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800px-Decoys

“Decoys” by V.H. Hatter, CC SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons. No endorsement implied.

The Phenomenon

The “fake news” phenomenon plays on highly predictable and prevalent weaknesses in human cognition: confirmation bias, ownership/endowment effects, and belief overkill using messages with high affective valence, usually negative. Emotions of fear, outrage, and suspicion typically are featured, but sometimes positive themes are used too, like appeals to feelings of patriotism or nostalgia for an idealized past. The images selected typically reflect whatever the emotional focus is, or whoever (or whatever, in the case of abstract institutions) is the target of that focus. There is no attempt at truthful communication. Sources are often described rather than named (think pizzagate’s “New York City police detective”, or phrases like “sources close to the Trump family”). Essentially, fake news stories follow the same sort of style as tabloid writing: sensationalistic, unverifiable, and over-the-top claims are made about publicly recognizable figures for money. That’s nothing new. Tabloid journalism has been around since papers started being printed. What’s “new” about fake news is that: (more…)

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Via Jan Albert van Laar’s post to the ARG-THRY mailing list:

Else Margarete Barth, emeritus professor in Analytic Philosophy at the
University of Groningen, has died on 6 January 2015. She was born in
Trondheim on 3 August 1928 and studied philosophy, physics, and mathematics
in Trondheim, Oslo (with Arne Naess), and Amsterdam (with Evert Willem
Beth). In 1971 she obtained a PhD from Leiden University, supervised by
Gabriël Nuchelmans. From 1971 to 1977 she was a lector in Logic at Utrecht
University and from 1977 to 1993 a professor in Analytic Philosophy at the
University of Groningen. Her main contributions to philosophy are in
argumentation theory, dialogue logic, formal semantics, and in the logical
analysis of authoritarianism. She was an outspoken advocate of women’s
rights in academia. Main publications include *The Logic of the Articles in
Traditional Philosophy* (1974), *From Axiom to Dialogue* (1982, with Erik
Krabbe), *Problems, Functions and Semantic Roles* (1986, with Rob Wiche),
*Women Philosophers: A Bibliography of Books* (1992), and *A Nazi Interior:
Quisling’s Hidden Philosophy* (2003). She leaves a husband.

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hacksetup

I’ve written on this blog before about the ways in which I think political discourse in the US serves democracy poorly. A recent article by David Gewirtz at ZDNet on the subject of the moral status of DDoS attacks has prompted me to write about this topic again.

Gewirtz writes in response to the arguments of Molly Sauter, of MIT’s Center for Civic Media. Sauter summarizes her project like this:

(more…)

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RIP: Jim Aune

With Jim Aune’s death, the discipline of rhetoric lost one of its bright lights this week.  Sincerest condolences to those who knew Prof. Aune, worked with him, learned from him, and wrote with him at The Blogora.

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Those acquainted with informal logic and argumentation will no doubt recognize Trudy Govier as one of the pioneers in the field.  RAIL is happy to report that her efforts have been recognized outside of the argumentation community too.  As the title of the post indicates, Prof. Govier has received the 2012 Distinguished Academic Award of the Confederation of Alberta Faculty Association (CAFA).  The full story can be found here.  Well deserved!

 
(Thanks to Cate Hundleby for bringing this to my attention!)

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Some RAIL readers may recall the fracas that developed between Peter Wood, of the NAS and AILACT around the end of 2011.  Unfortunately, it’s a fracas in which RAIL played a direct role–something I sincerely regret. Though I had written what I hoped was a moderate-in-tone post questioning Wood’s use of the term ‘critical thinking’ before this, it was a guest post by Don Lazere that really earned Wood’s anger in sufficient quantity for him to denounce both RAIL and AILACT in a post at the Chronicle of Higher Education website. Many members of AILACT, including myself, found Wood’s characterization of the organization and its conception of critical thinking in this post to be both unfair and inaccurate.  In order to respond to Wood’s charges, the Board of AILACT wrote the following reply, which appears in the organization’s April Newsletter.  It is reproduced here, in its entirety, by permission of the Board.  In addition to setting the record straight about AILACT and the sense of critical thinking it endorses, I hope that it sets the stage for a more constructive dialogue between AILACT and Wood, and with others who care about critical thinking and its place in higher education.

A Reply by the AILACT Board to Peter Wood’s CHE Comments on “Critical Thinking” (more…)

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I had thought that the increasing strategy of reductio ad absurdum in US politics was because so much of US politics is verging on the absurd.  However, the picture may be more complicated than that, and it’s nice to think there is some source for the problem we might address systematically.

A series of “joke amendments” provide reductios to abortion bills that have recently surged.  These “jokes”, such as the suggestion that vasectomies be illegal, are a serious move, argues Jessica Ogilvie in The Gloss.  They reveal inattention to the medical nature of abortion procedures.

“Legislating against it is just as fucked up as, say, legislating against heart surgery. Or prostate cancer surgery. Or…vasectomies.”

How does this happen?  She suggests it’s political inflation:

“When we talk about abortion, we get so caught up in the politics of it, as well as the philosophical questions it brings up (questions that would be better addressed in a house of worship or a college class than on a Senate floor, for the record), that we tend to lose sight of one important fact: abortion is a medical procedure.”

But what is the source of this inflation?  Everyone likes to think he or she is a moral expert and may caught up in the headiness of the debate.  How many philosophers avoid teaching the abortion debate because it is just so very heady?  Too many, I’d say.  I concur with Ogilvie that that’s a proper venue, and I’d add underused.

What allows us to lose sight of the medical nature of abortion, and the fact that it is a rare law that prohibits people from choosing what to do with their bodies, right or wrong, is the proliferation of discourse.  Politics has become self-sustaining and spun off from the concrete contexts that give it significance; likewise medical decisions can be assigned to physicians (as abortion used to be in Canada) instead of patients.  Such divergent discourses are harder to avoid in a classroom, or in the personal decision (as this joke card makes clear).

Thank goodness feminist lawyers are trained in critical thinking and strategic argumentation that aids the revelation of assumptions, such as the assumption that abortion is not a medical procedure.

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