Thursday, May 3, 2012

The "it paid me" argument

Bernard Madoff's mugshot
Bernard Madoff', the biggst Ponzi schemer
to hit the US. Nobody believed it, until it was revealed.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One of the most used arguments to counter a critic is the "It paid me" argument. However, this argument is fallacious on multiple levels, it should be considered with extreme suspicion whenever you see it. This argument can also appear in several variants, and recognizing this may be difficult.

 Here is an actual example, in response to an article I wrote about TVI Express scam:
[Kaloy wrote]:I just exited my 1st P450,000 pesos from the so called "scam" and will going to take my vacation soon he he. Thank you Lord for TVI Express!
This is referring to TVI Express,  a scam organized from India, convicted on multiple continents from 2009 to 2011 with dozens of people sent to jail. Yet this comment was posted in March 2012, from the Philippines where this scam is still thriving.

There are two interpretations to this statement: a) it paid me therefore it's not a scam, or b) it paid me therefore I don't care if it's a scam or not.  Thus, the reply can be considered an "equivocation fallacy" because the author never did explain just exactly what was meant by his response. Was it meant as refutation, or a 'so what' remark?

Let's study both interpretations.

Interpretation a) it paid me therefore it cannot be a scam

This version is a true logical fallacy that can be tackled on many levels.

Simplest way is to cite a counter-example, where a scam paid people. Pyramid scheme and/or Ponzi scheme will pay *some* people for extended periods of time. Bernard Madoff's Ponzi lasted almost 20 years, and may have gone on even longer had the economy not tanked.

It can also be considered a straw man argument, where the author considered "scam" to be only "it took my money and didn't pay me", instead of the broad range of scam that includes pyramid scheme.

It can also be considered a fallacy of composition. It may not be a scam "to him", but his experience does NOT indicate complete truth, i.e. "if it's not a scam to me, then it's not a scam (to everybody)."

Any way you dice this, it's a logical fallacy.

Interpretation b) it paid me therefore I don't care if it's a scam

This version is an opinion, not a refutation of the original premise. It is equivalent to "so what?"

The whole thing is either irrelevant or false. Thus, the argument is extremely fallacious.

Variants of this argument includes grandiose promises of income, such as

  • I made $10000 this month!  (implied: so can you!)
  • It changed my life! (implied: and yours too!)
  • This trip I got was fabulous! (implied: why not you?)
Indeed, EVERY warning about get-rich-quick schemes warns you about not trusting incredible promises, even if made by individuals that you trust. They may have been deceived into believing in "fallacy of composition": if they can do it, anybody can, when that is simply not true. 

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  1. Not sure u'll understand portuguese... but this articles talks about same thing related to MonaVie in Brazil ... It's worth it

    1. There's always Google translate. :D But the article doesn't say anything about income claims, it's just a general overview of the "dark side" of Mona Vie.