Glossary - Rational Argument: An Impossible Dream?

Copyright Notice: This material was written and published in Wales by Derek J. Smith (Chartered Engineer). It forms part of a multifile e-learning resource, and subject only to acknowledging Derek J. Smith's rights under international copyright law to be identified as author may be freely downloaded and printed off in single complete copies solely for the purposes of private study and/or review. Commercial exploitation rights are reserved. The remote hyperlinks have been selected for the academic appropriacy of their contents; they were free of offensive and litigious content when selected, and will be periodically checked to have remained so. Copyright © 2010-2011, High Tower Consultants Limited.

 

First published online 17:00 GMT 9th December 2004, Copyright Derek J. Smith (Chartered Engineer). This version [HT.1 - transfer of copyright] dated 09:00 GMT 14th March 2011

 

BUT UNDER CONSTANT EXTENSION AND CORRECTION, SO CHECK AGAIN SOON

 

1 - Introduction

This glossary is an alphabetically sorted concept cluster dealing in general terms with the individual pursuit of aletheia [= discovered truth] in a very imperfect world; a through-the-looking-glass world of hallucinogenic inconstancy, where to keep people ignorant is to control them, where deception is the key to advancement, and where facts long cherished as certainties can suddenly dissolve before your eyes. The individual entries are cross-indexed in such a way that if loaded into a semantic network they would produce a navigable three-dimensional encyclopaedia on the chosen subject. Note, however, that although the body of material is reasonably self-contained, it often overlaps in terms of content with companion glossaries in (a) Research Methods (where we deal with the technicalities of scientific truth), and (b) Psycholinguistics (where we deal with the philosophy of meaning and the science of its communication). It also overlaps in terms of general thrust with our e-paper on "Systems Thinking" (where we profile seven root skills for understanding how the world really turns). Where necessary, hyperlinks will transfer you to the appropriate companion glossary. Illustrations are drawn from the issues exercising the nation in Autumn 2004, namely the Iraq War, the US presidential election, the proposed UK Gambling Bill, the UK pensions system meltdown, and so on. 

2 - The Glossary Entries

Abductive Reasoning: [See firstly reasoning.] Abductive reasoning, or simply "abduction", is reasoning which follows the format that given a RESULT and a RULE we can arrive at a CASE. Example: If (1) my car is not where it is supposed to be, and (2) when someone steals a car then it will not be where it is supposed to be, then (3) someone has stolen my car (after Skemp, 2002/2004 online; care is needed nonetheless, because the RULE in this instance is less than watertight, so it would be fallacious argument to rely on the particular conclusion - I might, for example, have forgotten where I left my car). [Compare deductive reasoning and inductive reasoning.]

 

 

Acceptability Principle: The seventh of Damer's (1995) 12 basic principles of rational argument. The principle that you should begin a debate by finding an initial position of mutual agreement, before moving forward into the area of disagreement. 

 

 

Account: Within psycholinguistics, an account is an important subcategory of speech act, in which one explains one's motivation for an action. [See, for example, appeal to higher loyalties.]

 

 

Ad Hominem: [Latin = "at the man"]. A type of fallacious argument in which the proposer of an argument is personally belittled, rather than the proposal itself (akin to playing the player rather than the ball on the sports field). The attack may be explicit, as in a direct personal insult [abusive ad hominem], or implicit, as with belittling phrases such as "that's what you'd expect him to say" (Curtis, 2004 online). Often used when attackers have little else of substance to offer to support their case. Example: "President Bush is what his father once called a 'voodoo' economist; his ignorance is equalled only by his self-confidence" (The Mail on Sunday, 5th December 2004; forms an impression beyond the two brief statistics then presented). [Compare character assassination and smear tactics, and note especially the operations of 527 groups in US electioneering.] 

 

 

Admissible Evidence: [See firstly evidence.] Those categories of testimony and physical evidence accepted as evidence under a nation's legal system. [Contrast inadmissible evidence.] 

 

 

Aletheia: [Greek = "that which is no longer hidden or forgotten", hence "truth, frankness, sincerity".] Martin Heidegger's conceptualisation of truth as something needing to be systematically "unconcealed" (Inwoord, 1999/2004 online).

 

 

Ambiguity: A type of fallacious argument in which a word or phrase is deliberately left less than perfectly defined (Damer, 1995). Example: TO FOLLOW. 

 

 

American Dream: "The American dream is the concept widely held in the United States of America, that through hard work, courage and determination one can achieve prosperity (often associated with the Protestant work ethic). These were the values of the original pioneers who crossed the American plains when Europeans first came to America. What the American dream has become is a question under constant discussion." (Wikipedia.) [See now more on the dream, myth, convenient and Wister, Owen.]

 

 

Anecdote: [See firstly levels of evidence.] "The narrative of a detailed incident, or of a single event, told as being in itself interesting or striking" (OED). Impromptu evidence from a single case from a single authority. Often impressively vivid, and widely used in journalism and politics, but not validated by peer review and lacking the formal structure of a purpose-written case study. Frequently deployed in fallacious argument. Avoid/distrust, except if the anecdote in question can reasonably be reclassified as professional opinion. Example: TO FOLLOW. 

