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False Equivalence: The Problem with Unreasonable Comparisons

False equivalence

It is a logical fallacy and it occurs when someone incorrectly asserts that two or more things are equal because they share some characteristics, regardless of the notable differences between them.

For example, saying that cats and dogs are the same type of animal because they're both mammals and have a tail.

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False Equivalence: The Problem with Unreasonable Comparisons

False Equivalence: The Problem with Unreasonable Comparisons

https://effectiviology.com/false-equivalence/

effectiviology.com

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Key Ideas

The problem with false equivalence

  • The equivalence exaggerates the degree of similarity. I.e, stating that two people share a specific personality trait, but ignoring that they differ in other aspects of this trait.
  • The equivalence exaggerates the importance of the similarity. I.e, focusing on a personality trait that two people share while ignoring that many other people also share this trait.
  • The equivalence ignores important differences.
  • The equivalence ignores differences in orders of magnitude. 

Responding to a false equivalence

  • Show that the similarities between the things being equated are exaggerated, overemphasized, or oversimplified.
  • Highlight the differences between the things being equated. 
  • Explain why these differences are more significant than related similarities.
  • Provide counterexamples.
  • Ask your opponent to justify why they believe that their equivalence is valid, and then demonstrate the issues with the reasoning they provide.

Comparisons and equivalence

  • Not every comparison is an equivalence; it’s possible to compare things without suggesting that they are equal to one another.
  • Not every equivalence is false and can even be reasonable.
  • Not every false equivalence is intentional.
  • Equivalence is subjective; it’s not always possible to clearly determine whether a specific equivalence is false or not.

Avoiding false equivalences

If you’re unsure about whether an equivalence that you’re thinking about is reasonable or not, try to highlight the differences between the things that you’re equating, and ask yourself whether the equivalence still holds.

False balance fallacy

It happens when there are two or more opposing positions on a certain topic, and you assume that the truth must rest somewhere in the middle. False balance can be a result of a false equivalence when two sides are presented as being equal, and the terms are used interchangeably, even though they are not.

For instance, in a group interview, equal weight is given to the opinions of two opposing interviewees, one of whom is an established expert, and the other a false authority with no valid credentials.

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Basic structure of an argument from incredulity

Premise 1: I can’t explain or imagine how proposition X can be true.

Premise 2: if a certain proposition is true, then I must be able to explain or imagine how that can be.

It’s ok to be incredulous

... and to bring this up as part of an argument. The issue with doing so occurs when this incredulity isn’t justified or supported by concrete information, and when this lack of belief is used in order to assume that a preferred personal explanation must be the right one, despite the lack of proof.

At the same time, it’s also important to remember that it’s possible that the person using the argument from incredulity is right, despite the fact that their reasoning is flawed.

Counter the argument from incredulity
  1. Explain why this sort of reasoning is fallacious: namely the fact that your opponent’s inability to explain a certain phenomenon or to understand a certain theory, does not invalidate current explanations for it.
  2. Shift the burden of proof back to your opponent: ask them to support their initial assertion, and explain why they are incredulous, and why they think that this validates their position.
  3. If possible, you should show that there is scientific evidence that can be used in order to explain the phenomenon that’s being discussed. 

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Cherry picking

It is a logical fallacy and it happens when we choose and focus only on evidence that supports our views and arguments while ignoring anything that may contradict us.

The problem with cherry picking
  • It fails to take into consideration all the available information
  • It presents information in a misleading way.
  • It might lead to improper analysis and might cause someone to paint a misleading picture of a certain outcome.
The principle of total evidence

Also referred to as Bernoulli’s maxim, it states that, when assessing the probability that a certain hypothesis is true, we must take into account all the available information.

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Fallacies

A fallacy is the use of faulty reasoning in an argument.

There are formal and informal fallacies:

  • A formal fallacy describes a flaw in the construction of a deductive ar...
Appeal to privacy

In this fallacy, someone behaves in a way that negatively affects others but then gets upset when others criticize their behavior. They will reply with a "mind your own business."
For instance, someone who doesn't see a reason to bathe, but then boards a full 10-hour flight.

Sunk cost fallacy

It happens when someone continues in a course of action, even if evidence shows that it's a mistake.

Common phrase: "We've always done it this way, so we'll keep doing it this way." "I've already invested so much..."

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