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What is wrong with this argument against masks?


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An argument against wearing masks goes something like this:

{If we are really interested in saving each and every life - while we are at it, we should outlaw swimming pools, french fries, soda, vehicles, etc. "By simply banning swimming pools, no toddlers would drown." One life saved. "By simply banning alcohol, no drunk drivers." Another life saved. It's all worth it. Except not.}

My youngest is very interested in debate, and it bothers me that I can't identify whether this is a fallacy or not--and if it is, which fallacy? Is the above a valid argument?

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Red herring? The argument FOR wearing masks is that it protects vulnerable people from a contagious disease in a pandemic. Bringing in other types of deaths from other risk factors doesn't have anything to do with wearing masks to protect from THIS risk.

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47 minutes ago, mom2scouts said:

Red herring? The argument FOR wearing masks is that it protects vulnerable people from a contagious disease in a pandemic. Bringing in other types of deaths from other risk factors doesn't have anything to do with wearing masks to protect from THIS risk.

Thank you! That was my first thought. I'm pretty solid at spotting a fallacy, but I'm not as confident in pinpointing exactly ((why)) said argument is a fallacy. I should have put this on the high school board now that I think about it. Sorry!

Edited by popmom
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In addition to the red herring, there’s also the fact that we take precautions already to prevent deaths in those situations. We put gates around pools and supervise, we wear seatbelts and have ever-advancing safety features in cars, etc. This is like wearing a seatbelt and not drunk driving to reduce the risks to ourselves and others.   

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3 hours ago, popmom said:

An argument against wearing masks goes something like this:

{If we are really interested in saving each and every life - while we are at it, we should outlaw swimming pools, french fries, soda, vehicles, etc. "By simply banning swimming pools, no toddlers would drown." One life saved. "By simply banning alcohol, no drunk drivers." Another life saved. It's all worth it. Except not.}

My youngest is very interested in debate, and it bothers me that I can't identify whether this is a fallacy or not--and if it is, which fallacy? Is the above a valid argument?

It's incorrect to say that we are interested in saving each and every life. No one who supports wearing masks believes that *every* life can be saved. I hear that argument from people and it demonstrates that they are not thinking about it logically. We must always weigh the risks versus the benefits to everything. Wearing masks is cheap and easy and apparently reduces risk so they are a reasonable precaution to take. 

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Hmmmm...I would probably go for “Straw Man” as far as the fallacy. 

As defined by Mark Manson’s excellent summary of logical fallacies*, a straw man fallacy is “Rather than debating a claim based on its merits, we sometimes substitute a distorted, exaggerated, or otherwise ridiculously misrepresented version of the argument to more easily attack it“. 

(Sorry for type size...I don’t see a way to adjust that using my phone.)

* note: there are some f-bombs in article and on the site.

As ordinaryshoes noted, I don’t know of a single proponent of mask-wearing who has ever claimed that we will save every life by doing so. It’s a pandemic, there will be significant loss of life regardless. The goal is to try and minimize the death toll while (hopefully) a vaccine & more effective treatments are discovered, as well as to flatten the curve of illness. 
 

I’d also note that you could flip this argument on its head....ask why those who want to protect every zygote from conception (including heavy gov’t involvement) don’t want to wear a paper mask in public (*especially* if gov’t is mandating it) to protect *any* of the vulnerable?  (I’m not debating this and won’t respond to attempts to do so, the point is that flipping an extreme argument around can cause the proponent to *think* why the argument doesn’t work). 
 

edited to correct my own fuzzy thinking...trying for clear thought is an effort....

Edited by Happy2BaMom
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8 hours ago, popmom said:

An argument against wearing masks goes something like this:

{If we are really interested in saving each and every life - while we are at it, we should outlaw swimming pools, french fries, soda, vehicles, etc. "By simply banning swimming pools, no toddlers would drown." One life saved. "By simply banning alcohol, no drunk drivers." Another life saved. It's all worth it. Except not.}

My youngest is very interested in debate, and it bothers me that I can't identify whether this is a fallacy or not--and if it is, which fallacy? Is the above a valid argument?

It’s not a valid argument because of risk/benefit analysis. Wearing a mask is inexpensive and extremely easy to do and very close to 100% of people over age two can participate. 

In the risk/benefit analysis of other things, we don’t outlaw them because they provide a good deal of benefit and usually have many safety feature we can implement to make it much less likely someone will be injured or die. For example, cars: we all know cars can be deadly or cause permanent injuries. But they are so essential to our lives that most of us drive or ride in one every day. So, since, as a society, we have decided we want cars, the next best thing is to have many safety features, regulations and licensing to reduce the probability of people a) being in an accident, and b) being killed or severely injured by a car. We have seatbelts, airbags, anti-lock breaks, anti-roll engineering, speed limits, traffic signals, multi-step licensing, age restrictions, rules governing fitness to drive, etc., etc., etc. 

I don’t know if it is a specific fallacy, though perhaps it is a bit of a hyperbolic way of thinking. Like, “if it’s unhealthy to eat sugar, why do we even have sugar at all?” 

