Logical Fallacies and Your Health

Posted by Tyler J. Arsenault B.Sc (Nutrition) on 2017 Nov 10th

If you watch TV, listen to the news, speak with friends, spend time on social media, or worse yet; listen to politicians and marketers, then there is a near 100% chance that you`ve been exposed to at least one logical fallacy today. Logical fallacies lead us away from bright, vivid and clear understanding of our realities, to ignorant, false, misleading and poorly concluded alternatives.

Logical fallacies happen in every context and in every conceivable way. A logical fallacy is a pattern of reasoning that can be rendered invalid due to a flaw in its logical structure – an idea or belief that has great potential to be blatantly wrong. If someone is trying to state a position, conclude (or win) an argument, influence people, or (heaven forbid) pass laws and legislation that affect other people, it is imperative that this person understand these logical flaws (often they don’t). Moreover, it is crucial that YOU, the PERSON analyzing this information have the capability to separate truth from a poorly drawn conclusion. You may already be an expert logician, but I guarantee you that you know at least 1 person who isn’t, so please share this blog post with them to help them throw open the doors of truth by doing away with errors in thinking (try to be polite about it).

This graphic is the holy-grail of logical fallacies (you might want to enlarge it). Read it carefully, memorize it, and be prepared to critically evaluate information that comes to you. Chances are, you will encounter more logical flaws than you can imagine, and in doing so, have to press further in order to really discover the nearest version of truth.

credit: www.informationisbeautiful.net

Let’s look at a few common examples as they pertain to naturopathy and nutrition:

#1 Appeal to Anonymous Authority

They say soybeans cause cancer and cause men to grow breasts

Laugh if you will, but I hear this at least a few times per month. In fact, there is a rather large group of anti-soy people that will not eat soy for these reasons. Now, bearing in mind that soy is one of the most commonly produced genetically modified foods and is a global market worth several hundred million dollars, the actual evidence (assuming little bias) is that soy does not increase rates of cancer, but rather contains several compounds that are actually shown to reduce cancer. While there are always going to be studies demonstrating a positive correlation between soy consumption and cancer incidence, the vast majority of studies do not support this. Because soy contains isoflavones that are similar in structure to human estrogen, a great many men are also afraid that they will wake up to a full pair of breasts on their chest. Despite some fair reasoning, there is absolutely no evidence to support this. I’ve been consuming non-GMO soy for years and if my chiseled chest is anything to go by, I’m living proof of this myth ;)

The term “they say” (appeal to anonymous authority) used to apply to the bad luck that you would endure should you cross paths with a black cat, or break a mirror. Anonymous authority spouts all manner of nonsense that should routinely be unheeded.

Now if you want to get into the ethics or health issues of genetically modified foods including soy; that is another set of issues entirely, and one worth discussing in depth.

#2 Appeal to Money

This vitamin D costs 6 times as much as the other one; so it has to be better right?

Supplement companies are notorious for using this classic fallacy to sell things of lesser quality (or quantity) at a higher price and vice versa. Due to the complex and technical nature of nutriceutical supplements, this practice is rather easy to accomplish with most consumers and even easier if they have a good marketing budget to do their peddling.

I have seen my fair share of overpriced products, but as always – the key word is “value”. Getting the most bang from your buck is always possible. At Full Circle, if it doesn’t offer good value, we don’t have it. A careful balance of quality ingredients in the right quantity at a low cost is the golden rule we follow.

#3 Appeal to Nature

Naturally sourced vitamins are always better

Without even getting into the reasons why this sentence is SO SO SO wrong right out the gate, the reality is that this is simply not true. I could write an essay on this topic alone, so if you’d like me to elaborate please come and visit us and I’d be happy to answer your questions. This is a topic layered with so many technicalities, nuances, word plays and caveats that it would take a whole weekend to sift through the mess that supplements marketers have made of this topic.

#4 Anecdotal Evidence

I took magnesium before bed yesterday and it kept me awake all night. I’m quite certain that I must be allergic to magnesium and I’m going to tell everyone I know to never take magnesium before bed.

Just no. Not possible. Perhaps it was the coffee? The chocolate? The zombie flick that you just watched? The busy day you just had? The humidity in your room? The fact that you woke up late that morning? Any number of coincidences that are more scientifically feasible than one that not only makes zero physiological sense but that is literally impossible from an immunological basis? If you were allergic to magnesium, I’m certain you’d probably by dead already, or at the very least, a human with a medical anomaly the likes of which we have never seen.

Anecdotes are neat little coincidences and experiences that we can share with other people, but we have to be careful to be certain that we’ve established a cause and effect relationship, which is unlikely unless you’ve carefully controlled the experiment using a double-blind placebo controlled method with you and at least 100 friends to form an adequate sample size.

#5 Straw Man Argument

“Naturopaths promote natural solutions to prevent cancer? So you’re saying they’re against using REAL medicine like chemotherapy and radiation?”

Yes, naturopaths recommend all manner of strategies to prevent their patients from developing a variety of diseases. That does not mean that they have chosen 1 method of managing the health of their patients while abandoning all others including conventional medicine. The position that naturopathic doctors only use natural medicines does not mean they are opposed to conventional medicine. Alas, many a flaming argument has ensued as a result of this simple fallacy.

Straw Man Arguments arise when a person distorts or simplifies a person’s position and then attacks that distorted position. Not cool man – not cool.

So there you have it; this is the world we live in. A world where we act and react according to poorly drawn logical conclusions either committed by us or by others. In my opinion, logical fallacies steal away truths, promote ignorance, and facilitate injustice – I cry a little bit inside whenever I hear them. If you haven’t already, spend some time learning about them, and share them with that special someone who needs it. As always, thanks for reading!