Rhetoric, Logical Fallacies and Baseball

Jeff · October 13, 2005 at 5:12 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Hey, all you kids out there! Tired of trying to collect every moral philosopher and rhetorician trading card? Wondering whether that fellow you’re arguing with in the comments is misleading you with ad logicam or post hoc ergo propter hoc? Would it help to have common errors in reasoning at your fingertips?

You can’t tell the players without a program. And you can’t always tell apart common logical fallacies without the help of this handy-dandy list compiled by Glen Whitman of Cal State-Northridge. With internal anchors for your direct hyperlinking pleasure!

As a public service, we’ve appropriated the list and applied it to common arguments over baseball matters. This should make comment dust-ups more erudite, or at least more weighty with links and Latin. Besides, what’s more fun than formal logic?

Now, on to the list …

Argumentum ad hominem (argument directed at the person). This is the error of attacking the character or motives of a person who has stated an idea, rather than the idea itself.

My personal favorites: “you blog boys just like to complain, so you root for the Mariners to make moves you can bash,” or “you guys just hate Willie Bloomquist and want him to fail.”

Other examples include: when wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler called Paul Heyman a “jock sniffer” because he thought he could book wrestling events without first entering the squared circle; and every column Bill Plaschke has ever written about Paul DePodesta.

Argumentum ad ignorantiam (argument to ignorance). This is the fallacy of assuming something is true simply because it hasn’t been proven false.

I cannot prove that Jarrod Washburn and Mark Buerhle didn’t grow those “beards” on a mutual dare. You cannot disprove this theory, though, so that means it’s true.

[Though frankly, the existence of said dare wouldn’t surprise me.]

Tu quoque (“you too”). This is the fallacy of defending an error in one’s reasoning by pointing out that one’s opponent has made the same error. An error is still an error, regardless of how many people make it.

Imagine the following conversation between Tim McCarver and Joe Morgan. McCarver opens by arguing that a catcher’s game-calling is an essential part of his skillset. Morgan points out that no study verifies this. “Hark, kind sir!” is McCarver’s rejoinder. “Isn’t it so that you, yourself, ignore baseball research on a regular basis?” That’s “tu quoque.”

[Morgan citing empirical studies and McCarver retorting with a logic-based rejoinder requires what you call “suspension of disbelief,” but I appreciate your indulgence.]

Argumentum ad verecundiam (argument or appeal to authority). This fallacy occurs when someone tries to demonstrate the truth of a proposition by citing some person who agrees, even though that person may have no expertise in the given area.

Ken Griffey Jr. is the answer to the Mariners’ problems. Do you know how I know this? Steve Kelley, Seattle Times columnist, told me so.

Argumentum ad logicam (argument to logic). This is the fallacy of assuming that something is false simply because a proof or argument that someone has offered for it is invalid; this reasoning is fallacious because there may be another proof or argument that successfully supports the proposition. This fallacy often appears in the context of a straw man argument … the fallacy of refuting a caricatured or extreme version of somebody’s argument, rather than the actual argument they’ve made.

This is where you refute an argument your opponent hasn’t made, thus setting up a “straw person” that is easy for you to knock down. For example,you argue that Jose Lopez will be an all-star next year. Dave Cameron says he doesn’t know about that.

You retort with: “Well, Dave, you don’t even think Jose Lopez will be a productive major leaguer. I disagree with that because of his minor league numbers.” Here, you’re refuting a claim Dave hasn’t made.

Argumentum ad misericordiam (argument or appeal to pity). The English translation pretty much says it all. Example: “Think of all the poor, starving Ethiopian children! How could we be so cruel as not to help them?”

Won’t someone think of all the poor children on steroids? See Jack get liver damage. Don’t you care about Jack’s liver damage? You monster!

Argumentum ad nauseam (argument to the point of disgust; i.e., by repitition). This is the fallacy of trying to prove something by saying it again and again. But no matter how many times you repeat something, it will not become any more or less true than it was in the first place.

How many times have we seen it, Dave, that a player makes a good or bad defensive play and then he comes to bat at some point in the next inning?

