Selecting evidence to fit convictions; or, bad reasoning in the everyday world part 7

Political op-ed pieces are a goldmine for those seeking to identify instances of poor reasoning and “Abbott, the thinking person’s Prime Minister” by Nicolle Flint is no exception. This piece seems to have pissed a lot of people off today- mostly for its political content- but as, so often is the case, the problem isn’t just agenda pushing but the fundamental flaws in the thinking behind the agenda pushing.

The flaw I want to highlight today is the manner in which examples are selected to fit a pre-determined conviction. Instead the author ought to examine all relevant evidence and have the evidence drive the conclusion. This can be extremely difficult to do, because of well known selection biases which lead people to seek evidence consistent with what they already believe and discount problematic facts. We see in this article no attempt by the author to overcome such biases and the result is a series of conclusions supported by single examples and ignoring what have been very public counter examples.

Ok so let’s look at instance number one:

Flint says “Charges of sexism and misogyny appear truly farcical when measured against the care and respect expressed in these opening pages for his wife Margie, former girlfriend Kathy and her biological son Daniel, whom Abbott and Kathy long believed to be their biological son.”

What Flint does here is argue to the conclusion that Abbott is not sexist or Misogynist because he clearly loves his family. You might also note that this is a poorly chosen example on Flint’s part as believing in gender equality doesn’t have much to do with whether or not you love your family, but rather whether you treat all people as persons regardless of gender, but that’s not my main point today. The bigger problem here is that one example for the conclusion is chosen, where-as many well known counter examples are ignored. For example, as many have reported Abbott once said this:

“‘What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing is that if they get it done commercially it’s going to go up in price and their own power bills when they switch the iron on are going to go up, every year…’”

On this face of it this is a very sexist comment. Now it might be possible for Flint to suggest that this statement is misused if taken as evidence of sexism (perhaps it was sarcasm?) but instead of considering this evidence it is ignored. Thus, we see Flint’s argument relies on selecting examples which fit the conclusion.

The second instance I want to note today is that Flint suggests that Abbott is a sensitive and compassionate person and cites as evidence of this his discussion of Christopher Pearson. However, other public statements from Abbott such as repeated statements to “turn the boats back” (eg) suggest otherwise, or at least that his compassion are not universal. again instead of taking  this evidence seriously as a potential counter example Flint simply ignores it.

In order to support a conclusion all relevant evidence must be considered and the author of this piece hasn’t done so. By selecting evidence which supports a prior conviction and ignoring well known counter examples the author fails to support their conclusions.

with love