Occasional series: Logical fallacies 1: ‘Ad populum’

“Our kitchens prepare great meals! 10,000 flies can’t be wrong!” – Ronnie Scott

Witchhunt - Sen. Joe McCarthy - the demagogue's demagogue

One of the suggestions that is repeated here regularly is that leadership can often require ‘moderation’ skills.

That people in a leadership role can use social media as a tool as long as they can encourage lots of people (many of whom would never know your direct phone number) to describe the problems that challenge you more accurately than you can do yourself.

That they can break the monopoly of advice that your formal circles exercise.

It allows you to… er…. ‘think outside the box’. (OK – shoot me!)

A good moderator welcomes a wide range of inputs – as long as they’re useful. This means having the right ground-rules and rewarding useful behaviour. It also means knowing how to recognise arguments and eliminate the useless ones.

So, in the first of an occasional series, I’m going to offer a brief spotlight on the most common fallacies that are used in structuring arguments. There are loads here, but I’ll offer a few extra observations on each one here.

1: Argumentum ad populum

You’ll know this one – the classic tool of the demagogue. Power to the people!  The government is spending our money. This war is Not In My Name!

“Are you telling me that <insert popular belief> is wrong? Are you saying that millions of people are stupid?”

It’s the reason that politicans are right to keep all petitions that they receive in the round file.

I mention this particular fallacy now because I’ve just read this post from Peter Levine about how democracy doesn’t need to just be an expression of the popular will. It’s worth a look.

In the meantime, if you see an example of this in a comment thread or in a forum, it may be worth simply ignoring the content of the comment and replying with a link to the ad populum Wikipedia page – after all, it must be the best description of this fallacy as some great people collaborated to write it, right?

One thought on “Occasional series: Logical fallacies 1: ‘Ad populum’

  1. One we heard a lot recently – and that seemed to work – was “AV is only used by Australia, Easter Island and Mordor” (or wherever it was).

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