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Bias Is Inevitable, but Logical Fallacies Are Avoidable

Writing Rule #36 doesn’t shy away from being biased. In fact, it readily acknowledges it.

We’ve all got our opinions, or biases. We’ve all got a reason for believing the way we do due to who we are, how we were raised and similar factors. As such, genuine writers accept themselves for the human beings that they are. And then they work as hard as possible to be the best version of human they can be according to this rule:

Bias is inevitable.

Your job as a professional is to personally admit as much and then publicly present your position rationally and respectfully.

There are a number of ways to do this, but one time-tested method is to understand the range of logical fallacies we humans can employ when we’re being less than intellectually mature.

As that last line acknowledges, there are many methods to battling bias. But you won’t find them all here since 1) I’m sure I don’t know them all, 2) Combined, they could easily take up an entire book, and 3) I don’t have the inclination to put that much time into something I’m not getting paid for.

How’s that for honesty?

Hey, I truly do care about you guys being the most genuine writers you can possibly be. It’s just that I also care about my own sanity and the fact that a girl’s gotta eat, especially when she’s half-Italian. Plus, I doubt you’d read a blog post that was that long anyway.

That's why I’m narrowing it down to what I consider to be the most common three logical fallacies out there.

  • Ad hominem attacks – defines ad hominem as “appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect” or “marked by or being an attack on an opponent’s character rather than... the contentions made.” That worldview example I gave yesterday applies perfectly here. “You’re a stupid poopy head if you disagree with me” is the quintessential ad hominem attack. Political partisans use this line of anti-reason all the time, throwing around lines like, “Candidate B believes that because he’s a Nazi!” and “Candidate A says that because she doesn’t understand how the world works!” Now, someone might be a stupid poopy head, a Nazi or an ignoramus. But the speaker, writer or thinker making that claim needs to prove that point with facts and figures, not just some innate personal authority. Otherwise, it’s a logical fallacy.

  • Argument from authority – This is when you cite a source as being the end-all be-all of opinion. As we’ve already covered, everyone has their biases: their limits to how fully they see the world for what it is. This is even true of the so-called experts. No matter how educated or intelligent a source is, they’re still human, comprised of humans or created by humans, and therefore still capable of error. So a Republican saying, “Well, Ronald Reagan called the communist USSR an ‘Evil Empire,’ therefore, it must have been true” or a Democrat citing the Huffington Post as his one and only source isn’t the most convincing logical strategy. To change it from an “argument from authority” into something actually worth paying attention to, the Republican above could reference multiple statistics or the Democrat multiple publications.

  • Straw man – Want to unfairly send your opposition into a sputtering fit? Then here’s what you do: Misrepresent something they said, then attack that misrepresentation. Let’s say someone you don’t like admits they’re not a big dog person. That’s when you claim they said they hate puppies, accuse them of supporting animal abuse, and make everyone hate them on those grounds. Voila! You’ve won the popularity contest, even if it was by flat-out lying with one of the most obnoxious logical fallacies ever.

Genuine writers, professional writers and intellectually mature writers do not rely on these arguments. They do their very best to avoid them while writing their first draft and edit carefully for them after that initial stage.

Admittedly, avoiding logical fallacies doesn’t mean they're automatically correct. All it means is that they supported their bias better than they could have.


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