Weasly words II

13 07 2013

Screen shot 2013-07-14 at 10.54.21 AMIn April 3rd’s “logical reasoning” discussion, we covered several forms of manipulative argumentation, following on from Weasly Words I: emotive language (essentially already covered in “loaded words”); red herrings (something we’d come back to in detail in July); special pleading; “politicians’ answers” and “lawyers’ answers”. Special pleading is when the arguer claims that some exception should be made to a general principle, usually to benefit themselves or someone they care about, and for no clear or defensible reason (in contrast to e.g. “drawing a line”, which we covered the following week). It often crops up when people hold other peoples’ animal use to higher standards than their own (e.g. tutting about bull fighting while eating a ham sandwich). Lawyers’ and politicians’ answers are pernicious in subtly different ways. Politicians’ answers aim to use time and create positive PR, via the evasion of tricky questions and the skilled use of  irrelevances (interesting and distracting red herrings). The closest any of us come to this is probably the rather more benign “interviewees’ answer” (when a journalist asks you something, and is happy with anything interesting you reply, regardless of what is triggered by their question). Lawyers’ answers are more sophisticated (when done well): factually accurate, relevant replies that manage to mislead (in his A-Z book, Nigel highlight’s Clinton’s “I did not have sex with that woman” as a classic example). The closest academics might come to this is in presenting their stats, or in responses to referees. For example “Where residuals were non-normal, Box-Cox transformations were applied” makes it sound like the residuals were normalized, yes? And yet actually, it doesn’t really say that….