There is also a difference between requiring something active vs. prohibiting something that exists. It’s generally easier to persuade people to take a particular action, especially if it is easy, rather than banning them from doing things that exist. Like, we say, “Wear a mask when you go into a building,” instead of saying, “going into all buildings is prohibited for a year.” In the same way, in the 80s, as a society, we urged people to use c@ndoms to prevent the spread of HIV, rather than trying to say, “Nobody have s3x for the foreseeable future.” 

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All of the replies are good.

As pedagogy, the one I would most emphasize as most important to recognize, and most critical to not-do in good faith efforts to analyze a question and parse it out in discussion with others, is Straw Man.

4 hours ago, Happy2BaMom said:

Hmmmm...I would probably go for “Straw Man” as far as the fallacy. 

As defined by Mark Manson’s excellent summary of logical fallacies*, a straw man fallacy is “Rather than debating a claim based on its merits, we sometimes substitute a distorted, exaggerated, or otherwise ridiculously misrepresented version of the argument to more easily attack it“. ...

Such substitution of [the issue putatively being discussed] with an [over-the-top exaggerated much-wider other-issue] is extremely common, and always has the effect of removing clarity in language and precision around concepts from any discussion. It always muddies rather than clears any possible pathways for real mutual exploration of the issue at hand.

So it's super important to learn to spot.

 

The first part of that spotting process requires drilling down to an approximately shared definition of what is actually the issue putatively being discussed. Very often that starts at the beginning, not the middle... and amounts to peeling back to the (almost always unstated) premises underpinning the straw man argument.

In the masking example, for example...

9 hours ago, popmom said:

An argument against wearing masks goes something like this:

{If we are really interested in saving each and every life - while we are at it, we should outlaw swimming pools, french fries, soda, vehicles, etc. "By simply banning swimming pools, no toddlers would drown." One life saved. "By simply banning alcohol, no drunk drivers." Another life saved. It's all worth it. Except not.}

My youngest is very interested in debate, and it bothers me that I can't identify whether this is a fallacy or not--and if it is, which fallacy? Is the above a valid argument?

... the red bolded is a PREMISE which even at face value is clearly not true: as a society we have government-enacted capital punishment, for heavens sake, and a standing military actively engaged at this very moment in activities that result in the taking-of-lives; along with any number of other realms in which we accept that the direct positive rights of some will result in the directly attributable deaths of others (right to bear arms, self defense, Stand Your Ground)... even before we get into the many many other realms of public policy (lack of health care, end-of-life decisionmaking, LE misconduct) affecting life.

So a solid discussion about masking policy needs to rest on some other, more solid foundation/premise.  Which is where the pp discussion about risk mitigation vs absolute elimination as the public policy goal makes sense.

 

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This reminds me of Whataboutism, a method Soviet-sympathizers used to justify even the most horrendous abuses of the Soviet Union. You could add in a history lesson to the logic lesson.

From wikipedia: "Whataboutism, also known as whataboutery, is a variant of the tu quoque logical fallacy that attempts to discredit an opponent's position by charging them with hypocrisy without directly refuting or disproving their argument.[1][2][3]"

Basically, instead of responding to the issue at hand, the person talking would change the subject with a "what about..." something else.

Emily

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10 hours ago, popmom said:

An argument against wearing masks goes something like this:

{If we are really interested in saving each and every life

 

False  premise

 

10 hours ago, popmom said:

- while we are at it, we should outlaw swimming pools, french fries, soda, vehicles, etc. "By simply banning swimming pools, no toddlers would drown."

False  analogy

 

10 hours ago, popmom said:

One life saved. "By simply banning alcohol, no drunk drivers." Another life saved. It's all worth it. Except not.}

My youngest is very interested in debate, and it bothers me that I can't identify whether this is a fallacy or not--and if it is, which fallacy? Is the above a valid argument?

 

Masks are are not a ban.

 

They are more analogous to a safety device that allows the life activity they may make somewhat less risky to continue with somewhat less risk 

 

So they are more like a fence around swimming pool. Some toddlers will still drown, but we hope fewer.

 

Or like rules against drunk driving, there will still be traffic crash fatalities, but we hope fewer. 

 

 

 

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2 hours ago, Pen said:

 

False  premise

 

False  analogy

 

 

Masks are are not a ban.

 

They are more analogous to a safety device that allows the life activity they may make somewhat less risky to continue with somewhat less risk 

 

So they are more like a fence around swimming pool. Some toddlers will still drown, but we hope fewer.

 

Or like rules against drunk driving, there will still be traffic crash fatalities, but we hope fewer. 

 

 

 

 

Quoting myself- these analogies are still not really right because a mask may be more analogous to some other safety system than a fence around a pool is to toddler drownings.

A drowning is pretty much all or nothing.

But Covid 19 has a spectrum. We do not know for sure, but it is possible/likely that masks will *reduce* viral passage rather than entirely preventing it, and may help toward less viral load and fewer severe illness cases . 

Maybe more like a toddler with a floatie who is less likely to drown — and some masks may be by analogy more like a well fit and sized  Coast Guard approved life jacket, some like water wings, and others more like an air balloon — a range of effectiveness. 

