Rhetorical missteps, known as logical fallacies, are everywhere. Talk radio, advertisements, and internet forums are prone to them because they are easy mistakes to make and if not examined too closely, wonderfully persuasive.
Let’s put a few of these under magnification:
Never assume there is only a single variable to a problem. For example, despite the superstitions, a baseball player’s hitting streak ends for more reasons than a change in batting order or a step on a foul line.
Too little evidence: A group from Family Radio Worldwide (FRW) predicted millions would die in a worldwide earthquake on May 21, 2011, and that the world would end five months later. Their evidence came from scripture, so their critics answered with Matthew 24:36, which says neither man nor angels knows the day or hour. Without counter-evidence to prove FRW could, after all, know the date and time of the Rapture, the Judgment Day prediction became a laughing-stock.
Off-point evidence: Critics of Harold Camping, spiritual leader of FRW, pointed to his incorrect prediction of the world’s end in 1994 as proof that the May 21st claim would also be incorrect. While it is fair to mention his track record for these kinds of predictions, past mistakes aren’t a guarantee that he will be wrong every time.
Let’s go back to our baseball player. What causes a hitting streak to start? A split-second faster reaction time and solid connection with a fast ball? Or those two quarters the vending machine spat out — one with the state the hitter was born in, one with the state where he plays now? For a superstitious player, those coincidental quarters may seem to have made the hitting streak possible. In constructing an argument, you can refer to a compelling story, but don’t let unrelated points serve as the only proof you can provide.
An increase of vegetarian options on a pizza menu does not mean that sales of pepperoni pies have decreased. In an assumption, the claim might be correct, but it can’t be trusted until proved. (Maybe there are as many pepperoni pizzas sold as ever have been, but people are ordering a second, vegetarian, option, too.)
Here’s one talk radio uses all the time: either you are a pinko-Communist hippie liberal Democrat or you are an obscenely wealth-obsessed big-business pandering Republican. Everyone has political issues they won’t budge on, but almost everyone can find compromise. When writing about something long considered an either/or topic, find areas where common ground exists or you won’t make any headway in swaying the opposite side.
The Latin phrase “non sequitur” means “it does not follow.” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) says that since we do not cause “gratuitous suffering” to our dogs and cats, we should extend that same “compassion and mercy” to “equally sensitive cows, pigs, chickens, fish, and other animals.”¹ When PETA compares a love of pets to a requirement to abstain from eating meat, they are using a non-sequitur. Many farmers could argue they avoid “gratuitous suffering” by using humane practices to raise their herds and rejecting the practice of keeping animals caged until slaughter. Therefore, a person can believe in ethical treatment of animals and still eat meat if they purchase it from such a farmer.
¹ “Why does PETA believe that pro-life activists should be vegetarian?” PETA.org. Web. 22 May 2011.