Note: The first rule and last five (or six, depending on situation) rules are generally not directly within the ability of the traditional disinfo artist to apply. These rules are generally used more directly by those at the leadership, key players, or planning level of the criminal conspiracy or conspiracy to cover up.
Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. Regardless of what you know, don't discuss it -- especially if you are a public figure, news anchor, etc. If it's not reported, it didn't happen, and you never have to deal with the issues.
Become incredulous and indignant. Avoid discussing key issues and instead focus on side issues which can be used to show the topic as being critical of some otherwise sacrosanct group or theme. This is also known as the 'How dare you!' gambit.
Create rumor mongers. Avoid discussing issues by describing all charges, regardless of venue or evidence, as mere rumors and wild accusations. Other derogatory terms mutually exclusive of truth may work as well. This method which works especially well with a silent press, because the only way the public can learn of the facts are through such 'arguable rumors'. If you can associate the material with the Internet, use this fact to certify it a 'wild rumor' from a 'bunch of kids on the Internet' which can have no basis in fact.
Use a straw man. Find or create a seeming element of your opponent's argument which you can easily knock down to make yourself look good and the opponent to look bad. Either make up an issue you may safely imply exists based on your interpretation of the opponent/opponent arguments/situation, or select the weakest aspect of the weakest charges. Amplify their significance and destroy them in a way which appears to debunk all the charges, real and fabricated alike, while actually avoiding discussion of the real issues.
Sidetrack opponents with name calling and ridicule. This is also known as the primary 'attack the messenger' ploy, though other methods qualify as variants of that approach. Associate opponents with unpopular titles such as 'kooks', 'right-wing', 'liberal', 'left-wing', 'terrorists', 'conspiracy buffs', 'radicals', 'militia', 'racists', 'religious fanatics', 'sexual deviates', and so forth. This makes others shrink from support out of fear of gaining the same label, and you avoid dealing with issues.
Hit and Run. In any public forum, make a brief attack of your opponent or the opponent position and then scamper off before an answer can be fielded, or simply ignore any answer. This works extremely well in Internet and letters-to-the-editor environments where a steady stream of new identities can be called upon without having to explain criticism, reasoning -- simply make an accusation or other attack, never discussing issues, and never answering any subsequent response, for that would dignify the opponent's viewpoint.
Question motives. Twist or amplify any fact which could be taken to imply that the opponent operates out of a hidden personal agenda or other bias. This avoids discussing issues and forces the accuser on the defensive.
Invoke authority. Claim for yourself or associate yourself with authority and present your argument with enough 'jargon' and 'minutia' to illustrate you are 'one who knows', and simply say it isn't so without discussing issues or demonstrating concretely why or citing sources.
Play dumb. No matter what evidence or logical argument is offered, avoid discussing issues except with denials they have any credibility, make any sense, provide any proof, contain or make a point, have logic, or support a conclusion. Mix well for maximum effect.
Associate opponent charges with old news. A derivative of the straw man -- usually, in any large-scale matter of high visibility, someone will make charges early on which can be or were already easily dealt with - a kind of investment for the future should the matter not be so easily contained.) Where it can be foreseen, have your own side raise a straw man issue and have it dealt with early on as part of the initial contingency plans. Subsequent charges, regardless of validity or new ground uncovered, can usually then be associated with the original charge and dismissed as simply being a rehash without need to address current issues -- so much the better where the opponent is or was involved with the original source.
Establish and rely upon fall-back positions. Using a minor matter or element of the facts, take the 'high road' and 'confess' with candor that some innocent mistake, in hindsight, was made -- but that opponents have seized on the opportunity to blow it all out of proportion and imply greater criminalities which, 'just isn't so.' Others can reinforce this on your behalf, later, and even publicly 'call for an end to the nonsense' because you have already 'done the right thing.' Done properly, this can garner sympathy and respect for 'coming clean' and 'owning up' to your mistakes without addressing more serious issues.
Enigmas have no solution. Drawing upon the overall umbrella of events surrounding the crime and the multitude of players and events, paint the entire affair as too complex to solve. This causes those otherwise following the matter to begin to lose interest more quickly without having to address the actual issues.