 

 

Appeal to Authority: A type of fallacious argument in which undue reliance is placed upon evidence from presumed, and possibly even divine, experts. An attempt to sway an argument by force of personality, reputation, or just plain fear, rather than by objective fact. Human religious belief systems are invariably based upon arguments from authority, delivered as fact by self-proclaimed "chosen ones" known as "priests", and accepted by the rest of us as a matter of faith. Example: " 'And I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt; to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey' " (Exodus, 3:17; note the double quotation marks, since Moses is at this point reporting the promise at second hand). [Map showing the locations mentioned; Story of how those on the receiving end of this heavenly eviction notice had it coming to them anyway.] [Compare hearsay evidence.] 

 

 

Appeal to Fatuous Sentiment: A type of fallacious argument in which doubting parties are showered with good news in an attempt to create a "feel-good factor". Example: "Earlier this year Australian electors were inundated with cheerful statistics showing that '93 percent of voters in marginal constituencies associate living in Australia with happiness' " (Private Eye, November 2004; in an article predicting more of this sort of argument from the Conservative Party in the impending British elections).

 

 

Appeal to Higher Loyalties: A subclass of account, identified by Cohen (2001) in his discussion of denial. The rejection of a particular line of argument concerning an alleged misdemeanour, not on factual grounds, but because in the final analysis "you/they had no choice but to do it". Examples: (1) "I love them [= Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty - homepage]. They're my friends. Obviously they have some over-the-top members, but most are absolutely lovely and so brave. [.....] The good they do outweighs the bad so much that I'll go on supporting them. [.....] The little hit on [victim's name]'s head was nothing like the cuts he puts in the heads of primates." (The Times, 13th November 2004). (2) In much the same vein, we have the "Befehl ist Befehl" defence [German = "I was only obeying orders"] commonly used by concentration camp junior personnel to abrogate responsibility for their part in the Holocaust.

 

 

Appeal to Ignorance: A type of fallacious argument in which an assertion is upheld solely because there is no immediate evidence against it. Example: TO FOLLOW. [Compare sheer imbecility.]

 

 

Appeal to Solidarity: A type of fallacious argument in which doubting parties are told to toe the party line upon pain of social ostracism or other punishment. One of the saddest facets of primate life. Example: The US appeal for international solidarity against Iraq in the run-up to the Second Iraq War [click here to see the price the French are now paying for daring to defy that appeal - sad].

 

 

Appeal to Tradition: A type of fallacious argument in which there is undue reliance on "the way things have always been done". Example: TO FOLLOW. 

 

 

Argument (1): In science and everyday educated debate, the process of offering "a set of reasons or evidence in support of a conclusion" (Weston, 2000, xi). An attempt "to support certain views with reasons" (ibid.). "A means of inquiry" (ibid., xii). A means of working from existing knowledge to better knowledge by developing known facts, known as "premises" or "propositions", in new ways. "A claim supported by other claims" (Damer, 1995, p4). "A group of statements, one or more of which (the premises) support or provide evidence for another (the conclusion)" (ibid.). [Compare argument (2), and do your best to learn the differences between rational argument and fallacious argument.]

 

 

Argument (2): In politics and religion, the use of persuasive communication and/or special operations in the struggle to promote or impose one or other desired set of beliefs or way of behaving.

 

 

Argument by Adjective: To select adjectives [Psycholinguistics Glossary] for gratuitous inclusion in a written or verbal argument in such a way as to create a deliberately prejudicial impression of the opposing position, and/or its supporters, beyond that justified by the evidence presented. Examples: (1) "..... after a botched military operation in April ....." (The Sunday Times, 14th November 2004; unnecessarily emotive choice of negative qualifier). (2) "..... there to begin his infamous betrayal of ....." (Hoffman, 2004 online; unnecessary use of clear derogation). (3) "..... and was greeted with howling scepticism ....." (The Times, 2nd November 2004; unnecessarily colourful). (4) "Isolated and humiliated, Tessa Jowell saw her plans for a casino boom torn to shreds ....." (The Daily Mail, 2nd November 2004; unnecessarily colourful). [To find out why adjectives commonly exist in positive-negative opposed pairs, see semantic differential.]

 

 

Argument by Adverb: To select adverbs [Psycholinguistics Glossary] for gratuitous inclusion in a written or verbal argument in such a way as to create a deliberately prejudicial impression of the opposing position, and/or its supporters, beyond that justified by the evidence presented. Examples: (1) "..... John Kerry shamelessly invoked an obscure Navy directive ....." (Hoffman, 2004 online; unnecessary use of clear derogation). [To find out why adverbs commonly exist in positive-negative opposed pairs, see semantic differential.]

 

 

Argument by Analogy: [See firstly argument.] To argue by analogy is to focus on metaphorical similarities between the issue or phenomenon at hand, and one already deemed solved. Since this is in effect deriving general principles from specific observations, argument by analogy is a type of inductive reasoning. Example: TO FOLLOW. 

 

 

Argument by Example: [See firstly argument.] To argue by example is to offer "one or more specific examples in support of a generalisation" (Weston, 2000, p10). Single examples, of course, are illustrations only, and are weak because they lack force of numbers [although large sample studies can be just as weak (and often a lot more misleading) if in any way confounded or biased]. The examples chosen should above all be "representative", that is to say, they should sample the subject area fairly and without intent to conceal, especially if there are a number of conflicting viewpoints. Then, as a test of their own strength, they should also specifically include, and go out of their way to dismiss, counterexamples. Example: "The vast expansion of addictive slot machines [.....] spells an almost certain rise in young gambling addicts. In Australia, where a similar deregulation has taken place, the effects have been disastrous." (The Daily Mail, 25th October 2004; italics added; no counterexamples were volunteered, however, rendering this an intrinsically unsafe argument.) 

