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Welcome! This is the place to ask the community of experts and other fallacyophites (I made up that word) if someone has a committed a fallacy or not. This is a great way to settle a dispute! This is also the home of the "Mastering Logical Fallacies" student support.


Dr. Bo's Criteria for Logical Fallacies:

  1. It must be an error in reasoning not a factual error.
  2. It must be commonly applied to an argument either in the form of the argument or in the interpretation of the argument.
  3. It must be deceptive in that it often fools the average adult.

Therefore, we will define a logical fallacy as a concept within argumentation that commonly leads to an error in reasoning due to the deceptive nature of its presentation. Logical fallacies can comprise fallacious arguments that contain one or more non-factual errors in their form or deceptive arguments that often lead to fallacious reasoning in their evaluation.

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David Blomstrom

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David Blomstrom


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Thu, Aug 30, 2018 - 06:48 PM

"10,000 people can't keep a secret!"

I can't remember the details of this discussion, but it went something like this:

Mr. A claims that the government wanted to test the effects of an atomic explosion on soldiers, so 10,000 (it was probably closer to 1,000) soldiers were transported into the desert to witness an atomic test.

Mr. B says "That wasn't a conspiracy, because it's impossible for 10,000 soldiers to keep a secret!"

Of course, this assumes the soldiers were told "Hey, guys, this is a conspiracy! We're going to tell the public that this is just a military drill, but we're actually going to test a new science fiction weapon on you."

Of course, one could speculate that Mr. B is just an idiot who really believes what he's saying. But for the sake of this question, let's say he's a propagandist who's deliberately making up an invalid argument.

Also, U.S. troops have probably witnessed more than one atomic blast, and I don't know what they were told in each specific instance. Again, this is a hypothetical example where the soldiers were NOT told they were being used as guinea pigs.

What kind of fallacy would this qualify as?



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2 Answers

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Author of Logically Fallacious

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Bo Bennett, PhD

Author of Logically Fallacious

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About Bo Bennett, PhD

Bo's personal motto is "Expose an irrational belief, keep a person rational for a day. Expose irrational thinking, keep a person rational for a lifetime."  Much of his charitable work is in the area of education—not teaching people what to think, but how to think.  His projects include his book, The Concept: A Critical and Honest Look at God and Religion, and Logically Fallacious, the most comprehensive collection of logical fallacies.  Bo's personal blog is called Relationship With Reason, where he writes about several topics related to critical thinking.  His secular (humanistic) philosophy is detailed at PositiveHumanism.com.
Bo is currently the producer and host of The Humanist Hour, the official broadcast of the American Humanist Association, where he can be heard weekly discussing a variety of humanistic issued, mostly related to science, psychology, philosophy, and critical thinking.

Full bio can be found at http://www.bobennett.com
Print Fri, Aug 31, 2018 - 06:01 AM
Let's break this down into a simple argument:

Mr. A: "The government wanted to test the effects of an atomic explosion on soldiers, so X number of soldiers were transported into the desert to witness an atomic test."

Mr. B: "That wasn't a conspiracy, because it's impossible for X number soldiers to keep a secret!"

Several problems with this response:

1) Mr. B is making an unjustified claim using hyperbole (that it is "impossible").
2) Mr. B has committed a non-sequitur because keeping a secret isn't a necessary condition for a conspiracy to have taken place (we know about actual conspiracies because people involved did NOT keep secrets).
3) Mr. B just appears to be a poor communicator who does not know how to properly address conspiratorial claims.

Mr B. should have asked/replied:

1) What is your evidence that X number of soldiers were transported into the desert to witness an atomic test?
2) Many military personnel have witnessed atomic tests. What is your evidence that the point of this was to "test the effects of an atomic explosion on soldiers" rather than something much less nefarious?
3) Assuming the goal was to "test the effects of an atomic explosion on soldiers," how do you know these soldiers did not volunteer for this after being warned of the risks?
4) We know humans are bad at keeping secrets. Given this, it is far more likely that this event never happened as you described than X number of people involved keeping this a secret for so long.
5) If this is true and you have all this evidence, why don't you seek justice for these soldiers and take this case up with the proper authorities and legal channels, rather than posting them on Internet conspiracy forums along side claims of the government being run by lizard people and claims that Sandy Hook shooting never really happened?

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Bryan

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Print Fri, Aug 31, 2018 - 03:42 AM
You say you can't remember the details, so was Mr A supposed to have said that it was a conspiracy to begin with? Otherwise I don't understand why the response would be that it isn't.

Then you appear to make an assumption that to be a conspiracy the subjects would need to be told it's a conspiracy. I don't understand how you arrive at this, nor who the conspiracy is against (as the conspiracy was never actually introduced, just rebutted), is it the soldiers or the public? I assume you mean the public but it would impact the soldiers not the public.

