Artifices of Deception and Distraction

Politicians and tricksters use artifices of deception and distraction
 when they can’t persuade by rational argument

Versus Fallacies (errors in reasoning)

Table of Contents

  1. Alternative Facts
  2. Ad Hominem
  3. Arguing by Anecdote
  4. Cherry-Picking the Evidence (Suppressed Evidence, Selective Evidence, Incomplete Evidence)
  5. Conspiracy Theories
  6. False Balance
  7. False, Misleading, and Unsupported Statements
  8. Fake Open Question
  9. Guilt by Association
  10. Ignoratio Elenchi
  11. Loaded Question
  12. Manipulated Video
  13. Red Herring
  14. Straw Man
  15. Tu Quoque
  16. Whataboutism
Alternative Facts
  • Alternative Facts
    • Asserting or implying as fact a false or unsupported proposition.
  • Examples
      • Donald Trump, Nov 18, 2020
    • “China is paying us, right now, billions and billions of dollars of tariffs a month. ”
      • Donald Trump, Feb 25, 2020
  • Kellyanne Conway, WaPo January 2017
    • “You’re saying it’s a falsehood. Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that.”
  • See False, Misleading, and Unsupported Statements
Ad Hominem
  • Ad Hominem (Argumentum ad Hominem)
    • A remark directed at a person’s character, motives, beliefs, predispositions, biases, or other personal attributes rather than to the substance of their claim, proposal, or argument.
    • Ad hominem is a way of dismissing or evading an opponent’s argument, claim, or proposal without addressing its substance.
  • Examples
    • That’s a really stupid argument.
    • You’re obviously biased.
    • Of course you want universal health care. You’re a liberal.
    • The claim that the US coronavirus mortality rate is among the highest in the world is politically motivated.
    • You’ve obviously never taken a course in logic.
    • My opponent voted to lower taxes on capital gains. I wonder how much he’ll save in taxes.
  • Trump’s Invective
    • Rex Tillerson
      • “didn’t have the mental capacity needed”, “dumb as a rock”, “lazy as hell”
    • John O. Brennan
      • “the worst CIA Director in our country’s history”, “a political hack”, “one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington”
    • James Comey
      • “Leakin’ Lyin’ James Comey”, “Really sick!”, “clown”, “loser”, “Slimeball!”
    • The Complete List of Trump’s Twitter Insults (2015-2021) (NY Times)
Arguing by Anecdote
  • Arguing by Anecdote
    • Trying to persuade by invoking an emotionally compelling story.
  • Example
    • Illegal immigrants are prone to committing violent crime. Just look at the tragic death of 32-year-old Kate Steinle, gunned down while walking on a San Francisco pier by an illegal immigrant who had been deported five times. (Wiki)
  • Terry Newell, President, Leadership for a Responsible Society (Huffington Post)
    • “Those who plow money they don’t have into gambling readily recall the truck driver who hit the lottery jackpot. Those opposed to vaccination tell about the child diagnosed as autistic just weeks after his last DPT shot. Those demanding stronger gun laws remind us of the child accidentally shot by her little brother with Daddy’s nearby 9 mm, just as those who oppose such laws cite the woman who fended off a home invader with her Glock.”
    • “This approach is especially popular in the hands of politicians. The argument for a wall along the Mexican border is justified by the horrible death of San Franciscan Katie Steinle at the hands of Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, who had been previously deported five times. The argument for accepting refugees from majority-Muslim countries is made using the case of Hameed Khalid Darweesh, who worked a decade in Iraq for the U.S. as an interpreter.”
    • “Anecdotes are emotionally compelling stories, which is why we tell them.”
    • “A story, in the hands of a propagandist is a powerful tool of persuasion. Behavioral economists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman coined the term the “availability heuristic” for the tendency of a story at hand to take on far more weight in our decision making than information that is more physically or psychologically distant.”
    • “Stories can also skew our thinking because they are single data points which may not represent the broader situation.”
    • “Stories can also lead to short-sighted moral reasoning. The ethicist Peter Singer points out how we are much more willing to give to a named person whose story we heard on social media than to unnamed thousands in more abject poverty in distant lands.”
    • “Still further, especially in the formation of political positions, for every story there is an equal and opposite story. Tell me about the woman on welfare who sold food stamps to get money for drugs, and I can tell you about the working mother for whom food stamps kept her children from malnutrition. Dueling stories may make for committed followers, but they seldom make for sound social policy.”
Cherry-Picking the Evidence
(Suppressed Evidence, Selective Evidence, Incomplete Evidence)
  • Cherry-picking Evidence
    • Arguing for a claim by presenting only some of the relevant evidence.
    • Telling the truth but not the whole truth
  • Examples
    • Duke Rape Case
      • In April and May of 2006 three students on the Duke lacrosse team were arrested and indicted on charges of first degree forcible rape. In December it was revealed that District Attorney Mike Nifong had withheld DNA evidence exonerating the players.  He was later disbarred.
    • New York Times: Antidepressant Studies Unpublished
      • “The makers of antidepressants like Prozac and Paxil never published the results of about a third of the drug trials that they conducted to win government approval, misleading doctors and consumers about the drugs’ true effectiveness, a new analysis has found.”
    • Old Joke
      • Passerby to a man waiting for a ride next to a dog: Does your dog bite? 
      • Waiting Man: No, sure doesn’t.
      • Passerby as he’s bitten: I thought you said your dog doesn’t bite:
      • Waiting Man: Not my dog. 
  • Forms of Cherry Picking
Conspiracy Theories
  • conspiracy theory explains events by invoking a secret plot by a group of conspirators

