« The Heavy Make-Out Sessions of V. Plame, CIA Agent | Main | Protestwarrior.Com Poster Images »

July 17, 2004

Logical Fallacies, Illustrated by Critics of IQ Tests

Via Instapundit, I found kimberly Swygert's list of logical fallacies using IQ testing as a running example, she having been inspired by Nizkor's list of logical fallacies, which uses Holocaust Denial for its examples. I've edited down her post to the version below, not bothering with ellipses.

Appeal to an Unnamed Authority.

This fallacy is committed when a person asserts that a claim is true because an expert or authority makes the claim and the person does not actually identify the expert. Since the expert is not named or identified, there is no way to tell if the person is actually an expert. Unless the person is identified and has his expertise established, there is no reason to accept the claim.

As in, "Critics say tests are biased toward minorities." Simple, to the point - and wrong.

* "Early psychometricians were white men, so they must have been racist." (Ad Hominem fallacy.)

* "Most teachers oppose standardized testing, so it must be wrong." (Appeal to Belief and Biased Sample fallacy.)

* "This standardized test upset an elementary school student, therefore it is wrong." (Appeal to Pity fallacy, at which Michael Winerip is an expert.)

* "I don't take tests well, so there's no way the SAT could predict my college grades." ( Relativist Fallacy.)

* "It was in the news this week that there was a scoring error on the PRAXIS; ETS must make a lot of those errors." (Spotlight fallacy.)

* "You're a psychometrician, so of course any argument you make in support of testing must be taken with a grain of salt." (Circumstantial Ad Hominem, not to mention surreal.)

* The "Live By the Statistics, Die By the Statistics" argument.

Evidence suggest X cannot be true, thus, Y must be true regardless of evidence.

This occurs when testing critics argue the inappropriateness of using a standardized test for predictive purposes, allegedly because the correlation of the test score with the dependent variable is "too low," but then suggest alternatives (such as interviews or essays) with no corresponding data to show that these alternatives are better predictors (as demonstrated here). This seems like a twisted alternative to the Burden of Proof fallacy; because testing critics have (they believe) provided proof that a test is not good enough, this relieves them of any obligation to provide proof that the alternatives they suggest are any good.

* The "Emotionally-charged Yet Undefined Word" fallacy.

X is true, even though no one knows what X is.

The obvious example here is bias, a word which is used in every article critical of standardized tests, yet is rarely properly defined.

* The "800-Pound Gorilla In the Room" fallacy.

The cause of A must be anything other than what is most awkward to admit is the cause of A.

This is related to the Confusing Cause and Effect fallacy, in which one assumes that because A and B regularly occur together, A is the cause of B, and the Post Hoc fallacy, in which A occurs before B, therefore A must be the cause of B. But in the testing critic version, even when A and B always occur together and A always predates B, it must be true that A cannot be the cause of B. This happens when someone observes that, for example, poor teaching based on ill-defined concepts and "progressive" ideas often predate poor test scores, yet testing critics will claim that home life, discipline issues - indeed, anything except the curriculum - must be the cause of the low scores. It hardly needs to be said that this is also related to the Wishful Thinking fallacy.

* The "Omniscient Observer" fallacy.

Item X was created for Person A. Person B cannot solve Item X; therefore, Item X is not appropriate for Person A.

I'm thinking here of the logical fallacy that led reporters and observers to assume that because Governor Bush (who hasn't taken geometry in 30 years and doesn't use the stuff in daily life) couldn't answer an FCAT geometry item on the spot, he has no right to insist that Florida's high-schoolers take the test.

Posted by erasmuse at July 17, 2004 05:13 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Post a comment

Remember Me?