Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Out of the mouths of babes comes logical fallacies

Minnesotans are not known to be very discerning with their votes, electing such fools as Jesse Ventura and Al Franken based on the fact that they were famous entertainers. With that in mind, I wasn't surprised to learn that the voters of House District 5B (the Hibbing area) elected a 25 year old DFL candidate named Carly Melin fresh out of law school.

I'm a believer that experience is important, but not nearly as important as a strong grasp of the issues. So how is Rep. Melin's grasp of issues? Let's evaluate based on a recent tweet of hers regarding Michelle Bachmann:

Bachmann says Corp tax cuts needed 4 job growth. In '09 Exxon made $19 billion in profit & paid no fed income tax.

Ouch! Our young representative never gained much experience in logical reasoning in her brief career. She is guilty of a logical fallacy called a red herring. Here's a nice definition of this type of fallacy:

A Red Herring is a fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue. The basic idea is to "win" an argument by leading attention away from the argument and to another topic. This sort of "reasoning" has the following form:

1. Topic A is under discussion.
2. Topic B is introduced under the guise of being relevant to topic A (when topic B is actually not relevant to topic A).
3. Topic A is abandoned.

This sort of "reasoning" is fallacious because merely changing the topic of discussion hardly counts as an argument against a claim.

In this case, topic A is whether reducing tax rates helps grow jobs. Topic B is the assertion that Exxon made a lot of money and didn't pay taxes, and since this is a tweet, Topic A is quickly abandoned.

I know that I myself will be accused of abandoning the most important aspect of this story, whether or not Rep. Melin is attractive. While she's cute as a button, that's not really relevant to performance as a state representative, much to the relief of Rep. King Banaian (and to be fair, pretty much everyone else in the legislature). Rep. Melin's constituents would be far better served by the experience and grasp of issues of an economist like King Banaian, even if it means a considerable downgrade in their rep's appearance.