Alice in Wonderland Logic. Avoid discussion of the issues by reasoning backwards or with an apparent deductive logic which forbears any actual material fact.
Demand complete solutions. Avoid the issues by requiring opponents to solve the crime at hand completely, a ploy which works best with issues qualifying for rule 10.
Fit the facts to alternate conclusions. This requires creative thinking unless the crime was planned with contingency conclusions in place.
Vanish evidence and witnesses. If it does not exist, it is not fact, and you won't have to address the issue.
Change the subject. Usually in connection with one of the other ploys listed here, find a way to side-track the discussion with abrasive or controversial comments in hopes of turning attention to a new, more manageable topic. This works especially well with companions who can 'argue' with you over the new topic and polarize the discussion arena in order to avoid discussing more key issues.
Emotionalize, Antagonize, and Goad Opponents. If you can't do anything else, chide and taunt your opponents and draw them into emotional responses which will tend to make them look foolish and overly motivated, and generally render their material somewhat less coherent. Not only will you avoid discussing the issues in the first instance, but even if their emotional response addresses the issue, you can further avoid the issues by then focusing on how 'sensitive they are to criticism.'
Ignore proof presented, demand impossible proofs. This is perhaps a variant of the 'play dumb' rule. Regardless of what material may be presented by an opponent in public forums, claim the material irrelevant and demand proof that is impossible for the opponent to come by (it may exist, but not be at his disposal, or it may be something which is known to be safely destroyed or withheld, such as a murder weapon.) In order to completely avoid discussing issues, it may be required that you to categorically deny and be critical of media or books as valid sources, deny that witnesses are acceptable, or even deny that statements made by government or other authorities have any meaning or relevance.
False evidence. Whenever possible, introduce new facts or clues designed and manufactured to conflict with opponent presentations -- as useful tools to neutralize sensitive issues or impede resolution. This works best when the crime was designed with contingencies for the purpose, and the facts cannot be easily separated from the fabrications.
Call a Grand Jury, Special Prosecutor, or other empowered investigative body. Subvert the (process) to your benefit and effectively neutralize all sensitive issues without open discussion. Once convened, the evidence and testimony are required to be secret when properly handled. For instance, if you own the prosecuting attorney, it can insure a Grand Jury hears no useful evidence and that the evidence is sealed and unavailable to subsequent investigators. Once a favorable verdict is achieved, the matter can be considered officially closed. Usually, this technique is applied to find the guilty innocent, but it can also be used to obtain charges when seeking to frame a victim.
Manufacture a new truth. Create your own expert(s), group(s), author(s), leader(s) or influence existing ones willing to forge new ground via scientific, investigative, or social research or testimony which concludes favorably. In this way, if you must actually address issues, you can do so authoritatively.
Create bigger distractions. If the above does not seem to be working to distract from sensitive issues, or to prevent unwanted media coverage of unstoppable events such as trials, create bigger news stories (or treat them as such) to distract the multitudes.
Silence critics. If the above methods do not prevail, consider removing opponents from circulation by some definitive solution so that the need to address issues is removed entirely. This can be by their death, arrest and detention, blackmail or destruction of theircharacter by release of blackmail information, or merely by destroying them financially, emotionally, or severely damaging their health.
Vanish. If you are a key holder of secrets or otherwise overly illuminated and you think the heat is getting too hot, to avoid the issues, vacate the kitchen.
False flag operations are covert operations which are designed to deceive the public in such a way that the operations appear as though they are being carried out by other entities. The name is derived from the military concept of flying false colors; that is, flying the flag of a country other than one's own. False flag operations are not limited to war and counter-insurgency operations, and have been used in peace-time; for example during Italy's strategy of tension.
Eight Traits of the Disinformationalist
Avoidance. They never actually discuss issues head-on or provide constructive input, generally avoiding citation of references or credentials. Rather, they merely imply this, that, and the other. Virtually everything about their presentation implies their authority and expert knowledge in the matter without any further justification for credibility.
