In Part 1 of this mini-series, I covered the first ten of the twenty logical fallacies that the legendary American astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, author and science communicator, Carl Sagan, considered to be the most common and perilous.
Remember, logical fallacies are errors or gaps in the reasoning process that invalidate an argument. A person using logical fallacies to make their case may be doing so quite innocently, simply because they have never had any training in logic, but they may also be trying to bullsh*t you.
Consequently, learning to identify logical fallacies is a critical life skill that will help you navigate the sea of information that the 21st century world presents us all with, so that you can swim through it rather than drowning in it.
11. Non sequitur
Latin for ‘It does not follow’, a non sequitur is a conclusion that does not follow from the statements that lead to it. The non sequitur is often a signal that the person using it has simply failed to recognise alternative possibilities.
The argument that the entire population must be vaccinated against COVID-19 because a small percentage of people become seriously ill when infected, and a tiny percentage of them die, is a non sequitur. There are numerous alternative approaches to this problem, including focusing prevention efforts on those most at risk of serious illness and death, and developing more effective treatments that prevent serious illness and death – or simply employing those that have already been found to be effective.
12. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc
Latin for ‘It happened after, so it was caused by’, those using this fallacy assume that if event B occurs after event A, then B was caused by A.
Attributing a decline in ‘case numbers’, hospitalisation rates or death counts from COVID-19 to any government intervention is a post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy.
Any person with the slightest familiarity with epidemiology knows that infectious respiratory diseases follow a highly predictable pattern, with the rate of transmission rising slowly at first, then reaching a ‘turning point’ after which the transmission rate increases rapidly, builds to a peak, and then declines as the number of susceptible hosts diminishes:
This curve, first identified by William Farr in 1840 (and dubbed ‘Farr’s Law’ in his honour) can easily be observed in all communities that have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 (or any other respiratory virus), and the shape of the curve is resolutely unaffected by the timing of any government interventions including mask mandates, stay at home orders, business and school closures and curfews:
N.B.: Each midwest state enacted different public health measures including school and business closures and mask mandates at different times, and no such control measures were employed at all in South Dakota.
13. Meaningless question
Questions such as “How would you feel if your own grandmother got COVID and died because some selfish person didn’t wear a mask?” fall into this category. Unless said person actually had symptoms of respiratory illness, and had direct and prolonged contact with my grandmother (if I still had a living grandmother, which I don’t), there is no possibility of them killing granny simply by declining to wear a mask. Why? Because as Dr Anthony Fauci himself said,
“The one thing historically people need to realize [is] that even if there is some asymptomatic transmission, in all the history of respiratory-borne viruses of any type, asymptomatic transmission has never been the driver of outbreaks. The driver of outbreaks is always a symptomatic person. Even if there’s a rare asymptomatic person that might transmit, an epidemic is not driven by asymptomatic carriers.”
14. Excluded middle, or false dichotomy
This logical fallacy involves presenting only the two extremes in a continuum of intermediate possibilities, without acknowledging that there are many options between these extremes.
When the highly-credentialled and previously well-respected authors of the Great Barrington Declaration suggested that the correct response to COVID-19 was to revert to the guidance outlined in countries’ previous pandemic preparedness plans – all of which specifically excluded mass quarantining of healthy people (even if exposed to the infectious agent), business closures and mask mandates – they were immediately dog-piled by critics who committed the false dichotomy fallacy by equating any movement away from lockdown-oriented policies to a ‘let it rip’ policy.
The focused protection strategy advocated in the Great Barrington Declaration by no means sanctions ‘letting it rip’. Instead, it counsels that those most vulnerable to serious illness and death from infection with SARS-CoV-2 be maximally shielded, while those at low risk stay free to live their lives, so that they may be exposed to the virus and become immune, contributing to the herd immunity which will eventually protect the vulnerable.