View Conspiracy Theories

False Balance
  • False Balance is presenting opposing viewpoints as more balanced than the evidence supports.
  • The Truth About ‘False Balance’NYT
    • False balance, sometimes called “false equivalency,” refers disparagingly to the practice of journalists who, in their zeal to be fair, present each side of a debate as equally credible, even when the factual evidence is stacked heavily on one side.
    • The problem with false balance doctrine is that it masquerades as rational thinking.
  • Wikipedia
    • False balance is a media bias in which journalists present an issue as being more balanced between opposing viewpoints than the evidence supports. Journalists may present evidence and arguments out of proportion to the actual evidence for each side, or may omit information that would establish one side’s claims as baseless.
  • See Fake Open Question
  • U.S. journalists differ from the public in their views of ‘bothsidesism’ in journalism, Pew Research
  • Texas school official tells teachers that Holocaust books should be countered with ‘opposing’ viewsWaPo
    • A North Texas school district apologized late Thursday after an administrator advised teachers that if they have books about the Holocaust in their classrooms, they should also include reading materials that have “opposing” perspectives of the genocide that killed millions of Jews.
    • During a training session on what books teachers can have in their classroom libraries, Gina Peddy, executive director of curriculum and instruction for the Carroll Independent School District, referenced a new Texas law that requires educators to present multiple perspectives when discussing “widely debated and currently controversial” issues.
    • “Just try to remember the concepts of [House Bill] 3979,” Peddy said on Oct. 8, according to a recording obtained by NBC News, which first reported the story. “And make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives.”
    • When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed HB 3979 into law on Sept. 1, the state prohibited teachers from discussing “a particular current event or widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs.” The law states that if a teacher does engage in that kind of discussion in the classroom, the educator is required to “explore such issues from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.”
False, Misleading, and Unsupported Statements
  • False, Misleading, Unsupported
    • A claim is false if it’s disproved by the evidence.
    • A claim is misleading if it’s true but apt to mislead.
    • A claim is unsupported if it’s not established by the evidence.
  • False Claims
    • Does China Pay Tariffs? (
      • Claim
        • Trump claimed on Feb 25: “Now, China is paying us, right now, billions and billions of dollars of tariffs a month.  Every month, billions of dollars. I love it. Personally, I love it. But they’re paying billions of dollars.  And it’s hurting them; it’s not good for them.”
      • Fact-check
        • Tariffs are taxes paid by U.S. importers in the form of customs duties, and to some extent by U.S. consumers in the form of higher prices.
        • To say that “China is paying us” is not just an oversimplification — it’s wrong.
  • Misleading Claims
    • For Planned Parenthood abortion stats, ‘3 percent’ and ’94 percent’ are both misleading (WaPo Fact Checker)
      • Claim
        • “Three percent of all Planned Parenthood health services are abortion services.”
      • Fact-check
        • The 3 percent figure that Planned Parenthood uses is misleading, comparing abortion services to every other service that it provides. The organization treats each service — pregnancy test, STD test, abortion, birth control — equally. Yet there are obvious differences between a surgical (or even medical) abortion, and offering a urine (or even blood) pregnancy test. These services are not all comparable in how much they cost or how extensive the service or procedure is.
    • View Misleading Statistics
  • Unsupported Claims
    • Unsupported MLK Claim Circulates Again (
      • Claim
        • Martin Luther King Jr. was a Republican.
      • Fact-check
        • The unsupported assertion that King was a Republican has cropped up numerous times, sometimes citing King’s niece, Alveda King, who once declared her uncle was a Republican.

