Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Argumentum ad whateverum

By Peter Bowditch

A guide to four fallacies that derail many debates about science.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

It’s not really surprising that many of the arguments used by people who oppose science and support pseudoscience fall into the category of logical fallacies. Some fallacies, however, are used so often that they are almost impossible to avoid in any discussion with true believers. Here are just four of them.

“No True Scotsman”

This is the tactic of denying the relevance of some unfortunate statement, action or event. A recent example in the news was of a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioner who recommended “slapping” therapy for a child who subsequently died from the beating. There were immediate claims that this was not a form of TCM, although the boundaries of TCM always seem so remote that almost any form of bizarre behaviour or concoction can fit within the genre.

A few years ago a naturopath in NSW was charged with manslaughter following the death of a child. The baby had been booked for emergency heart surgery, but the parents were convinced to cancel the surgery and have the baby treated “naturally”. While the trial was proceeding there were many cries from the alternative medicine industry of a “witchhunt”, but as soon as the verdict was handed down he was no longer considered a true naturopath despite having run a practice called “Naturopathy Clinic” for more than 20 years.

The use of this fallacy is not confined to the...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.