It’s time to see the fallacies in action! In the videos below, you will see how one student, Mateo, engages in the process of locating sources but struggles to find sources without fallacies. Watch as he applies what he has learned about logical fallacies to his research process. Click on the first video to see Mateo’s assignment and learn about his goals. Then, click on the video that follows in order to see what fallacies Mateo encountered in his sources. When you’re finished, select the activity at the end of this page to see how well you can locate logical fallacies in sources.
Mateo Explores the World of Logical Fallacies
Professor: Dear students,
For our next project, you will be required to write an argumentative essay on a topic of your choice. Ideally, your topic should be related to your major, as this will give you an opportunity to explore issues you are interested in.
You must choose at least a relatively controversial issue because I want you to really investigate controversy and disagreement.
Your final essay should include at least six outside sources. Remember to look for sources that are credible and logical.
Your essay is due at the end of Unit 3. Happy writing!
Narrator: Mateo is a nursing major and has thought about what he might like to explore for his essay. He has decided he wants to write about the obesity epidemic in America.
His instructor, Professor C, is requiring some outside sources, and, from the OWL, Mateo has learned about the different kinds of sources he can use and what kinds of logical fallacies he should be aware of as he looks for quality, credible sources.
Mateo is ready to see if he can find the kinds of sources he needs and to make sure his sources avoid the logical fallacies. If Mateo uses sources that contain logical fallacies, he knows his credibility will be affected.
Mateo: I know I want to write about the obesity epidemic in America, and I think I want look into the causes. I keep hearing that it’s because we don’t work out enough and we eat too much, but I’m wondering if there’s more to the story. Our professor wants us to dig deeper into a topic. I think I chose a good issue.
Narrator: Mateo is looking for a variety of sources. He can include interviews, documentaries, articles, and more. He just has to make sure the sources are credible. Let’s help Mateo as he tries, for the first time, to find credible sources for his topic.
Mateo has found eight sources so far, though he is not sure if he will be able to use them. He has found three documentaries, a blog, two websites, a magazine article, and an interview.
Let’s take a deeper look at each of Mateo’s sources.
Mateo’s First Source
Narrator: Mateo found a documentary on obesity in America. He is not sure about its credibility, however, as he heard one person in the documentary say this:
“As individuals, we need to address obesity. Since 1 in 3 Americans is expected to be obese in the coming years, Americans will be facing horrible, painful, difficult deaths associated with diseases caused by obesity.”
Mateo: Hmm… This might be true, but it feels like this source is really focusing a lot on the horrible deaths.
I learned that the appeal to fear fallacy is one where a person is making a claim that is meant to be purposefully fearful and is usually exaggerated. I’m sure there can be some painful deaths associated with this disease, but I feel like it’s exaggerated here.
I think this might be an appeal to fear fallacy.
Mateo’s Second Source
Narrator: Mateo found a blog post from a person who seems to be a doctor. The doctor seems to have the right credentials, but Mateo read this and had some questions.
“Because children spend so much time playing video games, it is inevitable that they will become obese.”
Mateo: I know for sure this issue is much more complicated than this. I’ve read some sources that point to things like the amount of sleep children get and the processed foods they often eat. I don’t think you can say playing video games will result in obesity. Just because some children who play video games are obese, doesn’t mean playing video games causes the problem.
This seems like a hasty generalization fallacy to me.
Mateo’s Third Source
Narrator: Mateo next found a website that had a lot of information that seemed credible, but he read something at the end that made him nervous.
“If you agree that we can work together to end obesity, donate just $5 to $10 to our cause. People who care will make a donation.”
Mateo: The information here seems pretty good and in line with other information I have read, but I just don’t know about the credibility of a site asking for money, especially in this way.
Saying that everyone who cares will make a donation is clearly trying to persuade people with a manipulative tactic. There could be people who care who simply can’t afford to donate. When someone tries to persuade by saying, “You should because everyone else is,” we have to question. This feels like a classic bandwagon fallacy to me.
Mateo’s Fourth Source
Narrator: Mateo found another documentary that looked interesting. In the documentary, one of the experts had this to say about the causes of obesity in America.
