Logical Fallacy 6: Argumentum Verbosium - Proof by Intimidation

Argumentum verbosium is also known as Proof by Intimidation, or Proof by Verbosity. It refers to an argument that is so complex, so long-winded and so poorly presented by the arguer that you are obliged to accept it, simply to avoid being forced to sift through its minute details.

This fallacy is epitomized by this lovely statement, "If you can't dazzle them with your brilliance, then baffle them with your bullshit."

This is Part 6 in a series about Logical Fallacies. We are going through one fallacy at a time. There are many types of fallacious arguments. I'm going to try to explain them with examples then find ways to help you refute those arguments when they occur. Please comment or email if there's a particular fallacy you want me to tackle, or if you have success with refuting an argument using a good technique you can share.

This one doesn't need examples because it's pretty easy to spot. If someone goes on for ages, throwing out tons of obscure, random bits of information, you have yourself an argumentum verbosium. Some of the information may seem plausible, it may all sound well-researched, but there's just no way to check all the supposed facts.

You'll often run into this logical fallacy with con men in the pseudo-science game, and with conspiracy theorists. If you've experienced it elsewhere, let us know.

So how do you refute the Proof by Verbosity? Good question. Again, this is my opinion. I've yet to find a resource that teaches how to deal with logical fallacies.

First, how are you hearing this argument? If it's on TV on an infomercial, your best bet is to change the channel after you realize the con man arguing by verbosity. If you are at a talk given by such a person, again, I'd probably leave.

If, on the other hand, this is someone you know and they are starting another rant filled with obscure "facts", you could try this:
  • Call them on their nonsense. Tell them they are arguing with verbosity, which is a bullying technique used by con men.
  • When that doesn't work, try to get a word in to say you would like to see them take 20 random facts they've pulled out of their hat and give you concrete scientific evidence for each one. The evidence must be peer reviewed and widely accepted. Then you might consider letting them talk about this subject again. (Change the number of facts based on their levels of BS. If you need to make it 50, go ahead!)
  • Threaten to walk away each time they start talking about their subject. Then follow through.
I'm not sure there is any way to get through to someone who is a conspiracy theorist. They are like fundamentalists. They truly believe what they are telling you. I also don't think there's any way to get through to a con artist who is trying to get you to buy his product. He will resist at all costs. So my cynical and jaded way to deal with such people is to turn them in to the Better Business Bureau or some such organization, and then to avoid them.

I'm open to suggestions though. Please feel free to comment with suggestions for how to deal with this type of argument. Also let me know if you have a specific logical fallacy that you'd like to see addressed.

For this lesson, I’m using 2 resources:

No comments:

Post a Comment