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Skepticism Triggers -- Signs of Poor or Deceptive Arguments

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As readers and editors we often need to make judgments about the veracity of an author's assertions on topics where we lack personal knowledge and expertise. Here is my list of signs and signals that herald an argument that is not well grounded in objective fact:

1. Extreme or absolute phrasing. (Words like always and never which allow for no exceptions.)

2. Characterizations. Adjectives that attribute merit or adjectives that demean without factual support. (Outstanding authority John Smith". Discredited activist judge Jim Jones ")

3. Citation of anonymous authority. (A nationally famous physician states ")

4. Absence of contrary information. (Writer withholds or fails to discuss dissenting opinion and conflicting data.)

5. Ad-hominem arguments that appeal to feelings rather than reason.(Many rants are passionate and evoke prejudices while lacking factual substance.)

6. Ad-hominem phrasing that attacks the character of an individual.

7. Innuendo, insinuation an indirect statement that implies something without actually asserting it.

8. Metaphors and similes that grossly oversimplify, usually diverting attention from the inconvenient complexity of reality. (A great way to finesse flawed logic.)

9. Denial. The refusal to even consider well known conflicting information, dismissing it or ignoring it.

10. Sophism. Clever or fallacious argument that leads to a wrong conclusion. Sophism can look like a rational, reasonable argument, but usually ignores some facts and embellishes others to make a case. Connecting some of the dots, omitting others, to show a false pattern. Patternicity that imagines or creates meaning from noise.

11. Misapplied authority Seeking to attribute authority to the opinion of someone whose expertise does not extend to the topic. (Medical opinions of a Disk Jockey)

12. Fear mongering.

13. Hate.

14. Sensational assertions.

15. Too good or too bad to be true.

16. Arguments that assert a conspiracy that would be hard to conceal -- one that would require the silent complicity of a large number of diverse people. (In real life, leaks happen, whistle-blowers surface, etc.)

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Richmond Shreve is a citizen journalist and former Senior Editor at He is a published author of fiction (Lost River Anthology, Amazon) and training materials (Instructor Candidate Manual, and A retired (more...)

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We're going to encourage all our editors and futur... by Rob Kall on Tuesday, Oct 13, 2009 at 12:02:27 PM
My only caveat would be that not all political wri... by Perry Logan on Tuesday, Oct 13, 2009 at 8:20:24 PM
All that you point out is well taken. Parody, sati... by Richmond Shreve on Tuesday, Oct 13, 2009 at 9:48:02 PM
My ability to concur with the information / advice... by Doc "Old Codger" McCoy on Tuesday, Oct 13, 2009 at 8:27:48 PM