The word Science derives from the Latin "scientia," literally meaning knowledge.)
LACUNAE (singular, LACUNA)
Gaps or missing pieces, as in facts missing from an explanation or body of evidence.
LEAP OF FAITH
The act or an instance of believing or trusting in something intangible or incapable of being proved.
LOADED QUESTION
Asking a question that has an assumption built into it so that one cannot answer it without appearing guilty.
LOCARD'S EXCHANGE PRINCIPLE
(Edmond Locard, 1877 - 1966) The forensic principle that a cross-transfer of evidence takes place whenever a criminal comes in contact with a victim, an object, or a crime scene. One might leave behind finger- or footprints, hairs, semen, or skin flakes. One might simultaneously pick up and carry away hairs, mud, carpet fibers, etc. A victim may scratch an attacker, leaving a wound, while accumulating skin or blood (or vice versa).
THE LOYALTY GAMBIT
An argumentative tactic whereby an idea's proponent seeks the support of others by exploiting their feelings of personal or political loyalty, esp. when their inclination might otherwise be to oppose the idea.
(xx) MADE ME DO IT
A frequent fallacious tactic hoped to offset or avoid responsibility for one's actions. Most particularly, false when the compulsion claimed is not actually as compelling as the claimant hopes to assert, (i.e., "Was there a gun held to your head?")
MAGIC
The art that purports to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural, or the use of charms, spells, or rituals.
MAGICAL or SUPERSTITIOUS THINKING
The assumption that events having no obvious natural cause (esp. causes "known to science"), therefore "must have" supernatural or magical cause. Also, the presumption of any supernatural or magical ability, power, or spiritual supremacy in any person or animal. A basic premise of rational thinking is that all events have causes which fall under natural laws and observable natural abilities of natural entities; these causes and effects can be discovered through the careful use of structured observational methodologies (including, but not necessarily limited to, that which we currently call Science).
MEADOWLARKING
An unfocused mode of thinking (usually without conversation) which randomly flitters about, rather than following a disciplined direction/path. Frequently responsible for the establishment of unsupportable conclusions through reliance on rational errors. (a.k.a.: woolgathering)
MEME
A cultural or rhetorical construct (accurate or not) which passes from person to person through language and which thrives or declines through a process analogous to natural selection, (See also: Repetition Bias, Conformation Bias)
MENTAL MAGIC
Believing that your thoughts or feelings directly control external events, or assuming that you know what other people are thinking or feeling.
MISOLOGY
Hatred of Reason, Argument, or Enlightenment. An anti-science position.
MISPLACED BURDEN OF PROOF
Saying the burden of proof lies not with the person making the claim but with those who deny the claim.
MORGAN'S CANON
The principal holding that suggestions of "humanlike" mental processes behind an animal's behavior should be rejected if a simpler explanation is available. (See also, Occam's Razor, parsimony) (references C. Lloyd Morgan, psychologist, ca. 1894)
MOTIVATED REASONING
Confirmation bias taken to the next level. Motivated reasoning leads people to confirm what they already believe, while ignoring contrary data. But it also drives people to develop elaborate rationalizations to justify holding beliefs that logic and evidence have shown to be wrong. Motivated reasoning responds defensively to contrary evidence, actively discrediting such evidence or its source without logical or evidentiary justification. Clearly, motivated reasoning is emotion driven. It seems to be assumed by social scientists that motivated reasoning is driven by a desire to avoid cognitive dissonance. Self-delusion, in other words, feels good, and that's what motivates people to vehemently defend obvious falsehoods.
MYSTICISM
A belief in the existence of realities beyond perceptual or intellectual apprehension central to one's state-of-being and directly accessible by subjective experience, such as intuition,
MYTHOLOGY
A collection of myths (traditional stories, originating in pre-literate societies, dealing with supernatural beings, heroes, or ancestors of a primordial type), especially those which appeal to the consciousness of a people by embodying its cultural ideals, about the origins and pre-history of that people, their deities, and their ancestry. Cultural stories forming the basis of a group's inherited superstitions.
