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A morning visit from my good friend, Mr. False Analogy

October 2, 2007

I have made a habit of listening to NPR on my way to work in the mornings. Not so much because I feel otherwise devoid of intellectual stimulation, but because I have had the same CDs in my car for about two years and have finally gotten sick of them.

Usually the arguments on NPR are fairly cogent. Even if I do not agree with what I am hearing, I can understand why someone would. I can only speak for the show I listen to, but you generally don’t get too many crazies from either side of the political spectrum. Whether Democrat, Republican, or Independent, the callers are usually intelligent. I like this.

So imagine my surprise when, while talking about Richard Branson’s $25M greenhouse gas reduction contest, I heard the following statement from a caller:

“People are making [random program the caller was pushing] out to be so expensive. True it will cost about $150 billion per year. But we spend billions in Iraq, so we should be able to spend billions on this as well.”

Now, granted, the man may have a point. It may be smart for the US to pursue whatever carbon dioxide reduction program he was talking about. But the comparison does not fit, and only undermines his potentially valid point. Basically he is arguing:

Department A of our government spends X dollars on cause Y,

Therefore Department B should also get to spend X dollars on cause Z.

This is not a valid argument, but unfortunately we hear similar agruments all the time. Most common is the “We can put a man on the moon, why can’t we get rid of traffic/make teleportation machines/develop watermelons that will grow in Siberia.” Basically when you hear this, the person is saying “Other people can do [things], why can’t they also do [completely unrelated things]?”

What a great way to start the day…

One Comment leave one →
  1. Adam permalink*
    October 3, 2007 3:17 pm

    Commenting on Columbia University President Lee Bollinger’ comment that his university has a “long-standing tradition of serving as a major forum for robust debate,” Ann Coulter had a far more amusing, if still ineffective analogy:

    “Except Columbia doesn’t have that tradition. This is worse than saying ‘the dog ate my homework.’ It’s like saying ‘the dog ate my homework’ when you’re Michael Vick and everyone knows you’ve killed your dog.”

    And no, this doesn’t mean I like Ann Coulter. But she is an entertaining writer.

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