Selectivity. They tend to pick and choose opponents carefully, either applying the hit-and-run approach against mere commentators supportive of opponents, or focusing heavier attacks on key opponents who are known to directly address issues. Should a commentatorbecome argumentative with any success, the focus will shift to include the commentator as well.
Coincidental. They tend to surface suddenly and somewhat coincidentally with a new controversial topic with no clear prior record of participation in general discussions in the particular public arena involved. They likewise tend to vanish once the topic is no longer of general concern. They were likely directed or elected to be there for a reason, and vanish with the reason.
Teamwork. They tend to operate in self-congratulatory and complementary packs or teams. Of course, this can happen naturally in any public forum, but there will likely be an ongoing pattern of frequent exchanges of this sort where professionals are involved. Sometimes one of the players will infiltrate the opponent camp to become a source for straw man or other tactics designed to dilute opponent presentation strength.
Anti-conspiratorial. They almost always have disdain for 'conspiracy theorists' and, usually, for those who in any way believe JFK was not killed by LHO. Ask yourself why, if they hold such disdain for conspiracy theorists, do they focus on defending a single topic discussed in a NG focusing on conspiracies? One might think they would either be trying to make fools of everyone on every topic, or simply ignore the group they hold in such disdain.Or, one might more rightly conclude they have an ulterior motive for their actions in going out of their way to focus as they do.
Artificial Emotions. An odd kind of 'artificial' emotionalism and an unusually thick skin -- an ability to persevere and persist even in the face of overwhelming criticism and unacceptance. This likely stems from intelligence community training that, no matter how condemning the evidence, deny everything, and never become emotionally involved or reactive. The net result for a disinfo artist is that emotions can seem artificial. Most people, if responding in anger, for instance, will express their animosity throughout their rebuttal. But disinfo types usually have trouble maintaining the 'image' and are hot and cold with respect to pretended emotions and their usually more calm or unemotional communications style. It's just a job, and they often seem unable to 'act their role in character' as well in a communications medium as they might be able in a real face-to-face conversation/confrontation. You might have outright rage and indignation one moment, ho-hum the next, and more anger later -- an emotional yo-yo. With respect to being thick-skinned, no amount of criticism will deter them from doing their job, and they will generally continue their old disinfo patterns without any adjustments to criticisms of how obvious it is that they play that game -- where a more rational individual who truly cares what others think might seek to improve their communications style, substance, and so forth, or simply give up.
Inconsistent. There is also a tendency to make mistakes which betray their true self/motives. This may stem from not really knowing their topic, or it may be somewhat 'freudian', so to speak, in that perhaps they really root for the side of truth deep within.
I have noted that often, they will simply cite contradictory information which neutralizes itself and the author. For instance, one such player claimed to be a Navy pilot, but blamed his poor communicating skills (spelling, grammar, incoherent style) on having only a grade-school education. I'm not aware of too many Navy pilots who don't have a college degree. Another claimed no knowledge of a particular topic/situation but later claimed first-hand knowledge of it.
Time Constant. Recently discovered, with respect to News Groups, is the response time factor. There are three ways this can be seen to work, especially when the government or other empowered player is involved in a cover up operation:
ANY NG posting by a targeted proponent for truth can result in an IMMEDIATE response. The government and other empowered players can afford to pay people to sit there and watch for an opportunity to do some damage. SINCE DISINFO IN A NG ONLY WORKS IF THE READER SEES IT - FAST RESPONSE IS CALLED FOR, or the visitor may be swayed towards truth.
When dealing in more direct ways with a disinformationalist, such as email, DELAY IS CALLED FOR - there will usually be a minimum of a 48-72 hour delay. This allows a sit-down team discussion on response strategy for best effect, and even enough time to 'get permission' or instruction from a formal chain of command.
In the NG example 1) above, it will often ALSO be seen that bigger guns are drawn and fired after the same 48-72 hours delay - the team approach in play. This is especially true when the targeted truth seeker or their comments are considered more important with respect to potential to reveal truth. Thus, a serious truth sayer will be attacked twice for the same sin.