 

 

Argument by Metaphor: To select metaphors [Psycholinguistics Glossary] for gratuitous inclusion in a written or verbal argument in such a way as to create a deliberately prejudicial impression of the opposing position, and/or its supporters, beyond that justified by the evidence presented. Example: "The Gambling Bill is rapidly turning into a train wreck" (The Daily Mail, 25th October 2004).

 

 

Argument by Mot Juste: To select one's words of criticism with such linguistic finesse as to create a deliberately prejudicial impression of the opposing position, and/or its supporters, beyond that justified by the evidence presented. To argue by "put down" or clever jibe. Example: Of the US Defence Department's management of the Abu Ghraib prison: "Abuse of detainees was not aberrational" (The Daily Mail, 16th December 2004; memorable, but not in itself evidence).

 

 

Argument by Noun: To select nouns or noun phrases [Psycholinguistics Glossary] for gratuitous inclusion in a written or verbal argument in such a way as to create a deliberately prejudicial impression of the opposing position, and/or its supporters, beyond that justified by the evidence presented. Examples: (1) "An organisation set up with National Lottery money provides fake documents to help the relatives of henchmen for Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe enter Britain" (The Mail on Sunday, 20th June 2004; calculated derogation - why select the word "henchmen", rather than "affiliates" or "employees"?). (2) The use of the term "insurgent" in the entry for Dirty Tricks, Department of. This word carries the clear implication of foreign involvement in what was in fact an indigenous resistance guerrilla force, with no more foreign advisors, either on- or off-stage, than the government they were trying to overthrow. (3) Ditto with the use of the term "insurgent" in reports from the Second Iraq War, such as: "Lieutenant-General David Petraeus, the US commander responsible for training Iraqi security forces, conceded that up to a third of Iraq's 18 provinces were affected by the insurgency ....." (The Times, 8th December 2004).

 

 

Argument by Verb: To select verbs or verb phrases [Psycholinguistics Glossary] for gratuitous inclusion in a written or verbal argument in such a way as to create a deliberately prejudicial impression of the opposing position, and/or its supporters, beyond that justified by the evidence presented. Example: "Mr. Blair's toadying to America over Iraq has humiliated Britain and endangered British lives, without advancing any definable national interest" (The Times, 16th December 2004; calculated insult and therefore subjective - "unconditional support" is more objective).

 

 

Arm's Length: The defining principle of probity in a commercial or legal agency relationship. The notion that such people as business agents, executors, proxy holders, trustees, brokers, and solicitors should act in uberrimae fides in the interests of their clients, and thus automatically, voluntarily, immediately, and without regret, steer clear of dealings from which either they themselves, or covertly favoured third parties, might benefit. Example: TO FOLLOW. Counterexample: The following is most definitely NOT at arm's length: "It has been revealed that a property developer donated £5,000 to the [name of city] Labour Party weeks before winning a contract for a £260 million casino in the city" (The Daily Mail, 4th November 2004). [See now declaration of interest.] 

 

 

Assumption: "An assumption is something presupposed or taken for granted" (Watson and Glaser, 1991, p4). Properly managed, assumption is a major critical thinking skill; mismanaged, it is a source of fallacious argument. It follows that recognition of assumption skills are a major component of rational argument.

 

 

Asymptote: The mathematical notion of a straight line in two-dimensional Cartesian space, towards which a particular curvilinear function "tends", but which it will never finally reach until they both get to infinity. The hyperbola [picture] and the Gaussian curve [picture] are both asymptotic in this way. The concept of asymptotes becomes centrally relevant to the present topic whenever an argument starts to hinge on low-probability issues (e.g. the chance of a nuclear terrorist strike in the next 24 hours). This is because those who have not grasped the concept of infinity have dangerously simplistic minds, and instantly judge low probability situations as impossible rather than as highly improbable [that is to say, they have no conception of the difference between a probability of zero and one which is merely very close to zero, and err accordingly].

 

 

Atrocity: "An act of extreme cruelty and heinousness" (OED), usually involving an armed attack on civilians or disarmed military, perhaps as a reprisal, perhaps in the indisciplined heat of the moment, but always providing a focus for the righteous indignation of the aggrieved side. It is of course difficult to maintain an objective definition with a topic as sensitive as this, but the critical factor seems to be that atrocities are deemed over-the-top and unacceptable even within one's own ranks. This is what distinguishes an atrocity from a massacre, say, where it tends to be body count alone which is remarkable, rather than the manner in which that body count was achieved. Thus the Boston Massacre [details] would be an atrocity, because unarmed civilians were on the receiving end, whilst the "Marianas Turkey Shoot" [details] would be a massacre but not an atrocity, because it was basically a fair - albeit somewhat uneven - fight. [The Marianas "whuppin'" was the logical outcome of some excellent generalship, and that is what wars are all about.] Examples: Nanking, Bloody Sunday, Omagh, My Lai, Nine-Eleven, Srebrenica, etc., etc., and as many again without memento. The irony is that atrocities are usually self-defeating, because they stiffen the resolve of the surviving enemy not to surrender [as happened, for example, in the Battle of Bastogne, December 1944, following the infamous "Massacre at Malmedy"]. [See now false atrocity and atrocity gap.]

