Friday, August 5, 2016

Today's Logical Fallacy is... Reductionism!

(causal reductionism, complex cause, fallacy of the single cause, causal oversimplification, reduction fallacy)

The fallacy occurs when an explanation of an event is assumed to be a single, simple cause when it may have had multiple causes. The cause is oversimplified, preventing a more in-depth analysis, often in order to deceive the listener as to the real causes. It relies on the assumption that just because something occurred before or with the event that that “something” had to cause it (related to the correlation/causation fallacy), and it is a specific kind of false dilemma in that it presents a false simplification by ignoring the influence of other causes.


We often hear this fallacy in the aftermath of tragedy; it is very easy to blame a horrific event on a simple cause – especially if you happen to be biased against that cause – when the actual cause is more complicated. For example, blaming school shootings on violent video games (or parents working or guns) ignores the more complex issues of poor mental health support, inadequate emotional and familial support, school stress, societal pressures to “prove” yourself, and access to weapons (among other causes).

The political arena is rife with this fallacy; complex social problems are often reduced to simple causes: immigrants, taxes, corporations, rich people, poor people, gays and lesbians, Christians, atheists – just to name a few. Our social problems are far too complex to attribute to one cause, though some causes may play a more prominent role than others.

Examples:

"If the glove doesn’t fit, you must vote to acquit."

“Moms! If you want to protect your little kids from armed terrorists, vote for Snith!”

“Illegal immigrants are the problem! They’re stealing your jobs, taking tax payer money, and killing your children. If we kept illegals out, then all of our problems would be solved.”

“High taxes are the problem. Corporations can hardly operate with such high rates. That’s why they’re going overseas. If you want to have more jobs in America, you have to cut taxes.”

“Christians are the problem; they keep pushing to have their teachings taught in the public schools, and it’s unconstitutional. Not only do they reject science, they also deny others the right to practice their beliefs because they think they’re so special.”

“The growing problems of gays and lesbians in America is the root of our moral decay. We must end this disease now, or God will strike us!”

Hank: I ran my car off the side of the road because that damn squirrel ran in front of my car.

Officer Sam: You don’t think it had anything to do with the fact that you were trying to text your girlfriend, and driving drunk?

Jim: She broke up with me! She realized she couldn’t control me, so she bailed.

Jeff: You don’t think it was because you’ve cheated on her twice and are unemployed?

Jim: Of course not.

"Our team got terrible results for this pendulum lab. Our data gave us a value for "g" of 11.7 instead of 9.8. So our percent of error came out to 19%. I don't know what went wrong. We followed the instructions exactly. I don't think we had enough time to finish it. We should have had more than an hour. I don't know how the other teams got good results when we didn't." (The fact that others successfully completed the lab within the same amount of time suggests that other causes were at work.)