Formal fallacies are arguments that are fallacious due to an error in their form or technical structure. All formal fallacies are specific types of non sequiturs.
Ad hominem: an argument that attacks the person who holds a view or advances an argument, rather than commenting on the view or responding to the argument.
"Ad hominem (also called personal abuse or personal attacks) usually involves insulting or belittling one's opponents in order to attack their claims or invalidate their arguments, but can also involve pointing out true character flaws or actions that are irrelevant to the opponent's argument. This is logically fallacious because it relates to the opponent's personal character, which has nothing to do with the logical merit of the opponent's argument."
Appeal to probability: assumes that because something could happen, it is inevitable that it will happen. This is the premise on which Murphy's Law is based.
Argument from fallacy: if an argument for some conclusion is fallacious, then the conclusion is not credible.
Bare assertion fallacy: premise in an argument is assumed to be true purely because it says that it is true.
Base rate fallacy: using weak evidence to make a probability judgment without taking into account known empirical statistics about the probability.
Conjunction fallacy: assumption that an outcome simultaneously satisfying multiple conditions is more probable than an outcome satisfying a single one of them.
Correlative based fallacies
Denying the correlative: where attempts are made at introducing alternatives where there are none.
Suppressed correlative: where a correlative is redefined so that one alternative is made impossible.
Fallacy of necessity: a degree of unwarranted necessity is placed in the conclusion based on the necessity of one or more of its premises.
False dilemma (false dichotomy): where two alternative statements are held to be the only possible options, when in reality there are more.
If-by-whiskey: An argument that supports both sides of an issue by using terms that are selectively emotionally sensitive.
Ignoratio elenchi: An irrelevant conclusion or irrelevant thesis.
Is-ought problem: the inappropriate inference that because something is some way or other, so it ought to be that way.
Homunculus fallacy: where a "middle-man" is used for explanation, this usually leads to regressive middle-man. Explanations without actually explaining the real nature of a function or a process. Instead, it explains the concept in terms of the concept itself, without first defining or explaining the original concept.
Masked man fallacy: the substitution of identical designators in a true statement can lead to a false one.
Naturalistic fallacy: a fallacy that claims that if something is natural, then it is good or right.
Nirvana fallacy: when solutions to problems are said not to be right because they are not perfect.
Negative proof fallacy: that, because a premise cannot be proven false, the premise must be true; or that, because a premise cannot be proven true, the premise must be false.
Package-deal fallacy: consists of assuming that things often grouped together by tradition or culture must always be grouped that way.
Red Herring: also called a "fallacy of relevance." This occurs when the speaker is trying to distract the audience by arguing some new topic, or just generally going off topic with an argument.
Informal fallacies are arguments that are fallacious for reasons other than structural (formal) flaws.
Argument from repetition (argumentum ad nauseam): signifies that it has been discussed extensively (possibly by different people) until nobody cares to discuss it anymore
Appeal to ridicule: a specific type of appeal to emotion where an argument is made by presenting the opponent's argument in a way that makes it appear ridiculous
Argument from ignorance (appeal to ignorance): The fallacy of assuming that something is true/false because it has not been proven false/true. For example: "The student has failed to prove that he didn't cheat on the test, therefore he must have cheated on the test."
Begging the question (petitio principii): where the conclusion of an argument is implicitly or explicitly assumed in one of the premises
Circular cause and consequence: where the consequence of the phenomenon is claimed to be its root cause
Continuum fallacy (fallacy of the beard): appears to demonstrate that two states or conditions cannot be considered distinct (or do not exist at all) because between them there exists a continuum of states. According to the fallacy, differences in quality cannot result from differences in quantity.
Correlation does not imply causation (cum hoc ergo propter hoc): a phrase used in the sciences and the statistics to emphasize that correlation between two variables does not imply that one causes the other
Demanding negative proof: attempting to avoid the burden of proof for some claim by demanding proof of the contrary from whoever questions that claim
Equivocation (No true Scotsman): the misleading use of a term with more than one meaning (by glossing over which meaning is intended at a particular time)
Etymological fallacy: which reasons that the original or historical meaning of a word or phrase is necessarily similar to its actual present-day meaning.
