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Morning Logic with Rob

Last night on the O’Reilly Factor, Bill O’Reilly aired a clip of an interview he conducted with Bill Maher. O’Reilly uttered something during that interview that I’ve heard numerous times over the years, repeated by a range of Republican politicians, and right-wing talking heads. The statement goes something like this: "We have not been attacked since September 11, 2001, so the Bush administration is doing a good job of keeping the country safe." In response to O’Reilly, Bill Maher described that statement is a logical fallacy.

There is a phrase in Latin that goes like this "cum hoc, ergo propter hoc" and means “with this, therefore because of this”. In other words, if x and y are occurring simultaneously, x must be the cause of y. Let’s take a more practical example, with some imagery to make things interesting. Right now, I’m looking out my window and observing the following:
"There is a breeze and children are playing. Therefore, the breeze causes children to play."
Sounds a little silly, doesn’t it? The children may have been lured outside to play because of the breeze, but their parents may have sent them outside, or they may have a new toy they want to try out. Now, let’s take our statement about the Bush Administration and reword it (note the meaning does not change):
"The Bush Administration is taking anti-terrorism measures, and we have not been attacked since 9/11, so these measures must be the reason for the lack of attacks."
It would appear that Bill Maher was correct. To conclude that the Bush Administration’s implementation of anti-terror policies is the reason we haven’t been attacked in over five years is a logical fallacy. It might be true that we haven’t been attacked since 9/11 because of the policies of the Administration, but it would be unwise, dangerous, and irresponsible to conclude that it is a certainty.

Comments

  1. Excellent, Robert. I applaud your analysis. It reminds me of an example portraing the difference between causative factors and associative factors (same logic).
    It goes like this: Since it was determined [in a study]that 99% of the people who had colon cancer also used tolet paper, it follows that the use of toilet paper causes colon cancer. (confusing an associative factor with causative factor).

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