Explain that there’s no reason for these things to cause one another, so the more likely explanation is coincidence.

Instructions: Choose a claim, and four of the flawed topics. For each chosen topic, develop an intentionally flawed example that supports the claim, and explain why it is flawed.Claim: “Racism in America is dead”Claim: “Universal basic income would fix all the problems we see in America today”Claim: “Vaping is a healthy alternative to smoking tobacco”Rhetorically Flawed Inferential Topics:Overgeneralization (induction)False Analogy (analogy)Faulty Comparison (difference)Mistaking Correlation for Causation (correlation)Essentialization (definition)Reification (definition)Equivocation (definition)Slippery Slope (causation)Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc (causation)Reference: Extended Descriptions of Flawed Topics:OvergeneralizationOvergeneralization is the flawed version of the argument at the topic of induction. When an audience refuses to abstract a pattern based on an example or a group of examples, they feel that the speaker too quickly jumps to a general conclusion. For example, if an audience has known many people who have overcome poverty, then they will be skeptical of a statistical study claiming that people generally have little social mobility in the U.S. And similarly, if the audience is familiar with the statistical study demonstrating that few people escape poverty, they will refuse to conclude that social mobility is common based on a few anecdotes about people who pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Both skeptical audiences will call these arguments “overgeneralizations.”Saying that your opponent’s argument is an overgeneralization will not refute the claim. You will have to prove that your opponent overgeneralizes. You can do this in a number of ways:Show an exception to the rule. If, in one important instance, the pattern doesn’t hold, then the generalization may not be warranted.Show another contradictory pattern. Your audience will doubt the pattern asserted by your opponent if you can show them the exact opposite pattern.Show how many possible examples there are. If your audience sees that your opponent relies upon one or even one hundred examples, but the number of possible examples is much larger (one thousand or one hundred thousand), then they will wonder if such a small sample should lead them to a general conclusion about such a large group.Show that the examples chosen by your opponent are not representative. If an argument at the topic of induction relies upon examples that are notably different from what your audience commonly sees, then they will not draw general conclusions based on your opponent’s peculiar examples.False AnalogyFalse analogy is the flawed version of an argument at the topic of analogy. An analogy will seem false to an audience who believe that two things do not sufficiently resemble one another to warrant a comparison. Often, an audience’s familiarity with one of the elements in an analogy will interrupt their willingness to accept the comparison. For example, an audience that is very familiar with the Watergate scandal (because of having studied American history or having lived during the 1960s) may refuse to accept any comparison to a recent congressional investigation. Such an audience will quickly point out all the differences: “Watergate involved criminal activity that a sitting president knew about, sanctioned, and then tried to cover up. When responding to the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not break any laws or cover up any wrongdoing.” Therefore, you probably won’t convince this audience to use the term, “Benghazi-gate.” They will think the analogy is hopelessly false.When trying to refute your opponent’s arguments at the topic of analogy, you should point out all the differences between the things being compared. Even if you concede that the two things are similar in the important ways that your opponent contends, you can still call the analogy into question by pointing to all the differences. To return to our earlier example, the man skeptical of the Watergate-Benghazi analogy may say, “Nixon changed his story about what happened at the Watergate hotel, just as Secretary Clinton changed her mind about whether to call the attack on the Benghazi embassy an act of ‘terror.’ But the similarities end there. Nixon’s campaign organization paid men to break into a hotel room and steal information from the Democratic National Committee. Then Nixon broke the law by destroying evidence that would tie the Watergate burglary to him. Clinton didn’t break any laws, nor did she destroy any evidence to cover her activities.”Faulty ComparisonFaulty comparison is a flawed version of the argument at the topic of difference. An audience refusing to see the differences will also refuse to accept the speaker’s comparison. Such an audience will retort that a more thorough comparison will reveal that these two things are not so different after all. And if these things are not so different after all, then they do not merit opposite reactions. To refute an argument at the topic of difference, you should point out all the similarities between the two things being compared.Imagine, for instance, that your opponent has claimed: European-style socialism has led to generous welfare programs, massive public debt, and a stagnant economy; meanwhile, American-style capitalism has led to small government, little deficit spending, and a vibrant economy; therefore, we should pursue American-style capitalism by cutting unemployment benefits. To refute their evidence, you can point out the similarities between U.S. and European economic policies: Many European countries, like the U.S., have public welfare, public retirement, and public healthcare systems in place. Many European countries carry as much or even less public debt per capita than the U.S. And the European economy, in recent years, has experienced only slightly less growth than the U.S. economy. If