Fallacies of distribution
Division: where one reasons logically that something true of a thing must also be true of all or some of its parts
Ecological fallacy: inferences about the nature of specific individuals are based solely upon aggregate statistics collected for the group to which those individuals belong
Fallacy of many questions (complex question, fallacy of presupposition, loaded question, plurium interrogationum): someone asks a question that presupposes something that has not been proven or accepted by all the people involved. This fallacy is often used rhetorically, so that the question limits direct replies to those that serve the questioner's agenda.
Fallacy of the single cause ("joint effect", or "causal oversimplification"): occurs when it is assumed that there is one, simple cause of an outcome when in reality it may have been caused by a number of only jointly sufficient causes.
False attribution: occurs when an advocate appeals to an irrelevant, unqualified, unidentified, biased or fabricated source in support of an argument
contextomy (Fallacy of quoting out of context): refers to the selective excerpting of words from their original linguistic context in a way that distorts the source’s intended meaning
False compromise/middle ground: asserts that a compromise between two positions is correct
Gambler's fallacy: the incorrect belief that the likelihood of a random event can be affected by or predicted from other, independent events
Historian's fallacy: occurs when one assumes that decision makers of the past viewed events from the same perspective and having the same information as those subsequently analyzing the decision. It is not to be confused with presentism, a mode of historical analysis in which present-day ideas (such as moral standards) are projected into the past.
Incomplete comparison: where not enough information is provided to make a complete comparison
Inconsistent comparison: where different methods of comparison are used, leaving one with a false impression of the whole comparison
Intentional fallacy: addresses the assumption that the meaning intended by the author of a literary work is of primary importance
Loki's Wager: the unreasonable insistence that a concept cannot be defined, and therefore cannot be discussed.
Moving the goalpost (raising the bar): argument in which evidence presented in response to a specific claim is dismissed and some other (often greater) evidence is demanded
Perfect solution fallacy: where an argument assumes that a perfect solution exists and/or that a solution should be rejected because some part of the problem would still exist after it was implemented
Post hoc ergo propter hoc: also known as false cause, coincidental correlation or correlation not causation. (ex: Thousands of experiments have conclusively proven that beating drums and clashing cymbals brings back the sun after a total eclipse.)
Proof by verbosity (argumentum verbosium) (proof by intimidation): submission of others to an argument too complex and verbose to reasonably deal with in all its intimate details. see also Gish Gallop and argument from authority.
Prosecutor's fallacy: a low probability of false matches does not mean a low probability of some false match being found
Psychologist's fallacy: occurs when an observer presupposes the objectivity of his own perspective when analyzing a behavioral event
Regression fallacy: ascribes cause where none exists. The flaw is failing to account for natural fluctuations. It is frequently a special kind of the post hoc fallacy.
Reification (hypostatization): a fallacy of ambiguity, when an abstraction (abstract belief or hypothetical construct) is treated as if it were a concrete, real event or physical entity. In other words, it is the error of treating as a "real thing" something which is not a real thing, but merely an idea.
Retrospective determinism (it happened so it was bound to)
Special pleading: where a proponent of a position attempts to cite something as an exemption to a generally accepted rule or principle without justifying the exemption
Suppressed correlative: an argument which tries to redefine a correlative (two mutually exclusive options) so that one alternative encompasses the other, thus making one alternative impossible
Well travelled road effect: estimates of elapsed time is shorter for familiar routes as compared to unfamiliar routes which are of equal or lesser duration.
Wrong direction: where cause and effect are reversed. The cause is said to be the effect and vice versa.
Affirming a disjunct: concluded that one logical disjunction must be false because the other disjunct is true; A or B; A; therefore not B.
Affirming the consequent: the antecedent in an indicative conditional is claimed to be true because the consequent is true; if A, then B; B, therefore A.
Denying the antecedent: the consequent in an indicative conditional is claimed to be false because the antecedent is false; if A, then B; not A, therefore not B.