Calling Mr B an idiot appears to be poisoning the well, with a presupposition that he's wrong, when (if the conspiracy is supposedly against the public) he's got a point. Even if he was wrong, that doesn't mean it's a logical fallacy; not every wrong opinion is a logical fallacy.

The validity of the argument is predicated on human behaviour, not logic, and the higher the number of people involved in something secret (I really don't like the term conspiracy, the military and government don't have an obligation to declare what they're doing and doing so would be detrimental to the majority of their operations) the higher the chance of someone revealimg details to someone they shouldn't.

I don't know why you close with "again" and then provide details not previously mentioned. It might help if you clarified who the conspiracy was supposed to be against, though I'm not sure there's anything which would amount to that here. You might argue that "a secret plan which causes harm" would apply but then pretty much every military operation would be a conspiracy, where in reality it's simply chain of command and need to know.


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David Blomstrom
Friday, August 31, 2018 - 02:30:07 PM
@Bryan: I added ONE detail - the fact that the soldiers were NOT told they were going to be used as guinea pigs - to emphasize that my question describes a hypothetical example. Fact: One of the most common propagandist weapons against conspiracy theory is the allegation that large numbers of people can't keep secrets. That's a can of worms I don't even want to discuss here. The point is that mega-conspiracies don't necessarily involve large numbers of INFORMED players. As Henry Kissinger famously said, soldiers are just "dumb pawns" who follow orders.

Saying "10,000 people can't keep a secret" is fallacious reasoning if 10,000 people never knew any secrets to begin with.

In logic and philosophy, it's helpful to focus on simple hypothetical situations (e.g. 2+2=4) before branching into more complex real-life situations. I thus erred in making my question too complex.

What I meant to ask is this: Given a HYPOTHETICAL SITUATION where 10,000 soldiers were used as guinea pigs without their knowledge, and someone said there was no conspiracy because 10,000 people can't keep a secret, they're falsely insinuating that 10,000 guinea pigs knew they were guinea pigs. That's tantamount to a lie.

This fallacy is very common. For example, people often tell me there are no problems in Seattle's public schools because they don't hear any complaints. In fact, I worked for the Seattle School District for 16 years, and I was blown away by what I witnessed. However, teachers almost never talk about the stuff that goes on publicly for a number of reasons: 1) Most are like the soldiers in my example - too clueless to understand what's going on. 2) Others are too afraid to speak out. 3) Those who do speak out are simply ignored. The media won't give them the time of day, and they may be jeered by school officials and their own colleagues.

In summary, there's a LOT going on in any conspiracy, including a combination of fallacies, lies, lies of omission, etc. I'm trying to take it one step at a time by working with simple, hypothetical examples that allow us to focus on one specific fallacy at a time.

Claiming that claims of grand conspiracies are bogus because such conspiracies involve huge numbers of people who can't keep secrets are absurd. I'm trying to figure out what specific fallacy is at play here.

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Bryan
Friday, August 31, 2018 - 05:17:27 PM
David, you still haven't defined what the conspiracy is supposed to be in the first place, so you make it difficult to follow your line of reasoning. For 10,000 people to leak information about a conspiracy there do not need to be 10,000 people conspiring. The problem is that information about what occurred can be leaked.

Fact: One of the most common propagandist weapons against conspiracy theory is the allegation that large numbers of people can't keep secrets.
Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but that doesn't have any bearing on the validity of that "allegation" (not keeping a secret isn't exactly a crime).

In logic and philosophy, it's helpful to focus on simple hypothetical situations (e.g. 2+2=4) before branching into more complex real-life situations. I thus erred in making my question too complex.

Oh let's not go with 2+2=4, I've very recently had a series of ad hominem responses from people who don't understand why 2+2 can actually =5.

What I meant to ask is this: Given a HYPOTHETICAL SITUATION where 10,000 soldiers were used as guinea pigs without their knowledge, and someone said there was no conspiracy because 10,000 people can't keep a secret, they're falsely insinuating that 10,000 guinea pigs knew they were guinea pigs. That's tantamount to a lie.
I still don't understand why the response is that there's no conspiracy. Why mention that when there was no suggestion of a conspiracy to begin with? And what is the conspiracy that is being denied?

No, the soldiers do not have to be conspirators for information about this to be leaked. This is a problem of inference, not insinuation. And as for this being tantamount to a lie, if I were to use your logic I could respond that because you have made an unjustified inference then you are lying. Being wrong about something is not the same thing as lying.

