Top This: Bogus Combinations

Ever notice how often people—politicians, reporters, bloggers, children, plumbers, whoever—exaggerate one supposed threat by lumping it with another genuinely serious threat? Well, here’s a whopper:

A Reader’s Digest article from way back in October 2006 made an observation which, though intended to frighten me, I presume, only left me shaking my head. After addressing the problem of deception (in business, sports, government, etc.), Jacqueline Leo complains that we have even bigger problems:

“If that’s not enough to make you think we need to fix things, add the ongoing problems of an endless war in Iraq, a gigantic deficit and two major threats—terrorism and global warming.”

I won’t even touch the war and the deficit, and the article itself isn’t that bad, but terrorism and global warming are our “two major threats”? We need to find a way to (a) stop suicide bombers from blowing people up, and (b) stop icicles from melting—if they are? Uh-huh. Makes perfect sense.

Bogus Combination

Let me give this a try:

“American men are facing the twin dangers of heart disease and premature balding.”

“Scientists continue their heroic searches for a cure for cancer and a saran wrap that actually sticks to Pfaltzgraff dishes.”

“Inner city children are perpetually threatened by gang-related violence and chapped, cracked lips.”

Ironically, the article is calling for honesty, and it begins with the statement “You can’t lead with lies.” True enough. But bogus combinations are lies’ second cousins. (There’s probably some official way to describe this, a sort of logical fallacy title or something, but “bogus combinations” works for me. If there’s a more intelligent & impressive way to say it, let me know; anything I can do to come off as more intelligent is worth the effort.) Amazingly, I think most people read past these things without noticing, assuming that the combinations are valid and that the logic is legit. That’s not good. At best, it reveals sloppy thinking. At worst, it makes us susceptible to whatever the speaker or writer is peddling.

Anyway, feel free to try your hand at inventing a “missiles-and-mosquitoes” combination. Better yet, cite one from the real world. They’re all around: I have a few in mind from recent flogosphere activity, and I think there are some whoppers in Christian devotional literature, as well. See what you can come up with. “Top this.”

After all, World Wars and the New York Yankees are pretty annoying.


19 Responses

  1. How’s this for a bogus combination?

    I have been intellectualy challenged by reading such men as Jonathan Edwards and Chris Anderson.

    Is that kind of what you are looking for?

  2. Exactly. Nice job.

  3. I once had a car that didn’t run so great because of a leaky gasket and impacting a deer.

  4. How’s this?

    The NFL has seen many great quarterbacks over the last two decades, such as Tom Brady and John Elway… :D

  5. You’re right, Greg. That’s a great one. I’m astonished to see you admit that pretty boy can’t hold Elway’s…er…sock. Nicely done!

  6. grr…

    Actually, this post brought to mind the conclusion of the “classic” Patch the Pirate Goes To The Jungle…

    “Now I can buy myself a new bicycle!”

    “…or… a new roof for the church…”

    “There’s enough here to buy a whole set of bongoes!”

    “…or… a new hospital…”

  7. How about “cults, sects, and [fundamentalists]”?

    Or “the Amish, JW’s, polygamist pedophile Mormons, rabid dogs and [fundamentalists]”?

  8. Actually, Greg, I don’t really see it that way. It’s not making one thing seem particularly pernicious by lumping it with another, and I think it’s actually a pretty effective way to demonstrate to kids that their own desires aren’t as important as missions, etc. I don’t mind it at all.

    Of course, that must be a pretty nice set of bongos… :)

  9. Here’s one from the comments which follow Cal Thomas’ post on Jerry Falwell’s death:

    “[F]alwell was a representative of a fringe group. [B]ut then, the nazis were a fringe group. [T]hat’s what’s truly scary.”

    Falwell & Nazis? That’s a bogus combination.

  10. “the Amish, JW’s, polygamist pedophile Mormons, rabid dogs and [fundamentalists]”?

    You are so right. That is incredibly unfair to the Amish.

  11. Chris,

    Here is one the other way from a recent post by JG.