Existential fallacy: an argument has two universal premises and a particular conclusion, but the premises do not establish the truth of the conclusion.
Proof by example: where examples are offered as inductive proof for a universal proposition. ("This apple is red, therefore apples are red.")
Formal syllogistic fallacies:
Syllogistic fallacies are logical fallacies that occur in syllogisms.
Affirmative conclusion from a negative premise: when a categorical syllogism has a positive conclusion, but at least one negative premise.
Fallacy of exclusive premises: a categorical syllogism that is invalid because both of its premises are negative.
Fallacy of four terms: a categorical syllogism has four terms.
Illicit major: a categorical syllogism that is invalid because its major term is undistributed in the major premise but distributed in the conclusion.
Fallacy of the undistributed middle: the middle term in a categorical syllogism is not distributed.
Accident (fallacy): when an exception to the generalization is ignored
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
Composition: where one infers that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some (or even every) part of the whole
Converse accident (a dicto secundum quid ad dictum simpliciter): when an exception to a generalization is wrongly called for
False analogy: false analogy consists of an error in the substance of an argument (the content of the analogy itself), not an error in the logical structure of the argument
Hasty generalization (fallacy of insufficient statistics, fallacy of insufficient sample, fallacy of the lonely fact, leaping to a conclusion, hasty induction, secundum quid)
Loki's Wager: insistence that because a concept cannot be clearly defined, it cannot be discussed
Misleading vividness: involves describing an occurrence in vivid detail, even if it is an exceptional occurrence, to convince someone that it is a problem
Overwhelming exception (hasty generalization): It is a generalization which is accurate, but comes with one or more qualifications which eliminate so many cases that what remains is much less impressive than the initial statement might have led one to assume
Pathetic fallacy: when an inanimate object is declared to have characteristics of animate objects
Spotlight fallacy: when a person uncritically assumes that all members or cases of a certain class or type are like those that receive the most attention or coverage in the media
Thought-terminating cliché: a commonly used phrase, sometimes passing as folk wisdom, used to quell cognitive dissonance.
Red herring fallacies:
A red herring is an argument, given in response to another argument, which does not address the original issue. See also irrelevant conclusion
Ad hominem: attacking the person instead of the argument. A form of this is reductio ad Hitlerum.
Argumentum ad baculum (literally "appeal to the stick" or "appeal to force"): where an argument is made through coercion or threats of force towards an opposing party
Argumentum ad populum ("appeal to belief", "appeal to the majority", "appeal to the people"): where a proposition is claimed to be true solely because many people believe it to be true
Association fallacy (guilt by association)
Appeal to authority: where an assertion is deemed true because of the position or authority of the person asserting it
Appeal to consequences: a specific type of appeal to emotion where an argument that concludes a premise is either true or false based on whether the premise leads to desirable or undesirable consequences for a particular party
Appeal to emotion: where an argument is made due to the manipulation of emotions, rather than the use of valid reasoning
Appeal to fear: a specific type of appeal to emotion where an argument is made by increasing fear and prejudice towards the opposing side
Wishful thinking: a specific type of appeal to emotion where a decision is made according to what might be pleasing to imagine, rather than according to evidence or reason
Appeal to spite: a specific type of appeal to emotion where an argument is made through exploiting people's bitterness or spite towards an opposing party
Appeal to flattery: a specific type of appeal to emotion where an argument is made due to the use of flattery to gather support
Appeal to motive: where a premise is dismissed, by calling into question the motives of its proposer
Appeal to nature: an argument wherein something is deemed correct or good if it is natural, and is deemed incorrect or bad if it is unnatural
Appeal to novelty: where a proposal is claimed to be superior or better solely because it is new or modern
Appeal to poverty (argumentum ad lazarum): thinking a conclusion is correct because the speaker is financially poor or incorrect because the speaker is financially wealthy
Appeal to wealth (argumentum ad crumenam): concluding that a statement is correct because the speaker is rich or that a statement is incorrect because the speaker is poor
Argument from silence (argumentum ex silentio): a conclusion based on silence or lack of contrary evidence
Appeal to tradition: where a thesis is deemed correct on the basis that it has a long-standing tradition behind it
Chronological snobbery: where a thesis is deemed incorrect because it was commonly held when something else, clearly false, was also commonly held
Genetic fallacy: where a conclusion is suggested based solely on something or someone's origin rather than its current meaning or context. This overlooks any difference to be found in the present situation, typically transferring the positive or negative esteem from the earlier context.