NAIVE CYNICISM
Expecting more egocentric bias in others than in oneself.
NAIVE REALISM
The "natural" human tendency to believe, by reflexive bias, that the world is as we perceive it to be. In fact, there are many real phenomena which we are unable to directly perceive (for example, the majority of the electromagnetic spectrum, radioactivity, phenomena lost within "background noise", etc.) Also, we may misperceive many things (for example, trying to guess another's thoughts or intentions, or miscalculating statistical risks).
NATURAL FALLACY
The belief that any "natural" thing must be preferable to its "artificial" or man-made analog (particularly in Alternative Medicine and Nutrition).
THE NEGATIVITY FALLACY
The idea that arguments may be dismissed or ignored if their proponents express them in a (subjectively) "negative manner." Negativity, for purposes of this tactic, can be so broadly defined as to include whatever the claimant dislikes. (NOTE: Often offered in conjunction with The Pleasance Gambit)
"NEW/IMPROVED" BIAS
The tendency to believe that something called "new" and/or "improved" is of better quality than its predecessor. Often exploited in commercial advertising. (See also: Novelty Bias)
NEUROCENTRISM
The view that human experience and behavior can be best explained from the exclusive (or predominant) perspective of the brain's neurology (a subfield of physiology). The key problem with this view: it devalues the importance of psychological explanations and environmental factors (such as family difficulties, stress, peer pressures, and easy access to drugs in explanation for substance addiction).
NIHILISM
(from "nothing") The belief that the following premises are true: a.) All values are groundless; b.) moral distinctions should be rejected; c.) all social/political institutions must be destroyed if progress is to occur.
NON SEQUITUR
Statements or claims which are presented as having been derived from preceding argument or logic, but which "do not follow" as presented. A non sequitur may occur when the argument accidentally omitted valid steps of the chain of proof; more commonly, it occurs when fallacy or deception are employed to simply leap from statement to conclusion, where supporting proof would not otherwise be available. Also, the tactic is sometimes applied in the form of presenting an unproven argument (as if it had been proven) in support of another claim or proposition,
NO TRUE SCOTSMAN
Making what could be called an appeal to purity as a way to dismiss relevant criticisms or flaws of an argument.
NOVEL INFORMATION BIAS
A situation in which one prefers claims or evidence which take a "novel approach or position," especially one contrary to "Establishment Views." Also called: NEW AGE BIAS; CONSPIRACY BIAS; BELIEVER BIAS; etc.
OBFUSCATION
(or beclouding) The hiding of intended meaning in communication, making communication confusing, willfully ambiguous, and harder to interpret.
OBJECTIVE EXPERIENCE
An experience reported with careful specificity and definition imposed to attempt the avoidance of coloration/alteration by observer bias. "Perfect" objectivity may not be attainable, but the skeptic's general goal is to maximize objectivity wherever it can be analyzed.
OBSTUPEFACTION
[obstupefacio, Latin.] The act of inducing stupidity, or interruption of the mental powers. The action of stupefying; making dull or lethargic.
OCCAM'S RAZOR (also, Ockham's Razor)
A procedural practice in which causative factors (of a phenomenon) should be exhaustively sought and understood, yet not be multiplied beyond rational need, nor with refuge to the supernatural; simplicity should be sought, where it, makes good sense (but not merely to avoid inconvenient evidence). (See also: Parsimony)
OSTENSION
Acting out a scene or scenario from a story, urban legend, or myth. (Ex.: Repeatedly calling out "Bloody Mary" or "Sandman" while looking into a mirror.) Meant to demonstrate the actor's courage to carry out the (usually forbidden or occult) ritual in the face of its mythical threat.
OVER-CREDITING THE SOURCE
The tendency to wrongly presume that a source's authority, occupation, degree or educational level, position, or background makes him or her immune from misperception, error, or even dishonesty.
