(Misrepresenting the Facts)


The argument is based on incorrect information, i.e. the relevant facts presented in the argument simply aren't true.



Some sources emphasize not merely that the assertions made are false, but that they ae repeated over and over, even after being authoritatively debunked. Such sources refer to this fallacy as Argumentum ad Nauseum, or merely argument by repetition.



"Hundreds of postal workers have been killed by anthrax! To protect ourselves from terrorists, we should shut down the postal service and just use email." [In fact, five people were killed in 2001 by anthrax sent through the mail. There have since been a few scares, but no additional casualties.]


"NASA should quit sending missions to Mars. All of the Mars missions have crashed or gone off course, so it is clearly just a waste of money." [While there were a few specatular and highly publicized failures, most of the Mars missions have worked as planned, and several Mars rovers continue to send back data years after their expected demise.]


"I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down, and I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering." - Donald Trump (Nov. 21, 2015, at a rally in Birmingham, Ala., and repeated on subsequent occasions.) [The described "celebrations" never took place. There was no video of it, and Trump certainly didn't see it in person. Politifact rated this the Lie of the Year for 2015.]



This fallacy mimics good reasoning in the most direct possible way. It draws valid conclusions from valid principles. It errs only in drawing these conclusions from facts that just ain't so. Since we often cannot distinguish correct claims from incorrect claims without checking, examples of this fallacy look just like examples of good reasoning. Facts are cited in good reasoning also. The fallacy of Truthiness does not occur because facts were cited, but only because they were cited inaccurately. Since the exercises for a logic class are generally designed to be done without outside checking, there will be no exercises for this fallacy. However, it is important to realize that this is a frequently occurring fallacy. Indeed, I am quite sure that this is the single most common and important fallacy on my list, although it escapes the attention of most logicians, who probably consider it to fall outside the scope of logical theory per se.

This fallacy has been especially important in the current political climate, when political positions have been defined not only by a different approach to problems, but even by different beliefs concerning the relevant facts (e.g. whether most climate scientists agree that global warming is even occurring, whether the deficit is going up or down, whether the income gap between the very rich and the very poor is growing, whether there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, whether Obama was born in Kenya, etc.) The error of asserting "facts" that just aren't so, even in the face of persistent and authoritative fact-checking, has become so common that commedian Stephen Colbert was obliged to invent a new word, "truthiness," to describe errors of fact that nevertheless gain wide acceptance within certain political communities, merely because the error supports the political predispositions of that community, and because the error is fearlessly repeated ad nauseum.


Source: I coined the name "Misrepresenting the Facts," which I have always considered to be a boring and obvious name with few virtues other than that it describes the fallacy. On October 17, 2005, Stephen Colbert coined the word "truthiness," apparently just moments before the airing of his show, The Colbert Report, where the word was used to refer to errors of fact that are nevertheless confidently asserted as true in political discourse, as if differing political points of view entitle us to differing "facts." His term has since caught on, and now has broad recognition, while my term has continued to languish in obscurity.


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