    “Depending on the topic, when Kevin Bauder or Mike Harding or Frank Sansone or a few others talk, I will listen even more.” :)


  12. Nice, Frank. Kind of makes me think back to this. :D

  13. Almost every major scientific group says that the long-term effects of carbon emissions, such as global warming, are at this point irreversible.

    Why are so many fundys dismissive of these claims? It’s not because they’re all trained scientists themselves who have studied the data and come to different conclusions. Is it because “scientists” also believe in evolution, so everything else they also believe is suspect? (We seem not to mind other scientific beliefs about, say, mechanics). Is it because so many people concerned about the environment take it to cultic extremes? (Hopefully the presence of cults isn’t a reason to reject Christianity). I don’t get it.

    But I do agree that calling terrorism a “major threat” is bogus. The odds of any of us being killed by terrorism are infinitesimal. Relatively speaking, being killed by lightning is a “major threat.”

  14. I just read this one today:

    “They [the church fathers] should be looked upon as fathers of the Roman Catholic Church, in fact, for they developed heresies such as infant baptism, baptismal regeneration, sovereign election, inquisitionism, hierarchicalism, and priestcraft. “

  15. Hi, Austin.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “every major scientific group,” but (in my admittedly limited understanding) there is certainly not unanimity in the scientific community regarding the reality of global warming, its effects, its causes (human vs. natural), etc. There are scientists who don’t buy the science behind global warming, so I’m not certain why you’re so frustrated with fundamentalists on the issue, as though everyone else is in agreement and a few backward believers are the only ones who don’t think the sky is falling. Frankly, I haven’t considered the “scientists are bad” angle prior to your mentioning it.

    As for your comparison, mechanics do seem to me (again, no scientist) to be more objective and verifiable than what amounts to predicting the weather. I don’t deny, however, that I’m dependent on information from others on this issue. Of course, that’s true of almost everybody.

    I hope you’re correct on the terrorism issue. The fact that Islamic extremists want Americans dead seems to be less speculative than global warming concerns, though, in my ignorant opinion.

  16. Where is that from, Andy?

  17. Well, knock me over with a feather. :)

    I think you win the prize for the best citation of a bogus combination. Crazy.

  18. There are scientists who don’t buy the science behind global warming, so I’m not certain why you’re so frustrated with fundamentalists on the issue, as though everyone else is in agreement and a few backward believers are the only ones who don’t think the sky is falling.

    Well, I’m not “frustrated” and I’m not targeting fundamentalists per se. It’s just that you know that your blog audience–which I assume mostly comprises fundamentalists–won’t have any problem with your premise here, namely that global warming is a ridiculous notion. I see the same assumption at SharperIron.

    Don’t misunderstand me; I don’t think everyone should march in lock-step with whatever the current scientific opinion is. I’m happy there are dissenters about global warming, and to the degree that they make their judgments based on sound reasoning and good evidence, I urge them to continue.

    However, what I see in fundamentalism generally–and demonstrated here–is a presumption against the current scientific opinion with regard to environmental science. The fact that there exist scientific dissenters, by itself doesn’t explain that presumption. Every field has a minority opinion, but in this field, for some reason, we seem to embrace it more heartily than in others.

    By “almost every major scientific group,” I have in mind the National Academy of Sciences, the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Geological Society of America, the American Chemical Society, the American Institute of Physics, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research. And those are just some of the American scientific bodies that have supported the notion of global warming.

    I hope you’re correct on the terrorism issue. The fact that Islamic extremists want Americans dead seems to be less speculative than global warming concerns, though, in my ignorant opinion.

    There’s no doubt that these Islamic radicals are a threat; they have killed on American soil before, and I’m confident they will do it again. The question is, how much of a threat are they? Sure they grab the headlines because of the dramatic nature of their attacks, but from an actuarial perspective they’re not a major threat.

    It’s like people’s fear of flying. Fatal auto crashes sometimes don’t even make the news because they’re so common. But if an airplane goes down, it grabs the headlines around the world, even though flying in general is by many factors much safer than driving. But we humans tend to evaluate risk on emotional factors, such as sensational killings, rather than by the hard numbers.

    Unless your blog readership includes military personnel in Baghdad, for example, the real “major threats” to our health are our fatty foods and our cars.

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