the two economies are not that different, then we shouldn’t cut public benefits to avoid “European-style socialism.” After all, European-style socialism and American-style capitalism look a lot alike and have similar results.Mistaking Correlation for CausationMistaking correlation for causation is the flawed version of the argument at the topic of correlation. The sports fanatic mistakes correlation for causation when insisting that the Longhorns’ success depends on his game-day attire because the UT football team wins every time he wears his lucky jersey. Superstitions, we can all admit, are silly. But very serious arguments persisting for many years have been similarly flawed. For centuries, people believed that bad smells caused disease when, in fact, bad smells simply accompany widespread sickness and death. During centuries-past, European plague epidemics, people wore fragrant flowers (“a pocket full of posies”) to keep themselves from catching a deadly ailment whose first symptom was a circular red sore (“a ring around the rosie”).The best way to refute an argument at the topic of correlation is to give evidence showing that another cause can be tied directly to this effect. We have seen the plague bacterium under microscopes; we know that fleas who live on rats carry the bacterium in their guts; we can scientifically verify that such fleas infect people. But sometimes, such irrefutable evidence is not available. If you don’t have irrefutable evidence of causation to challenge a claim at the topic of correlation, then you will have to give your audience reasons to doubt the supposed causal connection. You can do this in a number of ways:Point out that there are other, equally plausible causes. How does your friend know it’s his jersey causing the Longhorns to win? Maybe your gym socks are really the cause. Or maybe it’s the new head coach.Note that sometimes the effect appears without the presumed cause. If your friend’s jersey causes the Longhorns to win, then why did they lose last week? And why were they losing during the first half of the game two weeks ago, only to win in overtime? Did he take his jersey off for the first half of the game?Explain that there’s no reason for these things to cause one another, so the more likely explanation is coincidence. How on earth could wearing a dingy football jersey in a cramped college apartment affect the outcome of a football game hundreds of miles away?EssentializationEssentialization is a flawed version of argumentation at the topic of definition. When a speaker essentializes, they assume that their definition captures the most important qualities (the essence) of something. An anthropologist familiar with the variety of human cultures and beliefs will think that the following definition essentializes humankind: People are rational animals. Our skeptical anthropologist will demand, “What do you mean by ‘rational’?” They might add, “I’ve seen plenty of people who don’t know what a syllogism is and who can’t manage complicated arithmetic, but they’re no less ‘people’ because they lack this essential quality.” Since definitions always focus on certain qualities (or on a single quality), they always run the risk of essentializing. And essentializing definitions always run the risk of excluding or deriding someone or something. Once you define people as “rational animals,” you have to say all those nonrational, bipedal hominids are not people. And if they’re not people, they don’t deserve to be treated as people. Definitions excluding some from the category of people have apologized for slavery, invasion, and genocide. But essentializing definitions also run the risk of inappropriately admitting something or someone into a category. Once you define democracy as “any government built upon popular sovereignty,” then you have to accept that monarchies without popular elections are democracies, since the people have given sovereignty to the monarch (a consent that the people demonstrate when they refrain from revolution). Broad essentializing definitions of democracy have apologized for dictatorships, oligarchies, and monarchies alike.To refute an essentializing definition, you must show that the definition either excludes something the audience would rather include in the category or admits something they would rather exclude from the category. Let’s illustrate with an example that reflects a somewhat recent event: Imagine that the U.S. federal government has attempted to seize the cattle belonging to a rancher who let his herd graze on public lands without paying for the privilege. Your friend defines this as “government overreach.” To refute that definition, you will have to point out that your friend’s definition either admits things he would rather not define as “government overreach” or excludes things he would prefer to define as “government overreach”:“If seizing cattle because someone owes the government leasing fees for the privilege of using federal land is an example of ‘government overreach,’ then so is the IRS’s seizing assets or garnishing wages from people who refuse to pay their taxes.”“If government overreach pertains only to cases that involve armed federal officers, then laws requiring affirmative action, healthcare reform, and environmental regulation are not ‘government overreach’ until citizens are forced to hire minorities, buy health insurance, or drive fuel-efficient cars at gunpoint.”Both of these imagined refutations claim that the following definitions essentialize the notion of “government overreach”: (1) any effort to confiscate private property as a penalty for refusing payment to the federal government; (2) any law enforced by armed officers. Our refutations aim to convince the audience that the first definition includes too many things and the second excludes too many.ReificationReification is another flawed version of the argument at the topic of definition. A reified definition mistakenly assumes that words correspond to the audience’s experience of real