This fallacy is very common.
It's not a fallacy. [edit: or perhaps I should say, I've yet to see a fallacy as you haven't given enough information]

For example, people often tell me there are no problems in Seattle's public schools because they don't hear any complaints. In fact, I worked for the Seattle School District for 16 years, and I was blown away by what I witnessed. However, teachers almost never talk about the stuff that goes on publicly for a number of reasons: 1) Most are like the soldiers in my example - too clueless to understand what's going on. 2) Others are too afraid to speak out. 3) Those who do speak out are simply ignored. The media won't give them the time of day, and they may be jeered by school officials and their own colleagues.

When you decide to call other people "too clueless to understand" or "idiots" you should probably make sure you have a solid position, otherwise you look like a bit of a dick and a hypocrite. Your example isn't really analogous to your weapons testing scenario, being too complacent, too dull, or too afraid to report things isn't really the same thing as not being allowed to discuss military activities, and having an incompetent, uncaring or possibly corrupt administration is not the same as conspiring to....I still don't know what the conspiracy is supposed to be.

In summary, there's a LOT going on in any conspiracy, including a combination of fallacies, lies, lies of omission, etc. I'm trying to take it one step at a time by working with simple, hypothetical examples that allow us to focus on one specific fallacy at a time.

A conspiracy may be founded on a fallacy that, for example, the money you handed over to an "investor" is going to be put into a fund instead of pay off someone a rung above you in a pyramid scheme, but I'm not sure that necessarily makes it a logical fallacy, rather you're talking about the definition where fallacy means "a mistaken belief". and you're in danger of getting into an equivocation fallacy. Unless, of course, you can give me an example of a logical fallacy which is the foundation of conspiracy.

Claiming that claims of grand conspiracies are bogus because such conspiracies involve huge numbers of people who can't keep secrets are absurd. I'm trying to figure out what specific fallacy is at play here.
I don't know, as you've still not defined what the conspiracy was I've been unable to assess whether there's a logical fallacy involved. While many, if not most, people are happy to make conclusions without enough information to allow a conclusion, I'm not.

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David Blomstrom
Friday, August 31, 2018 - 05:42:48 PM
@Bryan: I should have put more effort into condensing my question into a very simple hypothetical scenario, with less possibility of causing confusion. Still, I'm rather surprised that you can't figure out what the conspiracy is. Let me try to spell it out in plain English:

The government wanted to learn what effects an atomic explosion might have on the human body. So they detonated an atomic bomb in the presence of thousands of soldiers. There would have been no conspiracy if the soldiers had volunteered for the mission - but they didn't. They were told something bogus. Exactly what they were told doesn't matter in this HYPOTHETICAL example. The point is, they didn't know they were being used as guinea pigs.

In the meantime, you seem to be jumping through hoops in an attempt to obfuscate my question. In fact, I think this thread is ready to be buried.

I posted a new question @ https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/tools/qa/Bo/LogicalFallacies/mE4ahgtz/1_000_People_Can_t_Keep_a_Secret It's similar, but was more careful to make it simpler and easier to understand, with less chance for confusion.

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Bryan
Saturday, September 01, 2018 - 05:38:52 PM
@David Blomstrom:
I stated in my first post that it wasn't clear if you meant a conspiracy against the public (as the soldiers were apparently a risk of leaking it) or against the soldiers. It's not my fault that you can't explain yourself. I just said that I don't like drawing conclusions without sufficient details, and that includes me not jumping to conclusions and filling in the gaps.

Instead of being a smart arse you could have just said whether the conspiracy was against the public or the soldiers, and what it actually was.

Why oh WHY do you keep putting hypothetical in caps as though I'm somehow unable to grasp that it's a hypothetical? When I read your new post the fact that you did this several times, as though I had some sort of deficiency, rather got my back up. I put this aside and started to reply, then thought **** you and close the window. After a few minutes I decided to put aside your rudeness and answer, but as I was replying I again thought **** you and closed it.

Your new post is not the same as the above btw. Not at all. Next time you ask for assistance you may want to consider not being rude and you might get the response you're looking for.

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Bryan
Saturday, September 01, 2018 - 05:51:39 PM
@David Blomstrom:
also, you don't get to just consider things logical fallacies on the basis that someone disagrees with your opinion and you think they're an idiot. Grow up. Actually I think I'll be a little bit immature and I'm done with this place.

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David Blomstrom
Saturday, September 01, 2018 - 06:17:03 PM
@Bryan: I suggested that a player in a hypothetical example could be an idiot, and you do a backwards somersault out the window. You're the one who needs to grow up. Maybe someday, you'll have the courage to post under your real name.

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David Blomstrom
Friday, August 31, 2018 - 02:31:56 PM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: Generally good answer; you offered several ideas I never thought of. However, I erred in making my question too complex. I'm going to post a similar question that will be less confusing. Thanks.

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