Prairie View

Sunday, September 03, 2017

The Missing Information Fallacy

When it comes to blogging, absence makes the heart grow heavy--heavy with thoughts that have piled on top of other unwritten thoughts.  Digging out from under it seems like a daunting task, and overcoming the inertia of inactivity on this front sometimes calls for forcible ejection--a blow to the psyche, for example.

Bypassing many of the events that I've been immersed in--many of them pleasant and soul-refreshing--I'll go straight to a matter I've been mulling over.  Obviously, this thinking didn't come out of nowhere, but I won't be detailing the events that prompted the reflection.  Here's a query I posted on Facebook recently:

I need help finding precise words for a phenomenon I've witnessed at least three times in the past few days. Here goes with the wordy version: Generally, what happens is that criticism is leveled against a person or source for something they did not say, rather than for something they said. The logical "fallacy of omission" doesn't quite seem to fit. Is there another term that does fit?
As I see it, the problem with this kind of criticism is that it's never possible for anyone to say all that should or could be said on a given topic or at a given time. A simple recognition of that seems appropriate when concerns or critiques are given. Otherwise, the critic risks not being taken very seriously, at least by people who recognize this reality.
I specifically remember having made this mistake myself in the past and do try to avoid repeating it. I wish I could name it though.

The closest anyone came to suggesting a name was this sentence from a longer comment by Harry Shenk--all of it worthwhile, but only this referencing a name:

 It would be a sub-category of assuming and assigning motives, which is called "evil surmisings."

"Evil surmisings" is a term taken from the King James Version of the verse in I Timothy 6:4 which reads like this:

 He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,

The context is that the apostle Paul is writing to his apprentice pastor, Timothy, with instructions about how slaves are to respond to their believing masters.  Faithful service is called for.  Paul emphasizes and expands on these instructions by saying this in verse 3:

If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;

The list of evils associated with resisting the truth of Paul's words goes on in verse 5:

Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.

In this passage of Scripture "Evil surmisings" keeps company with other unsavory characters.  The English Standard Version says it like this (verses 3 & 4):

he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.

For years I've been uncomfortable with information that begins something like this:  "You won't read about this in the mainstream media" or "You won't hear about this from your doctor."  What follows is usually some "inside" information to which the writer and only a few other discerning souls are privy.  It is presented as being "more true" than mainstream media information and whatever your doctor tells you.  Not only that, it's likely that information missing from the media or not mentioned by the doctor is being intentionally withheld for some ulterior reasons.  In other words, the logical "fallacy of missing information" is being assumed.

Besides what was stated in the original Facebook post, my logic goes like this:  Some form of incompleteness in communication is always present because we are human, with limitations.

The "fallacy of missing information" is extraordinarily difficult for the critic to establish because it rests on being able to accurately discern another's motives, besides being able to analyse the whole body of knowledge on the subject at hand thoroughly enough to see what necessary information is missing.   Most of the critics I've encountered don't make the cut by this criteria.

Let me assure you that I believe that media bias exists, and that a desire for profit and power has corrupted the practice of medicine in some cases.  The leap to indicting all media and all medical practitioners as being suspect is what I wish to stand against.

Obviously, since I'm not a journalist or a doctor, these particular suspicions have not been lobbed my way.  My grief comes from having been criticized not only for what I've said, but for what I didn't say.  How is this right?

Harry Shenk and KJV to the rescue.  It isn't right.  Evil surmisings.  Directed my way, that's what I have in common with the mainstream media and the medical establishment.  I'm glad I finally have a name for it. Often naming a thing strips it of its power.   Thank God for the Apostle Paul and for his inspired words that can help clarify matters like this.


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