 

 

Atrocity Gap: [See firstly atrocity.] In time of war, declared or otherwise, an "atrocity gap" is any mismatch between the number of atrocities factually being committed by a nation's own armed forces and the number factually being committed by one's enemy's. For maximum public support, that ratio must always be about 1000:1 in your favour, and, should it ever fall below that, must immediately be adjusted (a) by covering up your own misdemeanours that much more effectively, and (b) by the invention of false atrocities on the part of the enemy.

 

 

Attitude/Attitude of Mind: In everyday usage, an "attitude" is a disposition or posture of a person or thing, and hence also a "settled behaviour or manner of acting, as representative of feeling or opinion" (OED), and an "attitude of mind" is a "deliberately adopted, or habitual, mode of regarding the object of thought" (OED). In philosophy and cognitive psychology, the basic definition is the same but there is greater emphasis on the approach-avoidance side of attitudes, that is to say, their "emotional" aspect. Thus while Katz and Stotland (1959, p428) define attitude as "a tendency or disposition to evaluate an object or the symbol of that object in a certain way", Insko (1967, p12) defines attitudes as "implicit responses oriented toward approaching or avoiding, reacting favourably or unfavourably toward, an object or symbol". So we need to consider several mental factors simultaneously, namely (1) the cognitive aspects (or beliefs), (2) the evaluative aspects (or judgements), (3) the "affective" aspects (or emotions), (4) the behavioural aspects (the approach-avoidance attitudes), and (5) the verbalisable aspects (the opinions). The formal literature on attitudes goes back to Allport (1935), and includes many papers from the period 1945-1955 summarising public information operations during the Second World War. [Compare opinions and beliefs, and then see attitude change.]

 

 

Attitude Certainty: [See firstly metacognition.] A "metacognitive perspective" on one's own attitudes (Tormala and Petty (2004/2004 online), enabling them to be assessed on perceived certainty. Example: To be 90% convinced, perhaps, that it is reasonable to despise liars. 

 

 

Attitude Change: Changes in the cognitive, evaluative, and approach-avoidance aspects of an attitude, either (a) spontaneously, (b) as the result of rational argument, (c) as the result of fallacious argument and/or propaganda, or (d) as the result of thought reform or indoctrination. Fortunately [and we use that word very advisedly, for it would be a weapon of mass mental destruction if it did exist], there is no final agreed theory of attitude change, merely the accumulated practical experience of those who make an (extremely rich) living at it. This is because attitude change is one of the areas where the half dozen or so classic "perspectives" (or "schools") of psychological explanation all come up with their own view on what cognition is and how it interacts with our more emotional inner selves. [See now the separate entries following (non-psychologists will need to review the perspectives first).]

 

 

Attitude Change Theory (Behaviourist Perspective): The textbook behaviourist approach to understanding attitude change is Hovland, Janis, and Kelley's (1953) "Reinforcement Theory". These authors class both opinions and attitudes as "intervening variables" (p7) [Research Methods Glossary], and see them as being determined initially by many years of both direct and indirect reward. The art of changing them, therefore, is a matter of further manipulating that reward system.

 

 

Attitude Change Theory (Cognitive Dissonance Theory): The cognitivist approach to attitude has evolved markedly over the last half century. One of the earliest theories was by Festinger (1957), who saw the need for what we know about one thing to be consistent with what we know about all other things as well. Where there was inconsistency - or "dissonance" - between any two knowledges, there is a pressure to reduce that dissonance, and one way of doing this is to change the attitudinal content of one of the contenders (typically the weaker of the two). [See now metacognition as a possible vehicle for the resolution of such dissonance.]

 

 

Attitude Change Theory (Group Theory): As troop animals, it is not surprising that our attitudes are largely determined by the processes of socialisation, firstly into our immediate family circle, and subsequently into our peer and occupational groups. It follows that counter-attitudinal influences ought to be more effective if they are group-approved, and less effective if not. Much of the pioneer work here was carried out by Kurt Lewin at the MIT Research Centre for Group Dynamics which he helped found in 1944.

 

 

Attitude Change Theory (Psychodynamic Theory): The psychodynamic approach to attitude change looks for its explanations in the psychosexual unconscious. The whole point of Freud's psychoanalytical analysis was that attitudinal cognitions are invariably locked into a certain pattern because they have been attached to deeper emotional forces within the unconscious. This makes them difficult to change without first resolving those underlying tensions. The key works here are Sarnoff (1951, 1960, 1962) and Sarnoff and Zimbardo (1961), and the key concepts are (a) ego defences such as repression, projection, denial, and identification, and (b) the notion that attitudes can arise from consciously unacceptable motives such as lust, hatred, and greed.

