The Logical Fallacy With No Name (Edit: Nope, Has a Name)

At least, not a name I could find on this handy list of fallacies.

Hopefully, that means I get to name it myself. I’d like to call it “the Aaron Fallacy”, because I’m writing this post, and because the person who brought it to my attention was also named Aaron (though he was not me). But it seems counterproductive to have a fallacy named after oneself, so instead, I will call it “the Fallacy of Trust”.

(Edit: Shoot, Murray Gell-Mann beat me to the punch. As did Michael Crichton. Still, no point in taking the rest of this down. Maybe it still contains insight?)

The Fallacy of Trust

The Fallacy of Trust occurs when a person who is an expert on foreign policy picks up a newspaper, flips to the foreign policy section, and cries out “balderdash!”

This isn’t the problem. The problem is that the same person will often read the rest of the newspaper without complaint, quietly updating their opinions bit by bit.

Meanwhile, the expert on local politics will cry out “balderdash!” in the local-politics section, but read about foreign policy without complaint.

If we assume that the newspaper is mostly wrong on both topics, then neither expert is gathering information very effectively.

This fallacy, strangely enough, looks like a failure to apply another fallacy — the genetic fallacy, which states that you can’t always judge qualities of things based solely on their source material. Refusing to eat cake when you are allergic to flour is not the genetic fallacy; buying “old-fashioned” cake mix because you trust the wisdom of the ancients is the genetic fallacy.

Man with newspaper

If you don’t shout “balderdash!” in public at least twice a day, you may be too trusting.

The Fallacy of Trust also mixes in the very simple fallacy of the Argument from Authority — listening to “experts” because they are experts, rather than fairly considering the merits of their arguments. First, we trust the authoritative newspaper. Second, we fail to update our beliefs about the trustworthiness of the newspaper once we notice its failure to inform us properly on one subject.

Lowering the amount by which we trust newspapers when they let us down is emphatically not the genetic fallacy; even when two sections of a newspaper are written by different people, the process by which content is generated will be similar, as well as the depth of fact-checking.

(If we have prior information that this is not the case — for example, that our paper offers great investigative reporting and poor sports reporting — we might be justified in trusting some sections more than others.)

One thought on “The Logical Fallacy With No Name (Edit: Nope, Has a Name)

  1. Pingback: Privileging the Story // Do I Trust Journalism? - Alpha Gamma

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