PARADIGM
The totality of the academic/scientific "understanding" of the Universe (or any object being studied), at any given point in time. Always subject to revision as understanding increases (sometimes called "paradigm shift"). Coined by Thomas Kuhn (1967, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions").
PARADOX OF SORITES
An argumentative tactic by which one simply "deems" unwelcome evidence to fall outside the need for consideration, by adjusting the criteria of inclusion or relevance as necessary (or conversely, admitting weak supporting evidence by similar means). Example: Juries are routinely instructed that they are the arbiters of credibility, and they may decide which evidence and testimony they choose to find credible, and which they alternatively choose to find lacking in credibility (the latter of which they are entirely free to ignore).
PARALLAX ERROR
A condition of observation under which the observer's alignment of view causes a distortion of perception. With old-style analog electronic multimeters (using D'Arsonval meter movement), a mirror was placed against the background scale; by aligning the needle with its reflection in this mirror, the viewer could assure alignment of his viewpoint, ensuring accurate reading. Partially responsible for the perception of "perspective" in a viewed scene, so that distant objects appear to cross one's view much more slowly than close objects. Origin: The observation that some planets appear to reverse direction of their motion through the sky, because of the unperceived change in the observer's position here on the moving Earth.
PARSE
To break a subject down into its component parts, with an explanation of the form, function, and relationship of each part. (Often used in relation to sentence structure and "parts of speech.") To trim away that which is extraneous.
PARSIMONY
  1. The practice of seeking economy or simplicity among one's assumptions in logical formulations. (See also: Occam's Razor)
  2. Economy or simplicity of assumptions in logical formulations.
PARSIMONY, QUALITATIVE
Using the most reliable (best-quality) evidence and principles necessary to explain the phenomenon.
PARSIMONY, QUANTITATIVE
Using the smallest number of entities or principles needed to explain the phenomenon.
PAREDOLIA
The tendency of people to recognize familiar objects in clouds, rock formations, ink blots, stains, scorch marks, wood grains, etc. (See also: Simulacrum)
PARHELION (Parhelia, pl.)
A "mock sun" phenomenon involving the play of light on clouds, or ice crystals suspended in the air. Also includes halos, arcs (rainbows), solar pillars, etc.
PASSIVE AGGRESSION
A real psychological and behavioral phenomenon by which a person "attacks" others by contriving to place them on the defensive. A belligerent effort to bend others to one's support by pretending to be injured (often emotionally, culturally, etc.) by them, seeking to thus cause them to appease and coddle the "injured" party. Covers a very wide variety of personality styles and specific tactics, across a continuum of degree from subtle to blatant.
PERSONAL INCREDULITY
Saying that because one finds something difficult to understand it therefore must not be true.
THE PERSONAL VALIDATION EFFECT
A cognitive bias under which a piece of information is believed to be "correct" if it has subjective personal significance. (See also, confirmation bias)
PERSONALITY, the "Big Five Dimensions" of
  1. Openness to new experience.
  2. Conscientiousness
  3. Extraversion
  4. Agreeableness
  5. Neuroticism
Taken together, these characteristics represent "continuum" vectors along which an individual's characteristics may theoretically be plotted. These may vary with time and circumstances.
PHILOZOIAN
(Gk. "philo-", lover of; and "-zoian," living things) One who loves and works to benefit all forms of life (as distinct from a philanthropist, who merely loves humanity).
THE PLEASANCE GAMBIT
The tactic of assuming a facade of pleasant demeanor, attractive appearance, courtesy, and ineradicable smiles, in the effort to disarm the listener's critical thinking. (NOTE: often offered in conjunction with The Negativity Fallacy)
PLURALISTIC IGNORANCE
A situation in which a majority of group members privately reject a norm, but incorrectly assume that most others accept it, and therefore go along with it.[1] This is also described as "no one believes, but everyone thinks that everyone believes." In short, pluralistic ignorance is a bias about a social group, held by a social group.
POISONING THE WELL
A form of ad hominem attack, in which the opponent is set up for distrust before he can even present his argument, biasing observers against him ahead of time. One frequent means used for this is to present the opponent as a member of some despised group or class.