 

 

Attitude Change Theory (Semantic Differential Theory): Another early cognitivist theory of attitude change invoked Osgood's notion of the "semantic differential". This method of analysis was developed by Charles E. Osgood at the University of Illinois (Osgood, 1952; Osgood, Suci, and Tannenbaum, 1958), and presumed that a mental stance on any subject consisted of a number of simultaneous bipolar evaluations. Each dimension of evaluation set two adjectival opposites against each other, and something between half a dozen and a dozen simultaneous evaluations could create a powerful multidimensional profile of the given subject. If we want to change an attitude which has been put together in this way, then we have to know how to reset one or more of these dimensions, and Osgood sees this as what happens (or fails to happen) whenever a counter-attitudinal claim is received. This induces a momentary state of disequilibrium, which is then reflected upon until it resolves. Example: Intellectual and moral affiliation to a political party might result in evaluations as underlined on the following dimensional profile: GOOD-BAD BEAUTIFUL-UGLY VALUABLE-WORTHLESS HONOURABLE-DISHONOURABLE KIND-CRUEL, etc. If the object of that affiliation is then caught cynically lying to you, then the HONOURABLE evaluation might reasonably flip to DISHONOURABLE, which is then inconsistent with all the others. This tension can be resolved in two ways, namely (a) flipping all evaluations to their negatives, or (b) rationalising the dishonourable behaviour back into an honourable one, perhaps by one of the forms of psychological denial. [See now metacognition as a possible vehicle for the resolution of such tensions.]

 

 

Aura of Sacredness: [See firstly totalism.] One of the eight factors identified by Lifton (1961) as making for an effective system of thought reform. Totalism, according to Lifton, "maintains an aura of sacredness around its basic dogma, holding it out as an ultimate moral vision for the ordering of human existence" (p486).

 

 

Bacon, Sir Francis: [See firstly scientific method.] Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was the Elizabethan author of "The Advancement of Learning", one of the earliest expositions of how to use inductive reasoning in the pursuit of new knowledge. 

 

 

Barnum Effect: [See firstly flattery.] Concept from Forer (1949) and term from O'Dell (1972) and Snyder and Shenkel (1975) to describe the gullibility of people in accepting vague generalisations such as horoscope predictions and personality profile descriptions as more uniquely applicable to them than can possibly be the case. So named after Phineas T. Barnum, whose circus prided itself on having something for everybody, no matter how discerning they thought themselves. [For more on this, see Dickson and Kelly (1985).]

 

 

Barnum, Phineas T. (1810-1891): [Selected Internet biography] American showman.

 

 

Begging the Question:  [See firstly argument.] A type of fallacious argument in which the answer is, upon alert inspection, seen to be avoiding the question by simply restating it. "Any form of argument in which the conclusion occurs as one of the premises, or a chain or arguments in which the final conclusion is a premise of one of the earlier arguments in the chain" (Curtis, 2004 online), or in which "you assume to be true what you are supposed to be proving" (source). An assertion upheld by what is in reality a "circular argument"; in effect that "A equals A". Example: "I like vanilla ice cream because it's my favourite kind" (source). [Compare tautology.]

 

 

Belief: In everyday usage, a belief is the "mental acceptance of a proposition, statement, or fact, as true, on the ground of authority or evidence; assent of the mind to a statement, or to the truth of a fact beyond observation, on the testimony of another" (OED). It is that which gives "strength and solidarity" to a related idea. Within psychology, a belief "is a representational mental state that takes the form of a propositional attitude" (Wikipedia), or "the recognition of existence" (Spencer 1885/1970, p14). Beliefs are thus the cognitive component of an attitude. Within modern cognitive science, beliefs are dealt with in the language of propositions [Psycholinguistics Glossary] and propositional memory [Memory Glossary]. They are the conceptual structures which generate subject-predicate [Psycholinguistics Glossary] statements of the form "I believe that .....". [See now believe, to.]

 

 

Belief System: [See firstly belief and attitude.] A belief system [more properly, an attitude system] is a body of coherently interrelated beliefs or attitudes, bound together by a common relation to an issue of concern within that society. Thus a society which earned its living from the sea would have at its disposal an accumulation of knowledge relating to boats, fishing, navigation, etc. As such, this would constitute an epistemology, or to use a more modern term, a knowledge base. It would not rank as a belief system, however, because the individual beliefs would lack the emotional cathexis needed to qualify them as attitudes. The knowledge base would only be elevated to the status of a formal belief system when it started to offer solace and specious explanation to death and other sad circumstances of life. In short, a belief system is a knowledge base with a few superstitions and myths thrown in.

 

 

Believe, To: In everyday usage, to believe is "to have confidence or faith in (a person), and consequently to rely upon, trust to" (OED; italics original). Within psychology, it is an important example of a "mental verb" [Psycholinguistics Glossary], one of a small subset of verbs we use (a) to describe our own mental states, and (b) to understand the mental states of those around us. [See now believe in.]

 

 

Believe In, To: [See firstly believe.] The verb "to believe in" is even more psychologically complicated than the verb "to believe", carrying as it does the connotation of votive faith. To believe in is to accept "the truth of a statement or doctrine" (OED). [See now belief system.]

 

 

Bias (1): In everyday usage, to bias is "to influence or incline (one) to do anything" and a bias is "a preponderating disposition or propensity" (OED). In psychology, "a bias is a prejudice in a general or specific sense, usually in the sense for having a predilection to one particular point of view or ideology" (Wikipedia).

 

 

Bias (2): For the problems associated with the technical concept of bias in research, see the corresponding entry in our Research Methods Glossary.

 

 

Black Propaganda: [See firstly special operations and Department of Dirty Tricks.] "Black propaganda is propaganda that purports to be from a source on one side of a conflict, but is actually from the opposing side" (Wikipedia). In peacetime, black propaganda is one of the tools of undeclared war; in wartime, it becomes one of the most powerful tools of psychological warfare. Examples: Included in the Wikipedia definition.