Judgmental language: insultive or pejorative language to influence the recipient's judgment
Poisoning the well: where adverse information about a target is pre-emptively presented to an audience, with the intention of discrediting or ridiculing everything that the target person is about to say
Sentimental fallacy: it would be more pleasant if; therefore it ought to be; therefore it is
Straw man argument: based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position
Style over substance fallacy: occurs when one emphasizes the way in which the argument is presented, while marginalizing (or outright ignoring) the content of the argument
Texas sharpshooter fallacy: information that has no relationship is interpreted or manipulated until it appears to have meaning
Two wrongs make a right: occurs when it is assumed that if one wrong is committed, another wrong will cancel it out
Tu quoque: the argument states that a certain position is false or wrong and/or should be disregarded because its proponent fails to act consistently in accordance with that position
Conditional or questionable fallacies:
Definist fallacy: involves the confusion between two notions by defining one in terms of the other
Luddite fallacy: related to the belief that labour-saving technologies increase unemployment by reducing demand for labour
Broken window fallacy: an argument which disregards hidden costs associated with destroying property of others.
Slippery slope: argument states that a relatively small first step inevitably leads to a chain of related events culminating in some significant impact
Focus on the Data. As I have said repeatedly (and I’m not alone in this), focus on the data. As my masthead proclaims, I strive for a data-driven perspective and a data-driven process. That isn’t easy to do, sadly. We relate better to stories and are all too willing to believe and concoct narratives of various sorts to support our latest nonsense, but it’s a worthy aspiration and commitment nonetheless.
Actively Seek Out Contrary Data and Conclusions. A remarkable universe of discoveries in psychology and neuroscience demonstrate that our preexisting beliefs skew our thoughts and even color what we consider our most dispassionate and reasoned conclusions. This tendency toward so-called “motivated reasoning” helps explain why we find groups so polarized over matters about which the evidence seems so clear. In other words, expecting people (including ourselves) to be convinced by the facts is contrary to, well, the facts. Factor in behavioral biases (such as the ever popular confirmation bias, optimism bias, in-group bias and self-serving bias) and it’s easy to see (at least conceptually) why we can get it so wrong so readily. Our tendency is to look for and consider only those views that correspond to our own – which goes a long way towards explaining the popularity of Fox News and MSNBC, for example, while also explaining why the viewers of each of those networks tend to think that only the other side has it all wrong. If we are going to be able to see things a bit differently, we need to seek out and consider sources that look at things differently.
Build-In Accountability Mechanisms. We need (relative) objectivity if we are going to succeed in investing and in life unless we are extremely lucky. Having an accountability partner or (better yet) a competent and empowered team is particularly important due to our great ability to spot what’s wrong with everybody else (if not ourselves). It also means taking and dealing with criticism seriously. Even welcoming and encouraging it. It shouldn’t be surprising to see so many people who experience great investment success suffer indifferent performance or even failure subsequently (Bill Miller and John Paulson, for example). The more success and power we achieve, the easier it is to believe the hype. Accountability mechanisms that are maintained and honored can help to undercut that.
Focus on Process. Accountability is more effective when it’s part of a consistent, careful, clear and clearly defined process. We all recognize that the outcomes in many activities in life combine elements of both skill and luck. Investing is one of these. Especially troublesome is our perfectly human tendency to attribute poor results to bad luck and good results to skill. It’s a lead-pipe-lock that we’re going to err and err often in the investment world. If we are to succeed with any measure of consistency, we need carefully crafted plans with screw-up contingencies built-in together with a commitment to regular re-evaluation and a rescue plan in the event of major catastrophe.