POSITIVE INSTANCES, THE FALLACY OF
In argument, the practice of relying on positive (or supporting) instances to prove one's proposition, particularly when negative (contra-indicating) instances are deliberately ignored. (See also: Cherry Picking, Confirmation Bias)
POSITIVITY BIAS
The tendency (often subconscious) to place more trust in, or to be less critical of, information which is presented as having a positive (as opposed to neutral or negative) outcome or effect.
POSTULATE
(verb) To assume the truth or reality of something in absence of proof, esp. as the basis of argument. Also includes accepting ideas as being "self-evident." (noun) A fundamental element or basic principle of a concept. (See also: res ipso loquitur)
POST HOC, ERGO PROPTER HOC
Literally, "after this, therefore because of this." The fallacy of ascribing a particular cause to an effect, where no causative link is actually present.
PRESTIGE BIAS
The circumstance in which the credibility of a statement or idea is related to the (culturally-based) level of prestige to which the listener holds the speaker. One trusts people with whom one is impressed. (Opposite to: Anti-Hominem Bias)
PRIMING
The situation in which one becomes "primed" to accept or interpret a situation or argument in the light of previous discussion or suggestion (a mostly subconscious effect).
PROCEDURAL REFUSAL
A practice (often used by conservative Authority) of refusing to acknowledge or address new or undesirable evidence by asserting some flaw in the manner, attitude, or procedure of its presentation. Primarily a subterfuge having no bearing on the quality or credibility of the proposed submission. (not really a close relationship)
PROJECTION BIAS
A feature in human thinking where one thinks that others have the same priority, attitudem or belief that one harbours oneself, even if this is unlikely to be the case. A common example of projection bias is predicting that one's own views will stay the same over time. This has been shown to be statistically unlikely.
PROOF OF THE NEGATIVE
It is a basic premise of rational thinking that it is impossible to prove that something "is not," in the sense of its non-existence. It is also difficult to "prove" that an event did not happen, or that some outcome is impossible. Therefore, an argument demanding that the opponent prove the negative (its non-existence or impossibility) is generally not accepted as evidence proving one's own premise.
PROPHECY
  1. A foretelling; prediction; a declaration of something to come. A statement about a future event made by someone with religious or magic powers. Example: End of the World predictions by Holy Men.
  2. Preaching; public interpretation of Scripture; exhortation or instruction.
PSYCHIC
Of or pertaining to the extraordinary, esp. extrasensory and non-physical, or to purely-mental processes. Examples include extrasensory perception, mental telepathy, telekinesis, telesthesia, teleportation, levitation, astral projection, etc. Those-aspects of religious practices which involve mental or verbal communication with supernatural entities (prayer, prophecy, revelation, and transmutation of the soul, etc.) also fall under the heading of psychic abilities.
PUBLICATION BIAS
The flaw in any system of selective publication is that there is always some bias present when discriminating between the work which will be published, and that which won't be. Journal publishers do not invariably base decisions on each work's scientific merit alone. This can admit flawed work, and/or omit valuable work, depending on the circumstance and criteria used.
RABDOMANCY
Water dowsing
RATIONALIZATION
The act of devising self-satisfying, but incorrect, reasoning in support of one's behavior or position in an argument, using a false appearance of rationality.
REACTIVE DEVALUATION
Devaluing proposals only because they are purportedly originated with an adversary. Reactive devaluation occurs because of the very fact that an offer was made and/or because the offer was associated with an adversary of the recipient. The reasoning for this bias goes something like this: A) it cannot be that great of an offer if they made in the first place and/or B) if someone in an adversarial position makes an offer, it must not be a good offer.
RED HERRING
A red herring is a detail or remark inserted into a discussion, either intentionally or unintentionally, that sidetracks the discussion. The red herring is invariably irrelevant and is often emotionally charged. The participants in the discussion go after the red herring and forget what they were initially talking about; in fact, they may never get back to their original topic.