 

 

Blog: [Abbreviation of the Internet technical term "web log".] [See firstly pamphleteer and Tom Paine.] "An online diary, an internet soapbox from which a blogger can pour down a varied flood of commentary, confession, and contemporaneous reporting [.....] a return of pamphleteering as a political force, and the revival of the citizen-journalist" (Macintyre, 2004, p30). Example: Iraq War blogs.

 

 

Bluster: [Old German blustern = "to flutter or flap the wings in alarm like a frightened dove, etc." (OED).] Words a-plenty, but largely devoid of coherence or meaning; in the spotlights, but with nothing substantive to say. Example: TO FOLLOW. Many species of bird bluster when under threat from a predator, the net effect of which is to divert said predator's attention from their nest. Indeed, the topic of tactical deception of this sort in animal behaviour was reviewed by Byrne and Whiten (1988) and is now a very popular area of comparative psychology [key points]. [See also "Machiavellian Intelligence".]

 

 

Brainwashing: [Chinese hsi nao = "wash brain"] A specific historical instance of forcible indoctrination, and a sub-technique of the broader practice of Communist Chinese thought reform. Term coined in the mid-20th century to describe the forcible "re-education" both of indigenous intellectuals and UN prisoners of war by the North Koreans and Chinese during the Korean War. The ultimate purpose was to have individual prisoners genuinely reverse their political allegiance, and occasional successes were deployed either openly for propaganda purposes or covertly for espionage purposes. Nevertheless, it has always been somewhere between very difficult and impossible to achieve the sort of total mind control popularised in Richard Condon's 1959 novel "The Manchurian Candidate" (filmed 1962 and 2004).

 

 

Briefing Against: Covert ad hominem argument within what is nominally the same team. Secretive, rather than public, character assassination, typically by planting derogatory rumours with media contacts. Furtive and malicious whispering intended to undermine a rival's credibility and reputation. Standard practice in UK politics, and, presumably, world wide. Examples: (1) Click here for the story of Tony Blair's briefings against his colleague Clare Short, told from the latter's point of view. (2) Then there are David Blunkett's briefings against the Metropolitan Police's SO13 anti-terrorist squad. "Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens demanded an apology from the Home Secretary after Mr. Blunkett blamed the SO13 squad for leaking details of a planned gas attack on the London Underground [original 2002 story]. The two men had a blazing row when Mr. Blunkett admitted that he knew the allegation was false" (The Mail on Sunday, 12th December 2004).

 

 

Browbeat, To: "To bear down, discourage, or oppose, with stern, arrogant, or insolent looks or words; to snub, to bully" (OED). A type of fallacious argument in which one party is bullied into submission by the force of another's personality. Example: TO FOLLOW. 

 

 

Bryce Commission: [See firstly false atrocity and public information operations.] British government propaganda committee created in late 1914 under Lord Bryce, on the pretext of documenting German war crimes, but responsible in fact for conjuring atrocity stories more or less out of thin air, in an effort to maintain the necessary British-German atrocity gap. Of the 1200 depositions taken, none were made under oath and when their accuracy was challenged after the war the paperwork "had mysteriously disappeared" (Knightley, 1982, p68). Perhaps significantly, a Belgian commission of enquiry in 1922 "failed markedly to corroborate a single major allegation" (Ibid.). "One of the triumphs of the war, on the propaganda front" (Lasswell, 1927/1971, p19).

 

 

Bryce, Viscount James (1838-1922): [selected Internet biography] Author of the Bryce Commission Report.

 

 

Buchan, Colonel John (1875-1940): [selected Internet biography] British author (notably of "The 39 Steps", 1914), recruited in 1916 into the British Army's Intelligence Corps, and promoted in February 1917 to be Director of the newly established Department of Information, there to continue to exercise his literary imagination on behalf of British public information operations.

 

 

Burden of Proof Principle: The third of Damer's (1995) 12 basic principles of rational argument. The principle that it is the duty of the person making a controversial claim "to provide an appropriate argument in support of it" (p176). 

 

 

Bury, To: In the present context, to "bury" is to report bad news about topic X in the midst of a major ongoing news story about topic Y, and - being totally legal - is one of the neatest dirty tricks available to politicians. There is no attempt at rational argument, in other words, merely a cynical attempt to avoid one. Example: Before the dust had cleared from the ruins of the World Trade Centre on 11th September 2001, those in charge of British public information operations were seeing it as an opportunity to slip out a few negative pieces of news [story].

 

 

Bystander Denial: The third subcategory of denial of agency, as proposed by Cohen (2001). Denial by the witnesses, actual and remote, to an atrocity.

 

 

Cabal: [From the initials of the five members of Charles II's "Cabal Ministry", so named then, and so remembered now, because serendipitously similar to Kabbalah and the latter's undertones of secrecy.] "A cabal is a number of persons united in some close design, usually to promote their private views and interests in church or state by intrigue; a secret association ....." (Wikipedia).

 

 

Carbonari: [Italian = "charcoal-burners"] A Italian secret society, responsible in the early-19th century for political intrigue initially in the Kingdom of Naples, and later, as the organisation grew in size and influence, throughout Europe [more].

 

 

Case History: [Alternatively "case notes".] The notes maintained by healthcare professionals of their dealings with their patients, thus providing a time-extensive record of each patient's signs and symptoms, test results, treatments given, progress, and prognosis, and, in turn, an accepted basis of both scientific and legal evidence. [See now case study.]

