Health & Medical Self-Improvement

Help - I've been Stoonked

In honour of Professor Thouless who inspired me in my teenage years with his book "Straight and Crooked Thinking".

Some time back I was asked by a plaintiff to a multi-million dollar lawsuit to provide an expert opinion.  As expected, the defendant to the legal proceedings provided an expert response to my report.  The defendant's expert report provided an executive summary which foreshadowed a contrary position to the position held by me (as expected).  After reading the summary I mused how the expert would support his summary positions in the body of the report using the physics that I knew and understood (and as taught by the institutions).

The body of the plaintiff's expert report simply made the same assertion as in the summary.  This was followed further in the report by "as indicated previously" as if he had properly disserted the contentious issue prior.  He had not done so throughout the report (100+ pages), instead, he presented the assertion again and again using different words.  The conclusion was a restatement of the original assertion found in the summary.

A respected and learned friend in the legal profession advised that in my rebuttal I must address each assertion and annotate "that does not follow from the foregoing" as often as an assertion was made.   Because the defendant's expert report committed so many other logic and honesty transgressions, the learnings are worth sharing. 

It is acknowledged that a sound conclusion may follow from a bad argument. However, such a process is beyond the scope here.  In addition, it is acknowledged that one can stoonk just from fuzzy thinking and an erroneous conclusion can result.  It becomes a question of motive.  Deliberate stoonking is dishonest.  Some of the fallacies below may help in improvement of critical thinking also.  The list is not exhaustive.

Repeated Affirmation
  • A position here is expressed over and over.  Often the words used that reveal details of the position vary, so disguising the technique. 
  • If the first expression is not properly established then subsequent statement of the same assertion does not improve it.

 

Irrelevant Authority
  • "Everyone in the street can tell you that it is so." or variants thereof are popular tools of persuasion by irrelevant authority.   Simply refuse "everyone" as an authority on the matter at hand.
  • "I have three degrees and I ought to know."  One hopes the study majors match the issue at hand or it is also an irrelevant point.  
  • Unless the opinion is from a shared authority on the subject it should be discounted.

Anecdotal Opinion
  • "I've been doing this for 10 years and it has never failed" or variants thereof fail the scientific rigour needed for proper argument.
  • "Hasn't done Fred any harm".  Statistics based on n=1 are inadequate.  The statement lacks evidence of the existence of a control group or any other scientific basis.
  • Simply refuse to accept isolated anecdotes and insist on aggregation of many anecdotes.

Claim of Exception
  • When a lofty position is rebutted by a clear example, the Stoonker's technique is to claim that the example is the exception to the rule.

Analogy Extension
  • The value of an analogy lies in its ability to make a complex problem more understandable.  Most analogies break down at some point where the analogy no longer explains the material issue.  Beyond this point the analogy is useful for research and not suitable for support of the argument. 
  • The Stoonker uses the uncharted area of an analogy to do his persuading.

Choice Between Spaced Alternatives
  • Choice is often on a continuum.  If the Stoonker can trick you into choosing any one item in this continuum then it is a lot easier to attack than would be to deal with a continuum of choices. 
  • To defeat this game simply show that there are more choices than suggested.

Personalization
  • This device is particularly nasty.  The Stoonker attacks you personally rather than your position on the issue. 
  • Unless you want to allow the argument to degenerate into a slanging match, do not fall into the trap of counter-attack but simply note the unprofessional conduct of the Stoonker and move on to deal with your position as normal.

Triplet
  • A triplet is a powerful persuasion technique where three statements are made one after another.  Sometimes the triplet is merely repeated affirmation, the choice of words varied so as to disguise the nothing statements. 
  • A favourite for Politicians and Statesmen to rally emotive support for their position. 
  • If the three statements have prior established substance, a triplet makes an ideal closing summary.

Gender specification above is for convenience only and may be viewed as applicable to both genders.

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