Saturday, September 15, 2012

Bad Argument: "Shoehorning"

Metal shoehorn
Metal shoehorn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Ever run into people where every piece of data was somehow reinterpreted to someone "confirm" their world view, even though it has no relations at all, or even means the exact opposite? If so, you've encountered "shoehorning".

A "shoehorn" is a device, usually metal, but can also be made of hardwood, that helps you slip your foot into a relatively tight shoe. (see right). In this usage, we are talking about making unrelated facts, often a piece of news, fit your particular world view.

Here is an example. Say, you have a view that government is evil, in cahoots with "big biz". You run into this news that "government shuts down huge Ponzi scheme". Your reaction is likely to be "Government is just out to crush competition to big biz".

However, if you have a view that government is a force of good, and you run into the SAME news "government shuts down huge Ponzi scheme", then your reaction is likely "good job, now the victims can be compensated".

In other words, this is basically confirmation bias, except with current news.

However, shoehorning can get a bit drastic, and in a certain context, completely out of touch with reality.

Religious people are often famous for their impromptu shoehorning that attracts much controversy. Fundamentalist Christian personalities Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson have pronounced after 9/11 that it's all the libertarians and homosexuals and Godless people that caused the Gods to stop protecting us, and we deserved what we got because the courts cast out God.  They have no proof that what they say is right, but there's no way to disprove them either. They are just borrowing the spotlight on the event to somehow link it to their message / agenda.

Network marketers also infamous for "shoehorning" by linking their "offer" to news items. In the past, network marketers have used almost everything under the sun, such as an Obama campaign slogan, to market their own stuff (which prove to be a scam, kicked out of Georgia not long after).

Shoehorning is worse than confirmation bias, because confirmation bias at least deals with somewhat relevant stuff. Shoehorning is basically stuff that's completely unrelated, but the speaker somehow contrived an explanation.

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