things. The word itself, reification, derives from the Latin word for “thing”: res. Literally, reification means, “thingification.” Consider a commonly reified term: “intelligence quotient” (IQ). We typically assume that a person’s IQ is a thing that exists in the mind. Just as you measure the length of your foot, you measure the size of your IQ. Yet psychologists have argued for decades over whether anything like IQ really exists. Many allege that IQ is simply a made-up definition, a score earned on a test, correlating to no specific innate ability or quality. Like “spiritual energy,” they say that “IQ” is a reified term with no relation to actual things in the world. Likewise, biologists occasionally argue about whether definitions of species are reifications with no correspondence to the real animals in the world. Earlier, when discussing the definition of mammal, we admitted that the duck-billed platypus calls this definition into question. So does the spiny anteater. Maybe there are no mammals per se, just animals on an evolutionary spectrum.To refute a reified definition, you should point out that the speaker’s preferred words have no relation to what people actually experience every day. This refutation depends upon your audience’s specific experiences. Once the audience sees that the definition does not represent anything in their lived experiences, they will begin to question the argument.EquivocationEquivocation is a third flawed argument at the topic of definition. Equivocation happens when a speaker uses a definition in two completely different ways to mean two completely different things. For example, someone might argue that the right to free speech includes both the ability to express ideas without fear of legal punishment and the right to say anything in a public setting: “I have a right to free speech. The U.S. government can’t punish me for criticizing the president. My neighbor can’t sue me for saying I don’t like him. And you can’t stop me from speaking my mind at this PTA meeting.” Such an argument suggests that right means two things: (1) a person’s ability to do something without fear of legal retribution, and (2) a person’s freedom to do something whenever she wants. The best way to refute an equivocating argument is to point out the different meanings assigned to the same word. To our imaginary equivocator, for instance, you could say, “You’re talking about two things: rights and privileges. You have a right to speak your mind. No one will sue you or put you in jail for criticizing the school board’s decision. But you don’t have the privilege of interrupting this PTA meeting.”Slippery SlopeA slippery slope argument is a flawed inference that happens at the topic of causation. The speaker asserts that one action will start things down on a slippery slope that leads to all sorts of terrible effects. In an earlier chapter, we mentioned the claim that legalizing gay marriage will lead to legalizing polygamy. An audience might be persuaded to oppose gay marriage because it will lead to legalized polygamy, but this same audience might not be convinced to oppose gay marriage because it will lead to legalized bestiality. The difference between a persuasive and a flawed argument about causation is determined by the audience’s willingness to believe that the effects are likely. Here’s another example to illustrate: During the recent financial crisis, many people argued that the U.S. government had to rescue failing banks and insurance firms, for if such a rescue didn’t happen, then financial and economic depression would result. Many people did not believe that such a result was likely. They pointed to investment firms that were allowed to fail—such as Bear Stearns and Lehmann Brothers—claiming that the predicted financial collapse did not follow from these firms’ collapse. In sum, these people refused to believe that there was a slippery slope from failed investment firms to global financial crisis. But enough people did think that global financial collapse could result from a series of bank failures, so the U.S. government bailed out the banks.To refute a slippery-slope argument, you must show your audience that the predicted results will not likely happen. If a giant pipeline is built to move oil from Canadian wells to U.S. refineries, why won’t drilling destroy Canada’s boreal forest? If tenure is abolished, why won’t talented young people refuse to become teachers?Post Hoc Ergo Propter HocPost hoc ergo propter hoc is Latin for “after this, and therefore as a result of this.” It refers to another flawed argument at the topic of causation. We tend to assume, quite reasonably, that sequence is a sign of causation. If one thing consistently follows another thing, then we assume that the two are causally related. But often that assumption is simply wrong-headed. Many Democrats said that the economic boom that came after Bill Clinton became president was a result of Clinton’s presidency. And these same Democrats claimed that the recession that followed George W. Bush’s election was a result of Bush’s presidency. A skeptical audience might say that the president’s actions have little direct effect on economic growth during the first few years in office. For this skeptical audience, saying that an election in 2001 caused an economic recession in 2002 is a classic example of post hoc ergo propter hoc argumentation.Whether or not an audience will accept an argument at the topic of causation depends on that audience’s presuppositions and the evidence that they require. If they’re already willing to associate good economic performance with Democratic leadership, then they may take the sequence of events (first a Democrat wins the presidency, and then the economy gets better) as proof of causation. But if they’re skeptical of that connection, then they will want more evidence. To refute a post hoc ergo propter hoc argument, you can point out that more evidence is needed to prove causation. Sequence, in this case, is not enough to prove causation.