Saturday, July 19, 2008

Illogical liberal conspiracy

A few years ago I bought a book, it was called How to win every Argument: The Use and Abuse of Logic by Madsen Pirie, President of the Adam Smith Institute. It is, without doubt, one of the best book I've bought and/or read. What's great about it is that you can just dip into it anywhere and remind yourself of the techniques in argument that are entirely commonplace in political discussion.

The reason I mention this is because I've just read a piece by Unity on Liberal Conspiracy which, unusually for Unity who I have significant respect for (even if I do have trouble reading his posts to the very end sometimes), is little more than one great big fallacy. The parts in question relate to his conclusion about some obscure organisation called the "Centre for Open Politics". Unity points out that
In reality, the two founding members of the ‘Centre for Open Politics’ are Harry Cole, formerly the Vice-Chairman/Treasurer of Edinburgh University Conservative Future, and Amanda O’Brien who, earlier this year, was listed on campaign blog of Michael Rock, the current national Chairman of Conservative Future, as the Deputy Chairman of Essex Conservative Future.

Moreover, as an article posted at Conservative Home in July 2007 reveals, Cole spent much of last summer working out of Conservative Central Office with the previous Chairman of Conservative Future, Mark Clark, and Justine Greening MP, on the preparations for Conservative Future’s national Fresher’s Week recruitment drive and was even given his own e-mail address on the official domain.
He goes on to draw the conclusion on his own website that this impacts on the credibility of any argument they might make. This is the classic ad hominem circumstantial fallacy at play. Rather than taking on the argument it takes on the bias of two people and draw conclusions about the validity of an argument they make upon those circumstances of the arguer.

From a logical point of view this is a really crappy argument. The bias of a person does not itself make an argument made by the person invalid. Just because two people have been involved in X in the past it does not follow that their involvement in Y is linked to X as a 'false flag' operation.

This does not negate that the Centre for Open Politics might actually be what Unity says it is. The point is that the argument to justify the assertion that Unity is making is logically fallacious. Unity goes on to say that he will be contacting
the Electoral Commission, myself, to advise them of Cole’s undisclosed background in the confidence and advising them that there is ample evidence to suggest that Cole has submitted a wholly vexatious complaint.
All the "evidence" he refers to however is circumstantial. Again I stress, this is not an argument that Unity's conclusion is wrong, it's an argument that his route to reaching the conclusion is a logical pile of poo and essentially vexatious reasoning.


Guido Fawkes said...

I think my wife read that book.

dizzy said...

More fool you for leaving it lying around.

jailhouselawyer said...

"I think my wife read that book".

"More fool you for leaving it lying around".


I read Unity's post and followed the link to LibCon (I haven't been there since my sardine munching days), and spotted a comment by Tim Ireland which said some Young Conservatives apologised to him. I thought it was a breath of fresh air, and left a comment saying as much, and wondered if the Left might learn a lesson from it but doubted it.

Unknown said...

And if, like me, you're a cheapskate you can just look this stuff up on the Internet. You'll find no shortage of information out there.

tory boys never grow up said...

You are absolutely right that it doesn't follow logically that this is Tory front - but it might follow intuitively or statistically however.

You of course ingnored the biggest logical howler in Cole's posting about his letter to the Electoral Commission, namely

"The report confirmed information indicating that Gordon Brown received undeclared donations in kind from the Smith Institute in the form of the services of Bob Shrum, a pollster paid by the Smith Institute who advised Gordon Brown on electoral strategy"

No it didn't and the quotes he made from the report were all about the Smith Institute not having exercised proper control over Shrum's party political comments at one of their meetings.

The Charity Commission's investigation was very wide ranging and if they had thought that the Smith Institute was providing free services to the Labour Party they would have mentioned this in their report. BUT they didn't so the whole bais of Cole's argument has little logical basis whatsoever. So no wonder people might question his motivation!

dizzy said...

There is a world of difference between questioning motivation and making assertions that motivation is evidence of a flawed argument.

Anonymous said...

All BNP supporters are Nazis, skinheads etc.

X*Y = Z

Anonymous said...

This post does of course rely upon the fallacy that logic is the only determinant of a 'good' argument.

As was recognised until relatively recently, logic only goes so far (either because logic can produce more than one conclusion applying different techniques or because of the variety of facts, or a disagreement over premisses - Quentin Skinner's 'Reason and Rhetoric' on the role of rhetoric as ornament to the truth is very good on this in the early-modern context). At that point rhetoric becomes the essential tool - and the ad hominem argument is not only a perfectly good, but indeed a very successful, rhetorical technique.