Over-Reporting the Facts


The argument proposes an explanation for a "fact" that is nonexistent, or the existence of which is doubtful. The arguer uncritically accepts as true the occurrence of events that are legendary, fictional, mythological, mere rumors or exaggerations, and, in any case, uncorroborated and unrepeatable.



"The parting of the Red Sea may have been caused by the planet Mars flying too close to the Earth, before it settled into its present orbit." [People who accept the literal truth of the Bible already have an adequate explanation of this event: it was caused by God. Those who question the explanation offered in the Bible should presumably also question whether the event even occurred.]


"The albino alligators in the sewers of New York are the descendents of tiny alligators sold to children as aquarium pets. When the baby alligators got too big, people got rid of them by flushing them down the toilet." [Cool as this story sounds, no one has actually seen alligators in the sewers of New York. Ever. This is one of the most famous examples of an "urban legend," i.e. a story that persists, not because there is any evidence for it--indeed it has been definitively refuted--but because people merely want to believe it.]


"Evolution is bunk. Dinosaurs existed at the same time as humans. There is a clear human footprint on top of a dinosaur footprint in an ancient streambed in Texas." [The presumed human footprint appears in the Paluxy River formation. The print is actually from a dinosaur that leaves a partial footprint similar to the heel of a human foot. Where the entire footprint is preserved (further along the same track) it can be seen to have three bird-like toes with sharp claws--clearly not human.]



Most of what we accept as fact is not based on personal observation. How could it be? In a single lifetime no human could see more than a tiny part of our planet and its history. The great strength of human civilization is that we have learned how to share our experiences. Each of us has a vast understanding of our universe and its history because we hear--and believe--reports of other people's experiences, through reading and conversations.

However, while we benefit overall from this marvelous ability to share experiences, our inclination to accept that certain things happened merely because we are told that they happened leaves us vulnerable to false reports. Sometimes we are told things that simply aren't true. Such false reports are not necessarily lies: some unconscious exaggeration is typical when events are re-told, so myths and legends tend to evolve slowly from more or less accurate accounts into implausible tales with a remote connection to the truth.

The fallacy of Over-reporting the Facts exploits our tendency to believe what we are told. In some cases we may not be able to spot the fallacy short of cross-checking the facts to make sure that they are accurate. However, in other cases we can spot the fallacy because the fact reported is simply implausible on its face, or is drawn from sources that should properly be considered unreliable.


Source: I named this fallacy myself. However, numerous contemporary writers on critical thinking describe this fallacy in the context of discussions on pseudo-science. My favorite account is in Robert Cogan, Critical Thinking Step by Step, New York: University Press of America, 1998.


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