Bad Comparison / Assuming the Conclusion

Another guest post from David Preston.

Here’s a rather amateurish meme that employs at the logical fallacy known as “appeal to authority.” I retrieved it from the FB page of “GMO Free USA.”
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The meme counterposes a short quote from an obscure horticulturist in Florida (“Probably a Monsanto stooge, right?”) against a longer quote from well-known Canadian academic and author, David Suzuki. There are several problems with this meme, but I want to focus only the appeal to authority.
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The payload of the meme is contained in the label atop each speaker. The obscure horticulturist is labeled as anti-[GMO]labeling/anti-science, while Suzuki is labeled as pro-labeling/pro-science. The memester recognizes that the argument will go to whoever can be draped with the mantle of “science.” Conversely, the side that can be tarred with the “anti-science” moniker will automatically lose.
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[Note: In terms of audience appeal, it is better for your side to “pro” something rather than “anti” something. Everyone knows that anti’s are downers.]
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The only effort the memester puts into establishing who is “pro-science” is the label. Suzuki’s argument (i.e., that the long-term effects of GMOs are unknown) is true on its face. But it is also irrelevant, since the long-term effects of any new technology are, by definition, unknown. For the same reason, the horticulturalist’s out-of-context claim that GMOs are safe is unproven, because to make that claim, he’d have to have not-yet-created data at his disposal. The argument about safe vs unsafe is really a wash. But even if one side had won the argument on the merits, it doesn’t follow that the winning side would “for science” and the other side would against science. Science is not like some book of established truth. Rather, it is a methodology to arrive at truth. And that methodology incorporates many variables–both known and unknown. Scientists disagree all the time while remaining scientists. Disagreement WITHIN the scientific community is essential, in fact, in order to move science forward.
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Finally, note that the memester uses slashes to denote a logical equivalence. (“Pro-labeling/pro-science” reads as “for labeling = for science.”) And for the coup de grâce, he places a cap n’ bells on the anti-labeling guy’s head to reinforce what a dunce he is, simultaneously implying that anyone who agrees with him is similarly foolish! I’m sorry Mr. Memester, but we’re not THAT dumb.
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Disclaimer notice: David Preston is pro-GMO labeling.

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