Sunday, August 26, 2012

Bad Argument: the "lack of complaints" fallacy

A suspect scheme supporter may defend the scheme by touting how few complaints it had with legal authorities or agencies such as the BBB (that is, when they are not discrediting the BBB). It may take the following form:

S: Acme XYZ is not a scam! It has a million affiliates and only 8 complaints! 
Unfortunately, this is a fallacy of "appeal to ignorance". Just because there's lack of complaints doesn't prove the scheme's legit.

The fact that there had been few complaints could have variety of explanations... age (it may have just started), maturity (Ponzi schemes and pyramid schemes don't generate complaints until they stop paying), cult control (if you complain you are not one of us), and so on.

The best example of this fallacy is a bit of black humor.

A man goes to his guru and asked for advice... he needs to find a doctor for his ailing father, and he doesn't know who to trust. The guru thought for a moment, and handed him this special pair of glasses, and told him... This is a very special pair of eyeglasses. If you look at a doctor, you will see how many ghosts he has lined up behind him. Those are the spirits of the people that died under his care. I think this will help you. The guy thanked the guru profusely and left to look for doctors. After looking for a whole week, during which his father is getting worse, he looked at doctor after doctor using the special glasses, and he always saw dozens of ghosts behind each doctor. He finally settled on a young doctor who had only three spirits behind him, and put his father under this doctor's care. His father passed away the next day. The man was devastated and went to the guru for explanation.  The guru asked for the doctor's name, typed it into Google and said, "He just graduated from medical school three months ago!"

Okay, the joke sucks. I know. The point is, there are plenty of reasons for lack of complaints or "bad markers". That doesn't indicate good, or bad. No information simply means no information. It doesn't mean good, it doesn't mean bad. Nothing is nothing.

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