REDUCTIO AD ABSURDUM
Literally, "reduce to absurdity." An argumentative tactic that seeks to defeat the opposition by exaggerating an aspect of his position to the point of absurdity (also, extremism), then implying that the entire position is equally absurd (or extreme). Classic example: "Which of your grandparents was a monkey? None? Then how can you say humans evolved from monkeys?"
REDUCTIO AD HITLERUM
Argumentum ad Hitlerum is a term coined by philosopher Leo Strauss in 1951. Reductio ad Hitlerum is a form of ad hominem or ad misericordiam, a fallacy of irrelevance, in which a conclusion is suggested based solely on something's or someone's origin rather than its current meaning. The suggested rationale is one of guilt by association. Its name is a variation on the term reductio ad absurdum. Reductio ad Hitlerum is sometimes called "playing the Nazi card." According to its critics and proponents, it is a tactic often used to derail arguments, because such comparisons tend to distract and anger the opponent.
REIFICATION
Treating or evaluating an abstraction as if it had concrete or material evidence.
REPETITION BIAS
The subconscious tendency to believe things heard often. Traditional and Folk wisdom often fall into this category. That which is most familiar, and most readily called to mind, often tends to be believed without critical thought or question. Even when myths, legends, or distorted ideas are repeated for the purpose of refuting them, that repetition reinforces their strength.
REPRESENTATIVENESS BIAS
The situation in which somebody presumes that one or a few examples accurately represent an entire class or category. Also, the presumption that an example incongruent with known examples demonstrates that the incongruity does not come from or belong to the larger class or category. Example: If someone only encounters one or a few members of a race he doesn't normally encounter, and he finds those persons to have some common characteristic, the observer might conclude that ALL members of that race share the characteristic (whether it's good or bad makes no difference).
REQUIRING UNREASONABLE DETAIL
A tactic of argument that tries to side-track the debate into an exhaustive listing of details or specifics so tedious that the point gets lost. Also, the requirement to fill in all gaps or blanks in knowledge before it can be accepted (and of course, no matter how finely the details are filled in, one can always split yet another hair and proclaim that it hasn't yet been clarified.) In Creationism, it may take the form of requiring a perfectly complete fossil of every faint difference of mutation between species to prove an evolutionary link. It is notable that very few fields of inquiry are so exhaustively complete that a determined skeptic could not find any imperfect step of proof with which to quibble.
RES ADJUDICATA
A legal principle asserting that "a standing judgement rules." Linked to the doctrine of "finality of judgement." A technical fallacy, intended to avoid review of decisions made earlier. Before new evidence can be reviewed and applied to a standing judgement, petitioners must overcome various procedural bars specifically intended to conserve the standing judgement. (see: Conservation Bias)
RES IPSA LOQUITUR
Literally, "the thing speaks for itself "
THE RESISTANCE TO ORTHODOXY STRATEGY
The proposition in argument that mere opposition to orthodox belief or practice is, in and of itself, able to lend more credibility to one's proposition. For persons inclined to such thinking as conspiracy theories, anti-establishment thinking, or anti-scientific bias, the resistance to orthodoxy strategy is practically guaranteed to attract their support. However, merely being in opposition to (or in support of) any orthodox view has no bearing on the argument's validity; validity follows upon demonstrable conformity to reliable facts and evidence.
RETROFITTING
The act of matching predictions or statements to actual events, after the events have occurred (often involves CHERRY PICKING or creative interpretation, in varying degrees). Commonly used to "prove" the accuracy of prophecy or fortune-telling. (See also: Hindsight Bias)
RETROSPECTIVE FALSIFICATION
D. H. Rawcliffe coined this term to refer to the process of telling a story that is factual to some extent, but which gets distorted and falsified over time by retelling it with embellishments. The embellishments may include speculations, conflating events that occurred at different times or in different places, and the incorporation of material without regard for accuracy or plausibility. The overriding force that drives the story is to find or invent details that fit with a desired outcome. The process can be conscious or unconscious. The original story gets remodeled with favorable points being emphasized and unfavorable ones being dropped. The distorted and false version becomes a memory and record of a remarkable tale. Examples of this process include stories of miraculous events, reconstructions of alleged psychic predictions, and the development of the belief that aliens landed in Roswell, New Mexico.