View Fact-Checking

Fake Open Question
  • Fake Open Question
    • Implying that whether a baseless claim is true is an open question
  • Examples
    • On the Daily Show Jon Stewart joked that “Barack Obama has never denied molesting children.”
    • Conducting a congressional investigation into a baseless claim for political purposes.
  • See False Balance
Guilt by Association
  • Guilt by Association
    • Linking a claim, proposal, or argument with a person viewed negatively.
  • Examples
    • From the Stephen Colbert Show
      • Is global warming real?  Charles Manson thinks so.
    • John McCain when running against Barack Obama
      • “I think it’s very clear who Hamas wants to be the next president of the United States.” 
    • From Ron Paul’s former website
      • An income tax is the most degrading and totalitarian of all possible taxes. Its implementation wrongly suggests that the government owns the lives and labor of the citizens it is supposed to represent. Tellingly, “a heavy progressive or graduated income tax” is Plank #2 of the Communist Manifesto, which was written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and first published in 1848.
Ignoratio Elenchi
  • Ignoratio Elenchi (Irrelevant Refutation, Irrelevant Conclusion) is an attempted refutation that fails because it’s irrelevant to the claim or argument set forth.  It’s a point that misses the point.
  • Example from Copi and Cohen’s Introduction to Logic
    • Person A
      • The estate tax is a tax on what’s already been taxed, as income. Any form of double taxation is unfair.
    • Person B
      • But estate taxes are levied only on those who can well afford it, the rich.
    • B fails to reply to A’s double-taxation argument.
  • Ignoratio Elenchi is common in informal debate.
  • Link for pronunciation
Loaded Question
  • A Loaded Question is a question that presupposes something dubious or false.
  • From Trump shows how ‘just asking questions’ backstops conspiracy theories, by Philip Bump Washington Post
    • Why did members of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigations team wipe their phones after the Justice Department inspector general began probing the initiation of the Russia probe?
    • “Who in the Mueller team was in charge of leaking secret information and fake news stories to dishonest journalists, of which there are many to perpetrate the Russia hoax?”
    • “How many fake news journalists been paid or compensated by U.S. government agencies directly or indirectly for their role in spreading domestic disinformation like the FBI did with Twitter?”
    • “What was the role of federal agents and informants in pressing the crowd toward the Capitol on Jan 6? And who is Ray Epps?”
Manipulated Video
  • Missing Context
    • Misrepresentation
      • Presenting unaltered video with inaccurate information, e.g. the wrong date or location
    • Isolation
      • Presenting a brief clip from a longer video
  • Deceptive Editing
    • Omission
      • Editing out large portions of a video
    • Splicing
      • Editing together different videos
  • Malicious Transformation
    • Doctoring
      • Altering individual frames of a video: cropping, changing speed, dubbing audio, adding or deleting visual information
    • Fabrication
      • Using Artificial Intelligence to create high-quality fake images, simulated audio and swapped-out background images.
Red Herring
  • Red Herring
    • A remark intended to distract from the matter at hand.
  • Example:
    • Reporter:
      • As a supporter of the president, what do you think of Trump’s paying no taxes for ten years, as the NY Times reported?
    • Politician:
      • What I have a problem with is the timing of the NY Times report, coming out days before the debate between Trump and Biden.
Straw Man
  • Straw Man
    • A claim, proposal, or argument set up to be easily refuted
  • Examples:
    • “It may seem generous and open-minded to say that everybody, on every moral issue, is equally right. But that attitude can also be an excuse for sidestepping life’s most important questions.”
      • George W. Bush at Louisiana State University.
    • “There are those who say these plans are too ambitious, that we should be trying to do less, not more. Well, I say our challenges are too large to ignore.”
  • William Safire
    • “Here’s the trick: Take your opponent’s argument to a ridiculous extreme, and then attack the extremists. That leaves the opponent to sputter defensively, ‘But I never said that.’ ”
    • “In strawmanese, you never specify who ‘those who’ are. They are the hollow scarecrows you set up to knock down.”
Tu Quoque
  • Tuo Quoque (“you too”)
    • Diverting attention from a criticism by alleging it applies to the critic as well.
  • Example:
    • Evolutionist: Creationism is ultimately based on faith.  Creationist: So is the theory of evolution.
  • Whataboutism
    • Diverting attention from a criticism by alleging it applies to others as well.
  • Example:
    • Trump told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly about his respect for Putin.
    • O’Reilly replied that “Putin is a killer.”
    • Trump responded: “There are a lot of killers. You got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?”
  • Links