Here at Open Culture, we like to think we keep discussions reasonable. Not every site can say that; if you’ve ever dared to scroll down into the comments on Youtube (to pick an example purely at random) you know what I mean. But on that very same repository of streaming videos and shouting matches, you can also find a helpful aid to your debates both online and off: PBS Idea Channel’s “Guide to Common Fallacies.”
When humans talk, sometimes we adhere to the rules of logic, and sometimes we break from them. In everyday life it doesn’t matter that much either way, but, in the heat of an argument, and especially amid the potential conflagration of an internet argument, consistency is all. Under such conditions, someone who commits even a common logical fallacy may well do so without realizing it, and if you feel like educating them, you can reply with a link to whichever of these videos covers the fallacy they used:
- Moving the Goal Posts Fallacy
- The Fallacy Fallacy
- The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy
- The Strawman Fallacy
- The Ad Hominem Fallacy
- The Black and White Fallacy
- The Authority Fallacy
- The “No True Scotsman” Fallacy
Host Mike Rugnetta (whom you might remember from the previous Idea Channel video we featured, “Math Might Not Actually Exist”) breaks down the fallacy in question, accompanying his explanation with a visual stream of illustrations, clips from movies, TV, and video games — and of course those mainstays of comment threads, animated GIFs. And he doesn’t just explain, he demonstrates, staging a short debate with a straw-filled, shoddily arguing version of himself each and every time.
Logic has always struck me as an inherently fascinating subject, and these videos certainly provide quick and funny hits of it. I do have my doubts as to whether they’ll actually help anyone win an argument. So point out others’ logical fallacies if you must, but bear in mind that you might be the only one who learns anything as a result.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture as well as the video series The City in Cinema and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.