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Finding Fallacies

By: Campbell Collins, Girl Scout Senior

It’s about to be election season. And, especially because 2020 is the year of a presidential election, that means lots and lots of debates. With so many opinions and controversies, it can be tough to separate the good ideas and sound arguments from the verbose speeches and fast-paced sound bites.

One strategy that can help is looking for logical fallacies. It’s important for kids to learn these so they have an intellectual tool kit for evaluating arguments.

For my MEdia Take Action project, I created two resources to help assemble that tool kit:

  • A slide deck that anyone can use to teach logical fallacies.
  • A handout that can be used with or without the slides to practice identifying those fallacies.

With all the media in the world today, I hope these resources will give kids a head start toward shaping our political future.

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One of the most important things to know when getting involved or interested in civic engagement is to understand and be able to detect logical fallacies.

Firstly, do you know what the word logic means? What about the word fallacy?

Logic means the study of reasoning. A fallacy is something false, such as an argument based on false reasoning. There are lots of different types of fallacies: ad hominem attacks, red herrings, straw man fallacies, and loaded questions.

In Latin, “ad hominem” means “to the person.” Today, an ad hominem attack means an argument that attacks an opponent’s character, not their opinions.

For example, when somebody says “That person’s a liar! Their opinions aren’t valid,” that’s an ad hominem attack. While lying is a bad thing, just because somebody lies doesn’t mean all of their opinions are wrong.

The next type of fallacy is called a red herring. In an argument, a red herring is a statement that answers a different question from the one that was asked. For example, saying, “dogs are smarter than cats because lots of dogs can do tricks” is a red herring. That’s because the question wasn’t “are dogs smart?” The question was “are dogs smarter than cats?” Even though it’s true, the statement “lots of dogs can do tricks” doesn’t prove that they’re smarter than cats.

A third type of fallacy is the straw man fallacy. This is when someone exaggerates their opponent’s argument to make it seem weak, like a scarecrow. One person might say “I don’t think assigned seating in the cafeteria is a good idea.” Then her friend might say, “What! I can’t believe you don’t care about lonely kids!” That’s a straw man fallacy. The first person didn’t say she didn’t care about lonely kids. She only said that assigned seating might not be a good idea. Her friend exaggerated that point of view to make it sound weak.

A final type of fallacy is a loaded question. That’s a question containing a hidden assumption.

How you would answer this question: “Have you stopped stealing Girl Scout cookies?” If you say yes, you’re admitting to having stolen Girl Scout cookies in the past, but if you say no, you’re admitting to continuing to steal cookies! Either way, you’re admitting to being a thief.

“Have you stopped stealing Girl Scout cookies?” is a loaded question because it assumes you stole cookies at some point. The fallacy can be fixed by splitting it into two questions: “Have you ever stolen Girl Scout cookies?” and “Are you still stealing Girl Scout cookies?”

Now that you have a better idea of what logical fallacies are you can practice your skills while watching the upcoming political debates. Are you really excited about civics and want to learn more about women’s voting rights?

Right to Vote - TTEmail

Girl Scouts across Texas will celebrate the 100 year anniversary of women’s suffrage (passage of the 19th Amendment) in 2020. But you can get started now by learning about the process of amending the constitution and the efforts that take place to get an amendment ratified into law, the women’s suffrage movement, and the 19th Amendment. The Texas 2020 Women’s Right to Vote Centennial Patch is intended to be a catalyst for conversation and to encourage girls to learn more and take action to make the world a better place.

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