That still isn’t a great analogy though because it does not get at the potential ability of the mask to protect other people . 

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3 hours ago, Pam in CT said:

All of the replies are good.

As pedagogy, the one I would most emphasize as most important to recognize, and most critical to not-do in good faith efforts to analyze a question and parse it out in discussion with others, is Straw Man.

Such substitution of [the issue putatively being discussed] with an [over-the-top exaggerated much-wider other-issue] is extremely common, and always has the effect of removing clarity in language and precision around concepts from any discussion. It always muddies rather than clears any possible pathways for real mutual exploration of the issue at hand.

So it's super important to learn to spot.

 

The first part of that spotting process requires drilling down to an approximately shared definition of what is actually the issue putatively being discussed. Very often that starts at the beginning, not the middle... and amounts to peeling back to the (almost always unstated) premises underpinning the straw man argument.

In the masking example, for example...

... the red bolded is a PREMISE which even at face value is clearly not true: as a society we have government-enacted capital punishment, for heavens sake, and a standing military actively engaged at this very moment in activities that result in the taking-of-lives; along with any number of other realms in which we accept that the direct positive rights of some will result in the directly attributable deaths of others (right to bear arms, self defense, Stand Your Ground)... even before we get into the many many other realms of public policy (lack of health care, end-of-life decisionmaking, LE misconduct) affecting life.

So a solid discussion about masking policy needs to rest on some other, more solid foundation/premise.  Which is where the pp discussion about risk mitigation vs absolute elimination as the public policy goal makes sense.

 

Thanks for taking the time to type this out. 
 

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You've gotten good answers on particular fallacies. 

The very first thing I would do is ask him for reputable sources that say the intention of masks and other protocols is to save each and every life.

For real life examples, a mask for Covid is not at all like banning a swimming pool. A more appropriate comparison is safety measures for Covid compared to safety measures for drowning. Covid: masks, physical distancing, outdoor gatherings when possible. Drowning: fences around pools, life guards, life jackets, swimming lessons. 

I would also point out that safety mandates are nothing new in the United States. Some are federally mandated, some state, county, or city, but absolutely nothing new. Seat belts in cars. Life jackets and throwable flotation devices on boats. Fences around pools. Maybe see how many you can list; it is a lot! Some are meant to protect children specifically. Some are meant to protect others from you doing something dangerous, like driving while under the influence. Still others are meant to protect the individual - why? Why can't I choose to not wear my seat belt or my motorcycle helmet? Seatbelt, you are actually a dangerous projectile without it, so it does affect others. Seatbelt and helmet, you may only hurt yourself physically, but there is often a substantial monetary cost to society to cover your medical bills. If requiring a helmet is unfair to the individual, is covering their medical and rehab costs unfair to everyone else? Lots of people are uninsured or under-insured, plus rates go up for everyone with increased costs. If you die because you refuse to wear a seatbelt, is it fair that Social Security has to pay survivor benefits? Very few decisions are made in complete isolation; they affect not only those close to you, but often society at large. So what's fair? 

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Returning to the swimming pool example: you can swim quite well and still drown, yet no one would argue that knowing how to swim doesn't make you safer in the water. 

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52 minutes ago, KungFuPanda said:

Masks are the seatbelts of 2020.  Just buckle up and drive.

So accurate. When people first started making a ruckus about masks, it was like déjà vu on seatbelts and helmet laws. When I was in high school and had to do a persuasive speech for English class, it was pro-seatbelt mandates. I also remember a friend of mine who rode a motorcycle, but was rebelling against helmet laws. Both of these issues had the same argument underpinning them on the “con” side and it was very similar to mask mandates: “Why does it matter to anyone else whether I want to be safe in my car/on my motorcycle? Why can’t I make that decision for myself?” 

If anything, the “cost to society” argument is somewhat weaker for seatbelts and helmets than it is for masks because the cost to society could be a bit harder to directly point to if a bad outcome happens. 

I do remember that some people made similar excuses about seatbelts as are made about masks, i.e., “I have a very big chest and putting a seatbelt on is ridiculously uncomfortable.” Same as, “I can’t breathe in a mask/I’m going to pass out from breathing my own CO2.” 

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On 10/17/2020 at 5:08 PM, KungFuPanda said:

Masks are the seatbelts of 2020.  Just buckle up and drive.

Exactly! Some of y'all would have gleaned from my previous posts that I definitely lean conservative. Not all conservatives are anti maskers. I have tried asking my anti mask "friends" (I use that term loosely) how this is any different than seat belt laws, and all I get is the slippery slope crap. Well if the government can make us do this...etc. This particular argument was from an attorney (yikes) who also homeschools (Classical, even). I couldn't believe what I was reading to be honest. That's why I asked here. Sometimes I think I'm going crazy. Thank you for reminding me that I'm not. Seriously, I was thinking it was strawman or red herring, but I love reading that's there's even more involved in this--false equivalency, etc. I think there may be no more important subject that I could be teaching my child right now than this. I want to make sure I'm getting it right.

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