[You can also apply this to virtually any old canard: “Good pitching always beats good hitting,” “Teams that don’t know how to bunt always fail in October,” etc.]

Argumentum ad numerum (argument or appeal to numbers). This fallacy is the attempt to prove something by showing how many people think that it’s true … This fallacy is very similar to argumentum ad populum, the appeal to the people or to popularity.

You might not think that stepping on the white chalk lines has any impact on pitching performance — but then why do so many pitchers leap over said line? Hmm?

[Another example here.]

Circulus in demonstrando (circular argument). Circular argumentation occurs when someone uses what they are trying to prove as part of the proof of that thing.

You statheads are all just a bunch of spreadsheet-hawking, clearasil-smearing, thick glasses-having geeks. Clearly, this is true, because who else but geeks would be interested in statistics?

[This is also known as begging the question, which is different from raising the question. It is also one of two fallacies known as “The Plaschke,” the other being the ad hominem.]

Cum hoc ergo propter hoc (with this, therefore because of this). This is the familiar fallacy of mistaking correlation for causation — i.e., thinking that because two things occur simultaneously, one must be a cause of the other … Cum hoc ergo propter hoc is very similar to post hoc ergo propter hoc … the fallacy of assuming that A caused B simply because A happened prior to B.

Peter White sent me an instant message telling me Felix was throwing a no-hitter. Subsequently, Felix gave up a hit. Given the extreme unlikelihood of King Felix giving up hits, I can only conclude that it is Peter’s fault. Let us get the torches and boiling oil.

[Note: I am not casting aspersions upon those of you who remain in a lucky portion of the couch until a no-hitter is broken up. At the very least, it saves you grief from other fans.]

Non Sequitur (“It does not follow”). This is the simple fallacy of stating, as a conclusion, something that does not strictly follow from the premises.

Darrin Erstad is a gritty player with leadership qualities. You need a guy like that in the clubhouse to keep you focused. Eddie Guardado is a prankster who gives hot feet and pies peoples’ faces. You need a guy like that to keep you loose.

[The still small voice of deduction says: “But why? Isn’t history replete with examples of winning teams where the players straight-up loathed each other? And mightn’t those two forces cancel each other out? So how can you need both? And if these premises are true, can’t you just hire Henry Rollins for the focus and Yakov Smirnoff for the yuks? I don’t think either is doing much lately …”]

Red herring. This means exactly what you think it means: introducing irrelevant facts or arguments to distract from the question at hand.

Picture the following exchange between me, Derek and Dave.

Jeff: “Why do people assume that we can just trade for Kelly Shoppach?”
Dave: “Perhaps it’s because of that long extension the Sox just gave Jason Varitek.”
Jeff: [Pauses] “Well, be that as it may … Hey, Derek, Skip Bayless thinks Lance Armstrong isn’t a real athlete!”

The adults among you can fill in Derek’s dialogue.

Argumentum ad antiquitatem (the argument to antiquity or tradition). This is the familiar argument that some policy, behavior, or practice is right or acceptable because “it’s always been done that way.”

I tried to think of an instance of this argument being used in baseball, but I couldn’t come up with one.


So, there you are. The comment threads will be more civil now and we’ll all be more fun at parties. Remember, you readers are the best, because you wouldn’t be reading USSM if you weren’t!

Yes, that’s a non sequitur followed by a circulus in demonstrando. I was just testing you. I hope you were taking notes, because there will be a short quiz next period.


53 Responses to “Rhetoric, Logical Fallacies and Baseball”

  1. Jason B on October 15th, 2005 6:07 am

    JMHawkins: well, you may in fact be old, but if so it’s not because you remember CalvinBall. 🙂 Depending what you call “old” that is. 🙂 I liked the CalvinBall sequence and still go back to it every now and then.

  2. David J Corcoran on October 15th, 2005 10:35 am

    this deserves a spot in the sidebar. That’s just my $.02

  3. Mike on October 15th, 2005 9:03 pm

    Lemmie throw my favority fallacy in the ring:

    Falsus in unum, Falsus in omnibus (False in one, false in everything).

    Baseball example:

    The A’s 2002 draft didn’t produce that well, so everything else written in moneyball is obviously false.