Test and Re-Test. No matter how good our process is, we need also to assume that we have made errors and set out actively to find them by testing and confirming everything possible. Once we have decided that a given view is correct or committed to a particular course, confirmation bias has a tendency to take over. Planning to be lucky and believing that psychological realities don’t apply to us is a lovely (if arrogant) thought. But it’s not remotely realistic. Keep testing and looking for ways that you’re wrong.
Avoid the Noise. Distinguishing signal from noise can be agonizingly difficult. Given the sheer amount of stuff competing for our attention, eliminating distractions unlikely to provide substantive benefit will improve the likelihood of our success. CNBC is fun and all, but how often does it make us smarter or better?
Take a Tip from Attorneys. I often refer to myself as a recovering attorney, and there is a great deal about the practice of law that is frustrating and silly. But one excellent technique I learned from my time in that profession is to argue the other side’s case. Understanding and even appreciating a contrary point of view is helpful to our own thinking and can provide a good check on the coherence of our own viewpoints. Understanding and seeking support for the opposition’s best arguments is a powerful learning tool. We might even decide that – gasp – mistakes were made (almost surely by someone else, of course).
Keep Track of Your Mistakes as Carefully as Your Successes. We all tend to trumpet our successes and downplay our failures. I highly suggest that, at least within your circle of influence and with those to whom you are accountable, you carefully track and analyze your failures, readily apparent or not. Sometimes these mistakes will be the result of bad luck. But often you will find correctable errors or even errors in your process. Doing so also helps with #10.
Take Your Time. The more experienced and successful we are, the easier it is to take short-cuts. Experience is what allows us to apply useful short-cuts, of course, but it’s important to remember that all behavioral biases and ideologies provide mental short-cuts of a sort too. For big decisions, at least, make sure to take the time to connect each and every dot. When I was in law school I often refereed basketball games for extra money. Many situations were repeated time and again with the next action and the right call seemingly foreordained. It was always difficult to avoid anticipating the call — blowing the whistle based upon what was highly likely (perhaps almost surely) to happen rather than waiting to see what actually happened. Surprises happen on the basketball court with remarkable frequency. They happen in investing too.
Try to Stay Humble (no matter how successful you are). Even though it takes a healthy amount of self-confidence to be an investment success, arrogance and certainty are frequent enemies of continued investment success. Your accountability partners can and should help here, of course. Spouses are especially expert at promoting humility. You will screw up and screw up often. Remind yourself of that reality often as you continue to look for where your most recent failings took place.
RULES, by the Observation of which, a Man of Wit and Learning may nevertheless make himself a disagreeable Companion.
Your Business is to shine; therefore you must by all means prevent the shining of others, for their Brightness may make yours the less distinguish'd. To this End,
If possible engross the whole Discourse; and when other Matter fails, talk much of your-self, your Education, your Knowledge, your Circumstances, your Successes in Business, your Victories in Disputes, your own wise Sayings and Observations on particular Occasions.
If when you are out of Breath, one of the Company should seize the Opportunity of saying something; watch his Words, and, if possible, find somewhat either in his Sentiment or Expression, immediately to contradict and raise a Dispute upon. Rather than fail, criticise even his Grammar.
If another should be saying an indisputably good Thing; either give no Attention to it; or interrupt him; or draw away the Attention of others; or, if you can guess what he would be at, be quick and say it before him; or, if he gets it said, and you perceive the Company pleas'd with it, own it to be a good Thing, and withal remark that it had been said by Bacon, Locke, Bayle, or some other eminent Writer; thus you deprive him of the Reputation he might have gain'd by it, and gain some yourself, as you hereby show your great Reading and Memory.
When modest Men have been thus treated by you a few times, they will chuse[choose] ever after to be silent in your Company; then you may shine on without Fear of a Rival; rallying them at the same time for their Dullness, which will be to you a new Fund of Wit.
Thus you will be sure to please yourself. The polite Man aims at pleasing others, but you shall go beyond him even in that. A Man can be present only in one Company, but may at the same time be absent in twenty. He can please only where he is, you where-ever you are not.
The Pennsylvania Gazette, November 15, 1750
-- Benjamin Franklin Source