Sunday, May 21, 2017

Cherry Picking, Faulty Logic and the Analytical Skills of an Avocado


By Bob Ferris

I am involved in a discussion about media bias with someone on Facebook.  This person just offered up a Harvard study that contained the above graphic relating to media coverage of Trump's first 100 days in office.  His argument flowing from this is that Fox News is not biased because they "balance" negative coverage with positive commentary of Trump's performance.  It is balanced, don't you see?


This observer has embraced the FOX rhetoric rather than noticing that FOX is on average 34 points different than other news sources covering the exact same issues.   When presented with the above graphic which essentially tells the same story about the FOX bias, he rejects it and sticks with his his original mantra that began with the claim that the Washington Post is slanted and biased.  And he closed with this "You can believe what you believe-that is what they want you to do.  I know I am informed."  Just, wow.


But this is not just a sin of the FOX for lunch crowd.  Yesterday, I ran into the above.  Evidently, we are supposed to believe that teeth are the sole determinant of  diet.  Of course this sets aside our gut morphology,  collection of digestive enzymes and our evolutionary history (1,2).  Moreover, it ignores that chimpanzees, which are mostly vegetarian, have some pretty impressive canines (see below).   To be clear, for health and environmental reasons, we should not be eating as much meat as we do, but our dentition is not one of the compelling arguments.


The FOX and tooth arguments presented above are similar to those we see employed by those denying climate change (1,2,3).  Someone cherry-picks a specious proof and then runs with it (see below graphic).   This whole type of exercise seems to straddle the line between lie and faulty logic.  I suppose the latter softens the realty of the former to the perpetrators, but not materially to those observing.

From here
At the core of this is the idea of seeking truth in some manner.  My background is in science and for me that means looking at the broader setting and circumstance and trying to determine the answer based on critically examining information.  This is a far, far different exercise than having a belief and then searching for those bits and pieces that support your belief, while ignoring those that do not.

It is perfectly fine for people to say that they are conservative so they only visit conservative news sources.  It is fine too for vegans to proclaim that they eschew meat for environmental, ethical or health reasons.  And it is acceptable that those who fear their lives will be changed or they will suffer economically to oppose fossil fuel regulations.  What is not acceptable is using these deceptive methodologies as rationales, because that is not only disingenuous but it makes people who do legitimately look at these issues think that you have the analytical skills of an avocado.

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