I dislike the idea of doing this; as Eliezer said

it feels to me like I'm dumping all the sins of humankind upon their undeserving heads - I'm presenting one error, out of context, as exemplar for all the errors of this kind that have ever been committed, and showing none of the good qualities of the speaker - it would be like caricaturing them, if I called them by name.

Is this just me? Should we try to have social norms that permit this?

I'm comfortable with MichaelBishop's suggestion. The example would be unconvincing if it picked on just anybody. To show that the error is important requires catching one of the sites heavy hitters making it. Being picked on in this way is a backhanded compliment; I would be pleased if people cared whether my comments were right or wrong.

1MichaelBishop11yI see your point. In some cases maybe examples could be provided without explicitly stating who said what. But obviously we don't want to outlaw critiquing each other. Its interesting. I didn't explicitly criticize this post, but my short comment, requesting examples could be considered a somewhat vague implicit criticism. So I may have just done something quite similar to what JGWeissman was criticizing in his post! The truth is, I probably wouldn't have requested an example if I was confident that JGWeissman was making an important criticism. The truth is, one good example wouldn't do that much for me, because my skepticism is about how common this "fallacy" is and how well people were dealing with it before JGWeissman gave it a name. Maybe I just haven't been that observant on this point, but I haven't gotten the impression its a big deal.

Catchy Fallacy Name Fallacy (and Supporting Disagreement)

by JGWeissman 1 min read21st May 200957 comments


Related: The Pascal's Wager Fallacy Fallacy, The Fallacy Fallacy

Inspired by:

We need a catchy name for the fallacy of being over-eager to accuse people of fallacies that you have catchy names for.


When you read an argument you don't like, but don't know how to attack on its merits, there is a trick you can turn to. Just say it commits1 some fallacy, preferably one with a clever name. Others will side with you, not wanting to associate themselves with a fallacy. Don't bother to explain how the fallacy applies, just provide a link to an article about it, and let stand the implication that people should be able to figure it out from the link. It's not like anyone would want to expose their ignorance by asking for an actual explanation.

What a horrible state of affairs I have described in the last paragraph. It seems, if we follow that advice, that every fallacy we even know the name of makes us stupider. So, I present a fallacy name that I hope will exactly counterbalance the effects I described. If you are worried that you might defend an argument that has been accused of committing some fallacy, you should be equally worried that you might support an accusation that commits the Catchy Fallacy Name Fallacy. Well, now that you have that problem either way, you might as well try to figure if the argument did indeed commit the fallacy, by examining the actual details of the fallacy and whether they actually describe the argument.

But, what is the essence of this Catchy Fallacy Name Fallacy? The problem is not the accusation of committing a fallacy itself, but that the accusation is vague. The essence is "Don't bother to explain". The way to avoid this problem is to entangle your counterargument, whether it makes a fallacy accusation or not, with the argument you intend to refute. Your counterargument should distinguish good arguments from bad arguments, in that it specifies criteria that systematically apply to a class of bad arguments but not to good arguments. And those criteria should be matched up with details of the allegedly bad argument.

The wrong way:

It seems that you've committed the Confirmation Bias.

The right way:

The Confirmation Bias is when you find only confirming evidence because you only look for confirming evidence. You looked only for confirming evidence by asking people for stories of their success with Technique X.

Notice how the right way would seem very out of place when applied against an argument it does not fit. This is what I mean when I say the counterargument should distinguish the allegedly bad argument from good arguments.

And, if someone commits the Catchy Fallacy Name Fallacy in trying to refute your arguments, or even someone else's, call them on it. But don't just link here, you wouldn't want to commit the Catchy Fallacy Name Fallacy Fallacy. Ask them how their counterargument distinguishes the allegedly bad argument from arguments that don't have the problem.


1 Of course, when I say that an argument commits a fallacy, I really mean that the person who made that argument, in doing so, committed the fallacy.