Monday, October 15, 2007

Friends Don't Let Friends Use Ad Hominem Arguments

As I predicted on September 30,* my defence sort of took over my life for a bit there, and I was unable to post, substantially or unsubstantially. However, the defence is now over, and Corrections loom on the horizon. I still haven't managed to find time for the narrative mode (soooon), but I think I can manage another logical fallacy today.

A few issues before I begin:

1) I am, at long last, a Doctor of Philosophy. You are therefore obliged to call me Dr. Kem and grovel whenever I enter a room. You should also note that whereas before I was just some nut with a Blogger account and a vendetta, I am now some nut with a Blogger account, a vendetta, and a doctorate. Tremble before me, O Ye Nations.

2) Today is apparently Blog Action Day, when the millions of bloggers out there are meant to unite and write about the same issue (in this case, the environment). Now, I am the proud owner of a nastily suspicious mind. I see two possibilities here:

a) The originators of Blog Action Day are sweet, innocent people who do not understand acronyms.

b) The originators of Blog Action Day are criminal masterminds bent on exposing as many blogs as possible as being, well, BAD.

Both possibilities please me quite a lot. I have thus cheerfully signed up for the resulting praise and/or humiliation, and I shall be using an environmental example below. I feel strongly that both sweet, innocent people and criminal masterminds should be encouraged in all their endeavours, sometimes simultaneously.

3) Over the course of the last two weeks, so many Filthy Plagiarists have come sliming out of the woodwork that I'm not going to be able to comment individually on every entry. I caught fifty-seven plagiarists in the past fortnight. When you consider that these idiots possibly constitute about 0.000002% of the plagiarists out there--"these idiots" being the ones who 1) use Internet search engines to 2) enter words that 3) turn up on my blog, then 4) click on the resulting link(s)--you just have to throw yourself violently down and cry. I'm going to empty September's FPROD and stick it in a post (accessible through a link in the margin), then fill up the Roll with October's entries. They will make you scream and weep.

See below for slightly less individual comments on the new inductees.

Today's featured logical fallacy is one of my favourites. Well...technically, they're all my favourites. I'm probably going to be trotting out the "one of my favourites" line every time I introduce a new logical fallacy. What's fantastic about these suckers is that they're so very easy to use and sometimes seem to be good ideas. If you ever want to witness logical fallacies used skilfully, watch a political debate. Politicians think in logical fallacies. They do it so well that no one realises until hours afterwards that the entire debate has consisted of four people passionately, forcefully, and devastatingly not saying anything at all.

You do not want your essays to resemble politicians' speeches. Trust me. A student approached me the other day and asked if it wouldn't be better for his argument to be forceful than accurate. I advised him to leave forceful inaccuracy to the Prime Minister's Office. Yes, persuasive essays need to be convincing in tone, but they also need to be convincing in facts.

Consequently, you should really avoid the ad hominem fallacy. "Ad hominem" is a Latin term that translates as "against the man"; an ad hominem argument is therefore one that attempts to refute a threatening counter-argument by launching a personal attack on whoever has proposed it. An example might be:

The hysteria over global warming is completely unwarranted. Liberals rant and scream about this issue but cannot present any hard evidence to suggest that human-induced global warming even exists; their bleeding-heart, flip-flopping tendency to leap madly and indiscriminately upon various environmental bandwagons has caused this whole non-issue to be blown completely out of proportion.

On the surface, this passage is effective; the writer directs withering scorn at his opponents in an attempt to discredit them. However, look at how little he is actually saying. Some of his tactics are subtle and some obvious, but all of them work together to ensure that he "refutes" his opponents without having to present any evidence at all. He begins with the word "hysteria," a biased characterisation of the issue at hand that paints his opponents as unreasonable and out of control, then connects it to a hyperbolic inaccuracy that is nonetheless technically true (if his opponents were really "hysterical," they would probably need to calm down a bit). The word "liberal" has, over the last few years, become an insult in the mouths of (American) conservatives,** though if you look "liberal" up in the dictionary, you'll see that it's not really an insult at all. It can be used, nowadays, to characterise large groups of people as not worth listening to. "Liberal" has, in fact, become an ad hominem argument all on its own.

The "[Members of group X] rant and scream" accusation is a very common one and is much in evidence on Letters-to-the-Editor pages everywhere. By implying that his opponents are unable to converse quietly and reasonably about this issue, the writer further discredits them. He goes on to mention that these ranting and screaming liberals cannot produce any hard evidence to support their position, but he doesn't explain what he means by "hard evidence" and moves quickly into a seemingly slight modification of his own argument (he has turned "global warming" into "human-induced global warming") that nonetheless has huge implications (few people seriously deny that "global warming" is taking place, but some contest the idea that humans are causing global warming). He is hiding this rift in meaning behind his contempt for his opponents.