 

 

Case Study: [See firstly case history.] Evidence from a single case history, condensed and formally structured for peer review and publication. Case studies will usually contain an abbreviated case history, supplemented by observations and speculations on the background theory. Example: To see a typical neuropsychological case study, try Wheatley and McGrath (1997/2004 online). Case studies are extremely good science in their own way, but suffer nonetheless from the problems inherent to all "n-of-one" research, not the least of which is that they tend, by their very nature, to encourage argument by example.

 

 

Cathexis: In psychodynamic theory, cathexis is the process of investing libidinal [= emotionally loaded] "energies" in cognitive structures such as object concepts [whence fetishes], person concepts [whence fixations], propositions [whence attitudes], or schemas [whence belief systems]. [See now the Bartleby.Com definition]

 

 

Causal Line: Bertrand Russell's concept of "a temporal series of events so related that, given some of them, something can be inferred about the others whatever may be happening elsewhere" (Russell, 1948, p459). [For a more detailed introduction to this topic, see the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy.]

 

 

Causal Oversimplification: A type of fallacy identified by Damer (1995), and characterised to a greater or lesser extent by oversimplification of the "causal antecedents of an event" (p188). This is arguably the single most useful fallacy if the intention is to sway public opinion on some subject, because the majority of those addressed have neither the time nor the intelligence to appreciate more complex material. Example: TO FOLLOW.

 

 

Causal Rule: A specific and fallacy-free explanation of one or more event-pairs in a causal line. An explanation for which the observed correlations are high, for which no confounding [Research Methods Glossary] can be detected even after sustained inspection, and which has high levels of predictive validity [Research Methods Glossary].

 

 

Causality: "The operation or relation of cause and effect" (OED). A perceptually compelling judgement that one event has resulted in the occurrence of another, which persists even when knowing that it did not. The problem is basically one of reality vs illusion, and may be illustrated by considering the "stage punch", where actors feign fisticuffs without actually getting hurt. Actors throwing a blow, for example, deliberately swing an inch or so short, while actors being "hit" co-operate in the illusion by jerking the appropriate part of their body away at just the right time, and by crying out in pain. Carefully synchronised Batman thwacks can be added as appropriate to intensify the illusion. Many theatrical special effects, conjuring tricks, and perceptual illusions work in similar ways. The effective variables were discussed more than half a century ago by the Belgian psychologist Albert Michotte (1881-1965), and some demonstrations from Michotte (1946/1963) are now available in online simulation [click for example]. [For a more penetrating introduction to this topic, see The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy.]

 

 

Causation: One of the fundamental notions of science. The idea that there is regularity, reliability, and order in the natural world, and that the resulting predictability gives us at least a semblance of control over that world. Hence the human species' ability to control chemical reactions, calculate the positions of the planets many hundreds of years in advance, and generally bend the physical world to our will. The philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) is one of many to have cautioned that the sense of causation which comes with detecting a correlation between two types of event is often deceptive and counterproductive. [See now scientific method.]

 

 

Cause and Effect: See causation.

 

 

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA): US government agency founded in 1947, and responsible for "coordinating the nation's intelligence activities and correlating, evaluating and disseminating intelligence which affects national security" (CIA website) [see also the agency's current Vision, Mission, and Values]. These duties included (and still include) waging a highly assertive peace with carefully planned and targeted special operations, which, because secrecy can never be totally guaranteed, soon generated enough rumours to earn the agency a reputation as the class-defining example of a Department of Dirty Tricks.

 

 

Character Assassination:  The deliberate, but of the essence unactionable, defamation of a rival. One of the classic dirty tricks of commercial or public life. Examples: (1) A good modern example of character assassination comes from the Texan politician (later President) Lyndon B. Johnson, who reputedly instructed his aides to spread the word that a political rival was rather partial to having sex with pigs, not because this was necessarily true, but because it was going to be extremely difficult for the victim to deny [fuller story]. (2) "In hindsight, his [= US Democratic candidate John Kerry's] obvious objective was to emulate his idol, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, serve as short a time as possible, and escape Vietnam unscathed but with sufficient credentials and decorations to portray himself in heroic terms" (Hoffman, 2004 online). [See now 527 group.]

 

 

Charity Principle: The fourth of Damer's (1995) 12 basic principles of rational argument. The principle that you should go out of your way to understand your opponent's argument by reformulating it for open discussion and presenting it in the best possible light. Charity is important, Damer points out, because it is actually in your own interests: "if we are really interested in the truth or the best answer to a problem, then we will want to evaluate the best version of any argument set forth in support of one of the options. Hence, if we don't deal with the best version now, we will eventually have to do so ....." (p178; italics added). 

 

 

CIA: See Central Intelligence Agency.

 

 

Cinematic Illusion: The illusion of smooth movement which comes when the separate frames making up a cinematic film are projected faster than a certain threshold speed. 

 

 

Circular Argument: See begging the question. 