SALIENCY BIAS
the tendency to give preferential recall to dramatic events, and to believe that they occur more frequently than non-dramatic events.
SCHADENFREUDE
Delighting in another's misfortune or misery.
THE SCIENTIFIC EXPERTISE ASSERTION
The tactic in argument by which one party asserts his argument's superiority solely due to his own "scientific expertise." (See also: Prestige Bias) Problematic because individuals are quite susceptible to error, bias, and possible malice. It is notable that many "scientific experts" have abused their authority by making false or unsupportable statements contrary to their scientific training. Also, scientists generally "specialize" in narrow areas of research, and their expertise outside those narrow fields may well be no greater than that of the average person. It should not be the PERSON'S credentials which sway debate, but rather it should be the evidence and consilience presented BY a person which carries persuasive weight.
SELECTION BIAS or SELECTIVITY BIAS
Choosing sources of authoritative information according to those sources' previously-recognized bias in concordance with one's own viewpoints and values. Example: In Law, one side hires an expert witness with views favorable to its interests, while the opposing side chooses an expert witness with views favorable to the opposition interest; each "expert" is generally capable of making convincing argument, presumably supportable by the same set of facts, yet widely differing positions are taken. This bias can also include some degree of Confirmation Bias, in which only favorable evidence is acknowledged.
SELECTIVE PERCEPTION
The process by which individuals perceive what they want to in media messages while ignoring opposing viewpoints.
SELF-CONTRADICTION
A statement, argument, or body of understanding that contains mutually-opposing ideas or claims within itself.
THE SELF-EDITOR'S ERROR
The common situation in which one makes an error which escapes his own notice when self-editing work product. The author confidently recalls what he MEANT to say, even if he actually misspoke or left out crucial logical steps of an explanation. But another person, not having the same cognitive image, will easily spot errors the author overlooked. Common in writing, math calculations, drawing up plans for a project, and even in critiquing the work of others, (a.k.a., "foot-in- mouth disease")
SHIBBOLETH
An old idea, opinion, or saying that is commonly believed and repeated but that may be seen as old-fashioned or untrue, a platitude.
THE SIMPLEST SEARCH SET BIAS
When one avenue of research is much easier to pursue than others (yet the easier research path ignores or under-represents relevant data which more difficult research paths would expose), the tendency to base a conclusion on the results of the easy research alone (i.e., laziness) results in an ineffective search, biasing the conclusions (See: Inductive vs. Deductive Reasoning, for one example.) Also called THE INEFFECTIVE SEARCH SET BIAS. (Note: The ineffectiveness of the search set might result from other reasons, such as religious or mythical bias, cultural, legal, or moral constraints, nationalistic or linguistic limitations on data accessibility, and so on. In any such instance, leaving qualitative judgement entirely aside, any limitation on the quantity and/or thoroughness of access to data relevant to the research will tend to bias the conclusion.)
SIMULACRUM
The perception of non-random (meaningful and/or intelligent) images or sounds within random surfaces or sounds. Classic examples: The "face" one thinks he recognizes among the scorch marks of a piece of toast or the wrinkles of scrambled eggs. The apparent words "heard" among white noise (static) from a poorly-tuned radio or TV. (See also, Paredolia)
THE "SINGLE ALTERNATIVE" FALLACY
In argument, where one "rational explanation" is ruled out (in actuality or by subterfuge), one party proposes that only a "SINGLE ATERNATIVE" remains available (often, it is an extremist, supernatural, or pseudoscientific alternative which would not otherwise be given favorable consideration). The fallacy relies upon the tendency to oversimplify a problem into a mere two possible choices. In fact, additional alternatives are almost always available for examination, if the parties are sufficiently motivated and competent to imagine them. (See also, False Dichotomy/Dilemma.)
