5 Logical Fallacies to Know

5 Logical Fallacies
Sometimes things just don't add up!. CaiaImageJV/OJO+/Getty Images

A fallacy is a false claim. It is important for us to recognize false claims, because most of the school work we do involves stating claims that we must support and defend, whether that happens to be in an essay, a research paper, an oral report, or a debate.

Fallacies can impact your performance for a few reasons. You will want to avoid poor logic in your own work, because a weak or faulty claim will cause a deduction in your grade.

You’ll also need to recognize false claims when you are defending against criticism, as you will in a school debate.

Any time you make a claim in research or other school projects, you must be sure that your points are valid and not faulty.

Example of a Fallacy

You will probably recognize this common fallacy that we call a “hasty generalization.” This involves the act of making a conclusion from very little evidence:

“Mr. Darden was wearing yellow socks with his suit. Teachers are such bad dressers.”

While it is perfectly normal to use a generalization in casual conversation, you will need to avoid making generalizations in your academic work.

Here are five common fallacies that you should know and avoid.

1. Straw Man Fallacy

Have you ever had someone misrepresent your thoughts or beliefs? It is very frustrating to have your thoughts summed up and attacked. It’s especially maddening when someone misunderstands your beliefs, describes them all wrong, and then attacks your position!

This distortion of a belief—the act of setting up a false opinion that is easy to shoot down—is called a straw man tactic. Here is an example of the straw man tactic in reaction to the proposal to require school uniforms:

Our school board wants us to start wearing uniforms, so they want us all to give up our individuality. They expect us to become a mindless throng of obedient children who are not able to express their individuality in any way.

Obviously, this would not be the desire of any member of a school board, and it is certainly a view that can be opposed by any feeling human. It is a false and unfair representation of the school board’s intentions.

2. Hasty Generalization

A hasty generalization is a conclusion that is based on few examples. Here are a few that have been used in research papers:

  • Elderly people are bad drivers.
  • Teenagers are irresponsible with money.
  • Vegetarians eat healthier than other people.

Be careful not to draw conclusions in your own research after you've seen a few individual pieces of evidence. 

3. Slippery Slope

The slippery slope fallacy occurs when we get carried away and start making claims that one event will lead to another--when those claims are not necessarily accurate. Here are a few slippery slope conclusions that don't add up:

  • If we let students use their cell phone calculators during tests, they'll start cheating by using other apps to find the answers. Then no one will ever learn anything. Everyone will fail.
  • Service dogs should never be permitted in schools. Dogs can be unpredictable, and some dogs tend to bite people when they get nervous. Children will be seriously injured by dangerous animals who disrupt the  learning process and cause an atmosphere of fear.

    4. Red Herring

    A red herring is a tactic used to change the subject when we feel we're in hot water. You may recognize the red herring as a tactic you've used on your own parents.

    "You are late. Your curfew was thirty minutes ago."

    "I know, but there was big fire in a factory across town. It's lucky that nobody was hurt."

    In the exchange above, the teen is trying to distract the parent from the issue at hand by diverting his or her attention. This tactic of changing the subject is common in a debate scenario, when one presenter feels trapped or challenged. It can be an easy but costly maneuver.

    5. The Bandwagon Fallacy

    There is a certain sense of security we feel by being a part of a group. People who don't like to stand out are more likely to fall victim to a bandwagon fallacy. If you've ever agreed with a stance because it is the popular one, you have been taken in by the bandwagon effect!

    • The football team is supporting Darla Pepperdine for student council. Will you?
    • The most prestigious schools use school uniforms, so we should adopt that policy, as well.
    • Most teens think GMOs are unhealthy, so I think so, too.

    You will find that your school performance improves once you understand and recognize the different types of fallacies. You will be able to take a stance and defend your assertions with confidence and authority.