"Bleeding-heart" and "flip-flopping" are two adjectival phrases often appended to the word "liberal" by ad-hominem-oriented arguers. In this context, they make no sense and add no evidence to the argument (such as it is); they are present simply because the writer identifies them strongly with the word "liberal." Note that a tendency to leap indiscriminately upon various environmental bandwagons is certainly not "flip-flopping"; it may even be the opposite of "flip-flopping." "Madly and indiscriminately" implies, again, that the writer's opponents are unreasonable; it also suggests that they are somewhat mindless and react to issues in a knee-jerk manner. Accusing an opponent of "leaping upon a bandwagon" is another way of characterising him or her as unthinking and liable to follow trends simply for the sake of following trends. The fact that someone would leap "madly" upon the bandwagon of a "non-issue" makes the entire situation even more egregious.

The passage is full of information. Very little of it pertains to global warming. Instead, the writer attacks his opponents. He sets them up as straw men a little (through the word "hysteria"); his main strategy, however, is to discredit them by making them look like fools.

If you are not a politician in full-on Election Mode, you're going to want to avoid ad hominem arguments. They are effective for perhaps three or four seconds; then your readers will wake up and realise that you are presenting insults, not arguments. If "The spotted owl is not endangered because you are a boo-boo-head" doesn't work as an argument, the more subtly worded piece of useless libel above won't either. Your job is to refute the counter-argument, not glare at the person making it and say, "Your momma!"

The Filthy Plagiarists' Roll of Dishonour: Mammoth Edition

Today's FPROD*** list is so soul-destroyingly long that I'm going to have to divide the inductees into categories. Please note that all spelling errors and typos are the fault of the Filthy Plagiarists themselves.

J. R. R. Tolkien is Spinning in His Grave

thesis statement for The Hobbit

the hobbit thesis statement


I DON'T KNOW MAYBE YOU SHOULD READ THE BLOODY BOOK YOU STUPID PIECE OF GUTTER SLIME! You may also want to lay off the caps lock. Gosh, I hope that these three morons are all in the same class and steal the same thesis statement...

1 to 2 paragraph summaries of each chapter in the Hobbit

the hobbit one paragraph summary

two paragraph sumary paragraph from the hobbit

I have a great idea. Why don't you guys sit down and spend ten minutes summarising The Hobbit? Perhaps you will even use your mushy, neglected brains in the process.

debatable question for the hobbit

sample student essay the hobbit revising

Doesn't anyone have any original ideas about this novel? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Hook sentence for Fellowship of the ring essay

"Hi! I'm writing an essay on an engaging work of fantasy! However, I am extremely lazy and cannot think of a way to start! Perhaps I shall attempt to steal one! What an excellent idea! Too bad I have no idea how to use Google!"

everything thing is glitter not gold--essay topic

all that is gold does not glitter critical analysis

Granted, only the second of these entries may actually be related to The Lord of the Rings; the first may be an extremely mangled version of the saying "All that glitters is not gold." Yet it's kind of hard to tell. This plagiarist is lazy and incompetent. What a great combination.

You Want Me to...Read...the...Book?

Lead a discussion on Hamlet's interior indecision

You have to lead a discussion on Hamlet's interior indecision, and you're checking the Internet for clues? How do you expect to lead the freaking discussion if you don't actually think about the text?

One Thousand and One nights Thematic essay

...'Cause your search terms are terribly specific and will probably help you find exactly the right essay to steal.

essay on lather and nothing else

Piercing the Darkness Essay THesis Statement

"Lather and Nothing Else" is a short story; Piercing the Darkness is a novel. The teachers who assigned both of them should have provided their classes with specific topics. Enjoy the stolen goods, silly teachers.

don't panic thesis

I'm assuming this essay may be on Douglas Adams' Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a book about which, please note, it is actually bloody fun to write.

I Live in the City; I've Never Seen a Tree!

vivid description nature

examples of descriptive writing sunset

description of a tree for an essay

description sky trees air moment

I have a strangely revolutionary idea. Why don't you four stupid idiots leave your bedrooms, stroll out into the wide world, sit on benches somewhere, and describe nature? Nature is not exactly hard to find. I live in Toronto, and I can still see a tree any time I want. You people are unbearably lazy. For crying out loud.