SLIPPERY SLOPE
An argument which asserts that, once the first step of a particular progression is taken (no matter how reasonable, innocuous, or minor it may appear to be), then it shall perforce lead to an unavoidable and unstoppable "slide all the way down the slippery slope" until it reaches its penultimate, worst-case, undesirable outcome. Examples: One sip of alcohol invariably leads to drunken debauchery and death by cirrhosis. Kissing a boy once can only lead to an illegitimate teen pregnancy. Any law to regulate legal purchases of firearms will eventually lead to the total disarmament of the civilian population. "Give 'em an inch, and they'll take a mile." (See also: Extremism)
SOLECISM
A nonstandard usage of terminology or grammatical construction which leads to a deliberate miscommunication or error. Example: "Evolution is only a theory." By misapplying the term "theory" in its non-scientific popular context, the user implies that the "theory = guess" meaning is more appropriate than the "theory = encompassing explanation" meaning, thus falsifying the actual meaning intended by the phrase, "The Theory of Evolution."
SOLIPISM
The concept that the self is the only reality, and/or that the self is the only thing which can be known or discovered. Sometimes used as an euphemism for selfishness.
SOPHISTRY
The use of seemingly-plausible, but false and/or misleading arguments.
SPECIAL PLEADING (Also called Double-Standard)
The practice of accusing others of falling short of particular standards, procedures, or rules, while holding one's self (or one's cited authorities) to be exempt from equivalent standards, without adequately justifying why such distinction might be appropriate.
STATEMENT OF FACT
This is when you make an assumption or opinions about something and then present your opinion as fact.
STEREOTYPING
Expecting a member of a group to have certain characteristics without having information about that individual.
THE STRAW MAN
The practice of misrepresenting the opponent's argument (setting up "a Straw Man") in a manner that sets forth a premise which may be easily attacked, thus appearing to refute the opponent's actual position. May involve such tactics as oversimplification, absolutism, and/or citing statements never actually employed by the opponent.
SUBJECTIVE EXPERIENCE
An experience colored, altered, or molded by the observer's beliefs, biases, and other a priori assumptions.
SYLLOGISM
In logic, a form of deductive reasoning consisting of a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion. Adjective: syllogistic. Example: 1. Major premise: All mammals are warm-blooded. 2. Minor premise: All black dogs are mammals. 3. Conclusion: Therefore, all black dogs are warm-blooded.
SYNCRETISM
The tendency or effort to combine, reconcile, or compromise between different beliefs, in an effort to resolve dispute.
SYZYGY
the astronomical configuration in which the sun, the moon, and the earth all fall into alignment. Syzygy has a measurable effect on tides (tides are higher when the moon is between the sun and earth than when the earth is between the moon and sun). Theories that syzygy affect tectonic plates (earthquakes) are not supported by evidence. Also, there is no evidence supporting theories that syzygy affect animal or human behavior.
TELEOLOGICAL ARGUMENT
A type of argument for the existence of God which maintains that the design of the world reveals that objects have purposes or ends and that such an organized design must be the creation of a supreme designer (God). Also called the argument from design.
THEODICY
Argumentation offered with the specific purpose of supporting the idea of Divine Justice, especially in opposition to the argument that evil and suffering serve as evidence of an absence of divine intervention.
THEOSOPHY
The use of religious philosophy or speculation based on mystical insight into the nature of God or other divine teachings, to argue a premise.
TRANSPOSED CONDITIONAL FALLACY
In math, if X = Y, then Y = X. However, in deductive reasoning it is incorrect to assume that "If H, then O" means that "If O, then H" must also be true. Example: If someone is hanged, he will probably die. Yet, it is wrong to thereby deduce that if someone is dead, he was probably hanged.
