Infographic of the Week: Logical Fallacies

Your Logical Fallacy Is ...

Oh, the debates, the DEBATES! I don’t think a week goes by, often not even a day goes by, without the issue arising of the importance of critical thinking in health literacy. With respect to patients, this goes back at least hundreds of years.

“Grant that my patients have confidence in me and my art and follow my directions and my counsel. Remove from their midst all charlatans and the whole host of officious relatives and know-all nurses, cruel people who arrogantly frustrate the wisest purposes of our art and often lead Thy creatures to their death.” Daily Prayer of a Physician, attributed to Maimonides, but probably written by Marcus Herz. This prayer first appeared in print in 1793.

Don’t assume, however, that this applies only to patients or the public — it comes up just as often in the context of clinicians, faculty, researchers, and students. Especially students. You probably remember the famous quote misattributed to Socrates about the failings of the “younger generation.”

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.” Wikiquote: Youth Nowadays

The parallel in medical education is the claim that the students have never learned to think critically, that they trust what they read without considering its potential flaws, that they lack the skills to examine the credibility of a piece of research, and so forth. The first time I remember hearing this was a few months into my first professional job from an Asian-American faculty emeritus at Northwestern’s Medical School. It was one of his favorite topics, and I heard it a lot. As a librarian, I tend to stand still and listen when the faculty emeritus start talking, and I’ve learned a lot that way. While he was the first, he was far from the last, and the topic has come up over and over again at all levels from many types of people, and in venues from face-to-face to professional presentations to informal Twitter chats and Facebook comments, alongside the parallel claim that medical faculty don’t know how to teach.

“Equally with the school as an organization, the teacher has felt deeply the changed conditions in medical education, and many of us are much embarrassed to know what and how to teach…. To winnow the wheat from the chaff and to prepare it in an easily digested shape for the tender stomachs of first and second year students taxes the resources of the most capable teacher.” William Osler, 1899.

In the context of all of this, I found this week’s infographic, Thou Shalt Not Commit Logical Fallacies,” not only delightful, but also so useful that when it comes down from my door it is going up on the wall inside my office! I’m hoping to use it as a kind of checklist against which to check my ideas for sound reasoning. Chances are I won’t do this as often as I should, but even doing it occasionally should be helpful in the long run. One of the things I like about the web site is that it goes beyond the infographic distillation of concepts, and gives more details about each logical flaw individually.

Your Logical Fallacy Is ... Slippery Slope

Slippery Slope is one I see used a great deal these days in conversations around personal genomics, but that’s a topic for another day. For now, I hope you enjoy “Your Logical Fallacy Is … ”

Thou Shalt Not Commit Logical Fallacies, (a.k.a. “Your Logical Fallacy Is”)


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