Saturday, May 25, 2013

What: Logical fallacies, Dan Phelps & Lowell backyard chickens

Regardless of your thoughts on back-yard chickens in Lowell, it is instructive (perhaps it could be part of a UML 1st year logic & rhetoric curriculum) to enumerate the principles of logic that Dan Phelps violates in his recent Lowell Sun Newspaper anti-chicken column

The bulk of Dan Phelp's assertions are Red Herrings:

  • He recently enjoyed eating a whole chicken
  • He doesn't like the city of Buffalo
  • He has a British friend named Joel who says "Gorgeous"
  • He likes burgers better than chickens.
  • Los Angeles and Seattle have smog and rain
  • Lowell could have smog and rain if we wanted.

A red herring is a fallacy that attempts to divert attention from the original issue. Changing the subject doesn't prove any point. The Britishness of Dan's friend does not add or remove evidence of the health and safety of backyard chickens in Lowell.

Red Herring is a tempting classification for this next assertion:

  • Dan Phelps has nothing against [eating] chickens

However, it is more probably a Non-Sequitur since he implies that his lack of prejudice against eating chickens supports the conclusion that he is qualified to have an opinion on backyard chickens in Lowell.

Non-Sequitur is Latin for "doesn't follow". The conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premises. In other words, a logical connection is implied where none exists. Another example

  • All men are humans.
  • Mary is human.
  • Therefore, Mary is a man.

Or fleshing out Dan's argument a bit:

  • Eating chickens is reasonable.
  • Dan Phelps eats chickens
  • Dan Phelps has a reasonable opinion about backyard chickens.

Confusing Cause and Effect assumes cause and effect for two variables simply because they occur together.

  • Lowell shouldn't be like Somerville.

Let us table the low probability that Somerville is a bad place.

The presence or absence of chickens doesn't make one place like another. Lowell won't become like Somerville MA, Los Angeles CA, Westford MA or Madison WI, if we allow backyard chickens. We currently prohibit back yard chickens, but we aren't like Lawrence MA or New Milford NJ.

Ad hominem is Latin for "To the Man", it is a logical fallacy that attacks the person making the argument instead of the argument. Dan Phelps asserts:
  • [Stupid] people moved to Lowell to raise chickens even though Lowell is a city and live chickens aren't legal in Lowell now.
  • Lowell's legal department will copy another city's ordinance because they are too lazy to draft a fresh one

Assuming both of these unsupported assertions are true, neither speaks to the merit (or lack of merit) of backyard chickens.

Damning with faint praise is a logical fallacy that offers weak or unenthusiastic praise and insinuates that no stronger praise is warranted. Dan Phelps asserts:

  • The pro-chicken people aren't cowards or reckless, suicidal drivers.

This statement doesn't address the merits (or not) of backyard chickens. It implies that the best that can be said of the pro-chicken people is pretty weak. The fallacy is not claiming the lack of merit directly so the assertion can be challenged.

Reductio ad absurdum, (reduction to absurdity) is often logically legitimate If the negation of a statement (rocks have weight) is obviously absurd (rocks float weightless in calm air) than an argument is prove true. Dan Phelps asserts (sarcastically) that:

  • The proposed chicken ordinance should allow people to have a couple hundred cows and run backyard slaughter houses.

The difficulty is that nobody is proposing any cows or slaughterhouses, the ordinance is about 6 chickens. Dan Phelps is actually making a Straw man argument. He is arguing against something that has not been proposed.

The fallacy of division If a part has a quality, (e.g. small) than every part has that same quality. Dan Phelps asserts:

  • Some yards in Lowell are too small for a single chicken.

Because some yards are too small, it does not follow that all yards are too small.

There are a two assertions that Dan Phelps makes that are not logical fallacies(though they are suspect for other reasons).

  • Houses on Walker Street are close together.
  • Bob Rafferty, a proponent of backyard chickens lives on Walker street.

While it isn't clear if all houses on Walker Street are close together. Logically, it is possible to assume Bob is proposing to have chickens in his backyard, close to other houses.

The point here is neither pro nor anti backyard chicken. I'm a vegetarian, I don't eat chickens or eggs. I'm not 100% convinced either faction is right. However, I am suspicious of sloppy thinking. You (Dan Phelps) don't make any kind of logical argument by (pardon my Latin) yelling out random bullshit. chicken-shit