Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Case of the False Dilemma and Other Logical Fallacies at Work in the Deer-Kill Plan

                                                    WHAT IS A FALSE DILEMMA?

These are some of the logical fallacies apparent in the claims of those making our public policy for the Griffy Deer Kill. While private citizens have also been guilty of fallacious logic, the fact is that our elected officials who initiate and make policy have relied heavily on logical fallacies to present their claims, and to dismiss the voices of their constituents.

1. False dilemma:  an informal fallacy (black and white thinking)  that involves a situation in which only limited alternatives are considered, when in fact there is at least one additional option.

a. We  have no choice but to kill the deer. (NOTE: There are options.   Count the deer first, set out clear metrics for what a "problem" looks like, do not extrapolate data drawn  from IURTP to Griffy Lake Nature Preserve, consider what it would mean to do nothing as there are apex predators at Griffy (coyotes) who are reducing the deer population naturally, or consider nonlethal methods that are being used in other communities).

2. Appeal to fear:a specific type of appeal to emotion where an argument is made by increasing fear and prejudice towards the opposing side

a. There is an ecological disaster at Griffy, the deer are dangerous, they're taking over, they're ruining the ecosystem, they spread Lyme disease, they are reproducing faster than we can stop them. (NOTE: no ecological disaster at Griffy has been proven, deer are prey animals and not predators, there are no numbers to prove that there are too many deer, there is no scientific evidence that deer are ruining the ecosystem at Griffy which, by the way, is not a unique biome, deer are not the main vectors of Lyme disease--white-footed mice are--and there are no verifiable numbers to determine how many deer there are at Griffy.)

b. The opponents are animal rights activists who support radical organizations that believe people shouldn't have pets.(NOTE: Many citizens oppose the kill for a range of reasons, which include some of the following: lack of scientific evidence that a cull is necessary, Bloomington's community character as one that doesn't support violence, anger over spending large sums of money that could be better spent, acknowledgement that Griffy is not a unique biome,  and for some community members Griffy has nothing to do with their concerns about the deer in town, which are a separate herd and exist because of the in-town development of their previous preserve on the southeast side of town, etc. The term "animal rights activists" has been used dismissively to marginalize those who advocate for better treatment of animals, and is often invoked by those who profit from animals---like the meat and dairy industries, like the fur industry, like the researchers who experiment on animals, etc.  The point is, for our Democratic, progressive officials to use this term to dismiss those who believe strongly in compassion and nonviolence is distressing.) 

3.  Appeal to ridicule: an argument made by presenting the opponent's argument in a way that makes it appear ridiculous

a. These opponents are  animal rights activists who think there should be more deer and that deer are more important than the plants we need to save

b. These opponents to the deer kill are like climate-change deniers.

c. These opponents think deer are like Bambi

NOTE: all of the above, in one version or another, have appeared in public statements by Council members and/or  Parks Board members

4. Appeal to authority:where an assertion is deemed true because of the position or authority of the person asserting

Some  IU plant biologists believe that there are too many deer and the deer are ruining Griffy Lake Nature Preserve, so the deer must be killed  (Note: neither the Deer Task Force nor the  IU biologists associated with the IU Research and Teaching Preserve involved any outside wildlife experts nor did the City Council who voted to allow the sharp shooting nor members of the Parks Board who signed the contract with sharp shooting company White Buffalo visit Griffy or the exclosures at the IURTP to see for themselves, or take the evidentiary tour offered by the parks manager who was, on the day I was there, unable to show plant damage from deer browsing. Additionally, invasives inside the study exclosures grew at much higher rates than outside the exclosures [see Shelton's report].  Bush honeysuckle grew at 30 times the rate inside the exclosure than outside, proving that deer do have a suppressive effect on invasives [Cook/Patton Study 2014]) 

5. Red herring: argument given in response to another argument, which is irrelevant and draws attention away from the subject of argument

Many of those opposing the cull didn't attend the Deer Task Force meetings; therefore, they have no business offering opinions on the deer kill (Note: This is an absurd distraction from the real issues. The DTF was initially charged with studying the deer-human conflicts  in town; the Task Force report  and its conclusions were not publicly released until the Fall of 2012, which is the time many people began to get involved after the Task Force recommended killing deer in town. There was no mention of Griffy at that time.  The idea that citizens cannot enter the democratic process of participation and have their voices heard if they didn't attend Task Force meetings is absurd. The situation and available facts have completely changed the landscape.)

6. Begging the question and circular reasoning:  The deer at Griffy Lake Nature Preserve that are destroying Griffy need to be killed because they are destroying Griffy. (Note: no proof that there are too many deer at Griffy because there's never been a count and no scientific evidence that the deer are destroying Griffy. There are many factors at work at Griffy--climate change, multi-recreational use, the draining of the lake, the shift to a climax maple-beech forest, the hard winter, the flooding, etc.)  Also see Fallacy of the Single Cause of Over-simplification)

7.  You too: the argument states that a certain position is false or wrong or should be disregarded because its proponent fails to act consistently in accordance with that position.

If you are against the deer kill, then you are a hypocrite if you eat meat or wear leather shoes (NOTE: variations on this were stated at  City Council meetings to opponents).

8. Shotgun argumentation: the arguer offers such a large number of arguments for their position that the opponent can't possibly respond to all of them

a.  You didn't attend Deer Task Force meetings; you're lying about Austin, TX's no-kill policy, aren't you?;  you know that nonlethal methods don't work, that they've never been used in an open system; etc. (Say it all really fast and don't let anyone get a word in edgewise--Councilmembers and co-authors of the sharp shooting ordinance, Dave Rollo and Andy Ruff.)

9. Cherry-picking: act of pointing at individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position

 a. The Shelton report proves there are too many deer at Griffy (Note: the Shelton report never proves that; again, the study was not conducted at Griffy and Shelton, by her own admission, states that pellet counts are not accurate and that to know what deer density is at Griffy, she would have to do a separate study in that location, etc.)

10. Hasty Generalization: basing a broad conclusion on a small sample

a.  The Shelton report states unequivocally that there are too many deer at Griffy  (Note: actually Shelton herself states that the method of study, pellet counts,  are not always accurate, and that the study was conducted at the IU Research and Teaching Preserve, not at Griffy Lake Nature Preserve, and that she would need to do a different study, at the cost of $500, to come up with any data for Griffy


1. deer management (deer killing)
2. harvesting deer (deer killing)
3. culling deer (deer killing)
4. deer management tool (the contract to hire sharp shooters from White Buffalo to kill deer at Griffy)
5. overabundance of deer (this is the current phrase de jour in the deer kill industry, which essentially means there are "too many deer," yet without a count, how are "too many deer" determined, etc.)


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