TRUE-BELIEVER SYNDROME
An expression coined by M. Lamar Keene to describe an apparent cognitive disorder characterized by believing in the reality of paranormal or supernatural events after one has been presented overwhelming evidence that the event was fraudulently staged. Keene is a reformed phony psychic who exposed religious racketeering—to little effect, apparently. Phony faith healers, psychics, channelers, televangelist miracle workers, etc., are as abundant as ever.
TU QUOQUE
Literally, "you too." A form of ad hominem attack in which it is argued that the subject does not follow his own advice or logic. Example: An obese Doctor prescribing weight loss would invite from his patient a tu quoque response.
THE TURING TEST
Per computer pioneer Alan Turing, in the '50s. Place a human judge in conversation with both a human and "a machine intelligence;" if the judge cannot tell which responses came from which entity, the machine may be said to show "human-level intelligence." Perhaps more accurately, this test would measure the similarity in conversational skills between the entities, though little relevant to actual "intelligence." Conversely, if applied to paranormal investigations such as spiritual medium communication with the dead, a Turing Test might be able to identify a suspicious similarity between the medium's conversational skills and those of the presumed spirit.
TYPE 1 BELIEFS
Beliefs formed upon the best evidence and information available, which are held conditionally (See also: Consilience). As continuing evidence demonstrates that Type 1 Beliefs are inaccurate, the belief is modified or abandoned to conform to the new evidence. Includes in particular those beliefs scientific facts or conclusions one holds which are outside of his own specific personal experience or expertise.
TYPE 2 BELIEFS
Beliefs based on a combination of marginal evidence, cultural or rhetorical teachings, and/or supposition; may or may not have the support of strong emotions and/or prejudices. Once formed, Type 2 Beliefs are only moderately subject to reasoned review or alteration, often dependent on first accepting that the opponent is at least partially sympathetic. Type 2 Beliefs are often layered and/or exchanged with other Type 2 Beliefs, or similar beliefs sharing comparable emotional appeal (Example: One who believes in herbal remedies is often likely to also believe in homeopathy, faith healing, charms, and other such pseudoscientific or magical thinking.)
TYPE 3 BELIEFS
Beliefs formed by fantasy and/or claims which lack evidence. Also marked by extreme devotion to the beliefs, despite any level of reasoned or demonstrated proof of their inaccuracy or falsehood. This type of belief is often considered "fanatical." It may carry aspects which are comparable to psychiatric symptoms of schizophrenia, hallucination, and/or other forms of psychosis. NOTE: Type 3 Believers may otherwise function effectively in society, and/or find cloistered societies of similar believers in which they will easily fit.
TYPE 1 ERROR
Believing in something which is not true.
TYPE 2 ERROR
Not believing in something which is true.
VERIFICATIONISM
Hume's "Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding": "If we take into our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion." One objection to the principle is that it, itself, can neither be verified empirically nor proven mathematically, therefore failing by its own criteria.
VERISIMILITUDE
(literally: "semblance of truth") An artifice of storytelling which attempts to enhance the story's believability by introducing elements which resemble or imply truthfulness. (Ex.: "I'm going to tell you a true story, witnessed by great and important people.") (Also, see Pseudoscience, which often employs scientific-sounding language to enhance its own credibility.)
VESTED INTEREST
The inclination to argue most strongly in favor of that which serves a party's other interests (commercial, political, spiritual, etc.) Not necessarily proof that the statement is false, but usually grounds to examine statements in greater depth.
WAKING DREAMS
Dreams which occur on the interface between sleep and wakefulness, giving them special memorability and/or credibility.
  • hypnogogic - those which happen while falling asleep
  • hypnopompic - those which occur while waking up
WILLFUL MISUNDERSTANDING
An instance in which a person deliberately and in full awareness of his actions mistakes a statement and uses it to take offense or to feign ignorance. (See also: Passive Aggression)
WISHFUL THINKING
An argument which posits a particular belief or argument because it, or its consequence, is desired to be true, esp. when that belief or argument can be shown to be untrue or unjustified.
XENOGLOSSIA
The "spontaneous" speaking of "unknown" languages. See also "Glossolalia."

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