“It’s plain and simple. The obesity crisis is caused by too much food or too little exercise—or both. There’s not a lot of in between here.”
Mateo: Since I’ve read information that says the obesity crisis may be more complex, I’m worried about the oversimplification here. It seems like we’re getting an “either-or” choice here, but there could be other causes.
I think this is a false dilemma fallacy.
Mateo’s Fifth Source
Narrator: In one magazine article, Mateo found some information with an interview from a nutritionist who was making an argument that the chemicals and sugars put into processed foods were designed to make people eat more and would cause people to gain weight quickly. Later in the article, another expert disagreed and said this about the nutritionist:
“Basically, this idea gives people a pass. This nutritionist is saying it’s not your fault if you are obese that you have no responsibility in the matter. It’s not all the food companies’ fault.”
Mateo: I feel like both sides make a good point, but the expert who disagreed really seemed to distort what the nutritionist was saying. The nutritionist didn’t seem to be saying it is all the food companies’ fault, just that things may be more complicated here. It feels like the second expert is really twisting the first argument.
I think this is a straw man fallacy, so I’ll be careful what I use from this source.
Mateo’s Sixth Source
Narrator: Mateo found a helpful website that presented a lot of different sides to the issue. This seemed great, but he noticed he would have to be careful about what he used because some of the “experts” quoted on the site were not presenting themselves in a credible way. One expert had this to say:
“The health ‘experts’ who point to processed foods as the root cause of this epidemic are missing the point and really are no better than the wacko ‘experts’ who tell us one minute that wine is good for us and the next minute it isn’t.”
Mateo: Wow! I was surprised to read an “expert” on this site essentially calling some people who have a different opinion on this issue “wackos.” This is a real concern and is a classic logical fallacy. This person does not address the issue and just calls those who disagree names.
This seems like an ad hominem fallacy. It’s clearly a personal attack against someone and does not address the issue.
Mateo’s Seventh Source
Narrator: Mateo conducted a personal interview with someone he thought might be a good resource, at least for one aspect of the debate. He interviewed a local activist who was working to bring local fruits and vegetables to poorer families in his community. This interview would provide an important perspective for his argumentative essay. However, he was worried when, at the end of the interview, the activist seemed to lose his focus and go off on a tangent.
“If we don’t fight against the big food companies and big agriculture, there is no telling where we might end up. If we keep going the direction we are going, we will end up with no choice, and pretty soon, we could have no food. When you are that specialized, you are just one step away from a blight that could lead to food shortages everywhere in the U.S.”
Mateo: I really liked a lot of what this activist was saying, and it seems like he is doing great work to help bring local, fresh food to families who need it. But, I wonder about his logic in the last part of the interview. I understand that big agriculture is causing some problems, but this activist provided no evidence for this really big claim that one thing would lead to another, and we would have no food.
This feels like a slippery slope fallacy to me. I don’t think I should make that claim in my own essay. It’s doesn’t make good sense.
Mateo’s Eighth Source
Narrator: Mateo found one more source. This was another documentary a friend had recommended on the issue of obesity in America. The documentary was interesting and made some good points, Mateo thought. But, parts of it felt a little too “conspiracy theory” like, and Mateo wasn’t sure if he could really use this source. The narrator at one point said this about finding solutions to the obesity epidemic:
“Our government officials are not going to help us fight the food companies that poison us with their chemicals. Our government officials take campaign contributions from these big companies. If you think you can trust your government official to stop big agriculture, think again. Our government is too much connected with these evil companies.”
Mateo: I definitely understand the concern about how our government officials take campaign contributions from the very companies we need to regulate, but can you really say all government officials are taking money from these “evil” companies? I really need to see some evidence. This claim feels like a logical fallacy.
I need to look into this more. So, I can’t trust a claim that doesn’t address the issue and simply side steps by associating someone with someone I might have doubts about. When someone is making a claim about another person by associating that person with someone who is “bad” in some way or someone the audience wouldn’t like, that is a guilt by association fallacy.
Logical Fallacies Activity
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