I Live in the Country; I've Never Seen a Room!

describing a room you like essay

describing a room essay

example essay writing about a descriptive a room

free descriptive essays on on my room

It's. A. Room. There. Are. Rooms. All. Over. The. Place. Go. Into. One. And. Describe. It. You. Freak. Of. Nature.

I Live in a Box; I've Never Seen a Person!

examples of writing describing a woman

So...many...students unable to describe a woman...

description of an ugly person

description of an ugly man an essay

These last two entries came courtesy of the same Filthy Plagiarist, ten minutes apart. I expect she took pause after reading the description of Marian from The Woman in White and realised that she had to be more specific. Gosh, I do hope someone tries to steal that WW description, though.

essay of description of an ugly man

Woman! Woman! Describe Marian and get caught!

describe an angry person thick description


write an essay describing your favorite teacher

Four days before he submitted the above entry, this Filthy Plagiarist searched for "thesis implied or stated in descriptive and narrative essay." In other words, he started off with a legitimate search, the results of which could have helped him decide how to construct his essay, then returned half a week later to steal stuff.

essay describe feature of the face

Look in the mirror, pizza-brain.

But That Would Take Way Too Much Work

free essay on how to describe a picture

write a describing essay on a picture

There's just no way these assignments are ever going to be easy enough for you guys, is there?

But Isn't It More Fun When You Get to Eat the Object of Your Description?

descriptive dinner essay

descriptive essay on dinner

writing essay on dinners

There's really just no way these assignments are ever going to be easy enough for you guys, is there?

Nope...There Isn't

a descriptive essay about my camera

It's your camera.

writing an essay describing my skills

They're your skills.

descriptive writing about somebody's experience

You mean "my experience," right? Except you're stealing somebody else's experience and pretending it's yours? Right? Right?

descriptive essays on prejudice

sample object descriptive essays

When you're done, you can add some stuff about that thing you saw at the place.



I Am Completely Incompetent and Reside in a Deep Black Hole

description essay about how to make sandwich

writing essay process analysis how to end a relationship

process analysis essay fishing hunting

Perhaps you could draw on your personal experience and produce a genuine document enlivened by your own wry, witty observations?......No?......


how to finish of essay on fear

Have you considered figuring out how you started it and kind of going from there?

paragraph example about friendship

expository paragraph of what is frienship

If you can't deal with this topic, I completely wash my hands of you. Go away.

an essay thesis statement on road rage

I am having plagiarist rage. Give me a call; we should talk.

Your Laziness Truly Knows No Bounds

useful phrases narrative essay

beautiful phrases used in essays

essay writing-phrases

You may be interested to hear that a phrase markers love is: "my boneheaded readers." They are also quite fond of: "a tree like a giant icicle of gargantuan beauty from the dawn of time," "my lovely horse running through the field,"**** and "hot! hot! hot! girls! girls! girls!"

This One Doesn't Fit Anywhere Else

elizabeth I thesis essay

I hope your razor-sharp Google search, which found you 1,540,000 relevant pages, led to your successful acquisition of a stolen thesis that your teacher recognised and used to get you freaking expelled.

...the Hell?

a conclusion in a essay to three knights

teacher has students write one paragraph boy writes about aliens girl writes about tea

I'm pretty sure these people are trying to plagiarise, but I have no idea why or how.

I Still Have a Nastily Suspicious Mind

essays on having integrity

my aunt descriptive writing

These two entries appeared not long after similar ones turned up in the last FPROD list. I'll allow them because they came from first-time visitors, but I'm a bit sceptical. I think someone may be playing silly buggers with me.

If they're real, they make me very sad.

In my next blog entry, perhaps there will really be something on the narrative mode. I do wish I had more actual time. Ah well.

*Actually, it was October 1, but Blogger does this weird thing where if you start a post on one day and finish it on another, it'll publish the date of the starting day, not the finishing one.
**"Liberal" means something rather different in Canada. In fact, it means a number of things. In fact, the issue is so complicated that I'm just going to sweep it under the metaphorical carpet and stroll away, whistling.
***Yes, I know "FPROD" sounds rather dirty in a vague and undefinable way. Unlike the creators of BAD, I do understand acronyms. I just don't care when they sound rather dirty. I've mentioned this issue before, haven't I? Memory...going...
****So I'm fond of Father Ted. So sue me. Go on. Go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on...


Jonathan said...

I think that whoever googled "teacher has students write one paragraph boy writes about aliens girl writes about tea" was looking for this:

Not plagiarism, but still a poor search method.

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