All abuzz with fallacies

Over at the Blog of the APA, Mark Satta coins a new fallacy.1 He calls it the Buzz Aldrin fallacy, riffing on a quotation he attributes the astronaut:

When President Kennedy wanted to get to the moon, he didn’t invite poets and philosophers to the White House, he called upon scientists and engineers. That’s how you get stuff done.

This shifts from the obvious (that philosophers and poets don’t do the detail work of building rockets) to a sweeping claim (that calling scientists and engineers is what you do when you want to get stuff done). Satta supplies an implicature, reads it as an inference, and extrapolates a general pattern:

  1. Activity x does not contribute to goal y.
  2. Therefore, activity x is not valuable.

This is a fallacy, which he names and talks about. But here’s another fallacious pattern closer to the surface of the quotation:

  1. Activity z is the best way to accomplish goal y.2
  2. Therefore, activity z is the best way to accomplish goals.

To distinguish these, we might call the first the Negative Buzz fallacy and the second the Positive Buzz fallacy.

Both are often deployed by people who are taken and who take themselves to be great men:

A scientist with expertise in one field is seen as an expert on any matter whatsoever and answers every question as if it can be solved by their usual methods.

Someone who does very well in business comes to be seen as an expert on everything. They approach every problem as if it were a business problem in the industry where they made their fortune, and they deprecate any other kind of would-be expertise.3

I’ve made some distinctions in this post. That’s sometimes how you get stuff done.

A moon on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, via Wikimedia Commons
  1. I’ve added it to the list.
  2. I wrestled over whether to make this “a good way” or “the best way”. Either formulation would work here.
  3. It is worse when the person’s business accomplishments are fictions spun out of marketing and bravado, but that’s not really the point here.

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