More logical fallacies in planning policy

A couple of weeks ago, Todd Litman made a blog entry on logical fallacies in planning.*<span>   </span>After looking at the list of possible fallacies at the end of his post, I thought I would show some (hopefully not too common) examples of these fallacies: <p class="MsoNormal"> <strong>Ad hominem</strong> (arguing against the person rather than the argument) – “Smart growth is in the U.N&#39;s Agenda 21 so we have to fight it to stop the U.N&#39;s plan to socialize the world.”<span>  </span>“Concern about urban containment is just another example of Tea Party extremism.” </p> <p class="MsoNormal"> <strong>Anageon</strong> (relying on inevitability)- “Sprawl is inevitable, so there’s nothing we can do about it.” </p>

Read Time: 3 minutes

April 5, 2012, 5:25 PM PDT

By Michael Lewyn @mlewyn


A couple of weeks ago, Todd Litman made a blog entry on
logical fallacies in planning.*   After
looking at the list of possible fallacies at the end of his post, I thought I would show some
(hopefully not too common) examples of these fallacies:

Ad hominem (arguing against the person rather than the
argument) – "Smart growth is in the U.N's Agenda 21 so we have to fight it to stop the U.N's plan to socialize the world."  "Concern about urban
containment is just another example of Tea Party extremism."

Anageon (relying on inevitability)- "Sprawl is inevitable,
so there's nothing we can do about it."

Anecdotal evidence (relying on one example that might not be
probative)- "Suburbs are all turning into slums.  Just look at Central Islip [the low-income Long Island suburb where I work]."  "Density causes crime.  Just look at the South
Bronx."

Fallacy of composition (assuming that what is true of one
part is true of the whole)- "Since Central Islip is full of foreclosed houses, suburbia must be going downhill."
"There are some neighborhoods in St.
Louis City
that are really scary, so you should live in the suburbs."

Fallacy of division (assuming that what is true of the whole
must be true of the parts): "We live in a car-dependent nation, so we need to
have most of downtown occupied by parking lots." "The city of Chicago has been losing population for
decades, so hardly anyone wants to live downtown."

False dilemma (assuming that there are only two possible
alternatives, when in fact there are more): "Since most people don't want to
live in high-rises, suburban sprawl is what they really want."  "Because the book of Genesis says God won't
destroy humanity completely, global warming must be harmless."

Hasty generalization (making a generalization based on a
small sample): "Downtown condos in city X are suffering from the recession, so
obviously there's no evidence of an increase in city living."

Historian's fallacy (assuming decisionmakers in the past
knew what we knew now)-  "The people who
supported the interstate highway program must have known that it would create
sprawl."

Judgmental language (using perjorative language to influence
a reader's judgment)- "Obama and his socialist Chicago machine support high-speed rail." "Smart
growth means we'll all be crammed in apartments like rats in a cage."

Meaningless statement (too vague to be agreed or disagreed
with)- "You can't stop progress."

Nirvana fallacy (comparing actual things with unrealizable
alternatives): "You can't un-invent cars or suburbs, so we better keep building
highways and putting cars first."

Pathetic fallacy (treating inanimate objects as if they had
human emotions): "We need more environmental regulation because the Earth is
angry at us."

Politician's fallacy (because something should be done about
a problem, a particular remedy is necessary): "We must do something about
traffic congestion, so we must widen the roads."  "We must do something about climate change,
so we should build a new light rail line instead."

Retrospective determinism (because something happened it was
bound to happen): "American cities have declined, so sprawl was inevitable no
matter what policies we followed."

Straw man (attacking a position that isn't really your
opponent's position): "The smart growth lobby wants everyone to live in
high-rises, so its goal is impractical."

*http://www.planetizen.com/node/55540


Michael Lewyn

Michael Lewyn is an associate professor at Touro College, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center, in Long Island. His scholarship can be found at http://works.bepress.com/lewyn.

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