 

 

Civilian Casualties: The sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, neighbours, etc. of enemy servicemen, who, by not running far and fast enough, have chosen to put themselves in harm's way and accordingly only have themselves to blame if they get hurt. Although protected since 1950 by the "Fourth Geneva Convention" (the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons [full text]), civilians have always been deemed a legitimate target in times of war. Examples: (1) The estimate for civilian casualties in the Second World War is over 30 million [breakdown]. (2) The estimate for civilian casualties in the Korean War is around two million (Knightley, 1982). (3) The estimate for civilian casualties in the Vietnam War is anything up to four million. (4) The estimate for civilian casualties in the Second Iraq War to date is 100,000 [breakdown] (The Independent, 29th October 2004, citing a report by Dr. Les Roberts of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health).

 

 

Clarity Principle: The fifth of Damer's (1995) 12 basic principles of rational argument. The principle that "any successful discussion of an issue must be carried on in language that is understood by all the parties involved" (p178). Linguistic clarity is important, Damer stresses, because "confusion is not the place to stop a discussion [but rather] the starting place" (p179). In other words, it is wrong for an argument to be dropped simply because the participants have become bored with it and have "agreed to differ"; they differ because they have been unclear and they owe it to the ideal of aletheia to remedy that lack of clarity and carry on arguing. [But carefully contrast suspension of judgement principle.]

 

 

Cliché: A type of fallacy identified by Damer (1995), and characterised by the use of well worn, but, upon inspection, far from proven, assertions. Example: "There's a whiff of snobbery in some of the opposition to new casinos" (Tessa Jowell, quoted in The Daily Mail, 25th October 2004).

 

 

"Cock-Up" or Conspiracy: Polar opposite habitual stances in how individuals prefer to explain unexplained historical events to themselves, usually as a reflection of one's own personality and personal attitudes. [See separately "cock-up" theory and conspiracy theory.] 

 

 

"Cock-Up" Theory: An explanation from the "cock-up" end of the "cock-up" or conspiracy dimension. The notion that most major events in history either just happened, or (at worst) happened thanks to the sheer incompetence of the politicians and civil servants who ought to have been preventing them. Example: To conclude that the death of Lady Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, was a straightforward road traffic accident is to side with the "cock-up" theorists in this instance, and may be contrasted with Example #2 in the entry for conspiracy theory.

 

 

Coincidence: "A notable concurrence of events or circumstances having no apparent causal connection" (OED). The real issue is how many coincidences make a causal rule, and that question has been exercising statisticians for over a century. [The answer, incidentally, is that it depends how strong a rule you want, but never less than eight, this being the shortest "run" of identical results in a "heads-or-tails" situation to return a 5% significance value in the binomial sign test - see these entries in our Research Methods Glossary.]

 

 

Committee on Public Information: US governmental agency created in 1917 under George Creel to oversee public information operations in America during World War One. 

 

 

Conclusion: The objective of reasoning.

 

 

Confession: [See firstly totalism.] One of the eight factors identified by Lifton (1961) as making for an effective system of thought reform. Totalism, according to Lifton, is "obsessed" with getting its opponents to confess their transgressions (one of which, needless to say, is being opposed to the regime in question in the first place). 

 

 

Conspiracy Theory: An explanation from the conspiracy end of the "cock-up" or conspiracy dimension. The notion that most major events in history were plotted in advance either by cabal or secret service. Examples: (1) See the hyperlinks in the entry for freemason(2) To conclude that the death of Lady Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, was occasioned by the British secret service at the instigation of an exasperated father-in-law is to side with the conspiracy theorists in this instance, and may be contrasted with Example #1 in the entry for "cock-up" theory. (3) "After the secrecy surrounding Mr. Arafat's final days, Ramallah is rife with rumours about his [having been poisoned]" (The Times, 17th November 2004).

 

 

Contemporary Denial: The second subcategory of denial (historical or contemporary), as proposed by Cohen (2001). Denial of an ongoing atrocity, assisted by "a perceptual filter placed over reality" (p13). Example: The "compassion fatigure" which comes from seeing yet another news report of starving children.

 

 

Convenient Myth: See myth, convenient.

 

 

Conventional Wisdom: [See firstly causation.] The popular interpretation of a phenomenon or event; an established, but in the final analysis unproven, explanation of some phenomenon. Uneducated opinion; public consensus; presumed, rather than proven, cause. Example: That the British are better at discharging the duties of occupation force in Iraq than are the Americans, as per the following from one Black Watch squaddie: "..... we have controlled the situation down here [the Basra sector] while the Americans seem to have ruined it up there [around Baghdad]" (The Independent, 29th October 2004). [Compare counterfeit wisdom.]

 

 

Correlation: "Mutual relation of two or more things (implying intimate or necessary connection)" (OED). Of variables, to vary as though mutually contingent, increasing and decreasing either (a) together, or (b) in opposition [see the entries for positive correlation and negative correlation respectively in our Research Methods Glossary]. The ability to detect correlations in everyday life from the perceived commonalities of a number of instances, appears to be a basic property of the neural tissue with which we have been endowed, and is generally a good thing. However, the mind can just as easily be tricked into the conclusion that two occurrences are related by a causal rule when in truth they merely share an as-yet-undetected common cause, and this alluring misjudgement is at the heart of many a fallacious argument. [See now cum hoc ergo propter hoc, and the examples therein.]

 

 

Counterfeit Wisdom: A sub-variety of persuasive communication, in which this or that convenient over-simplification is dressed up for political or similar purposes. A glib or populist explanation which is (a) couched as wisdom, (b) "fronted" by a celebrity of some sort, and (c) pleases the public viscera rather than taxes the public mind. Intellectual pap. Superficiality incarnate. The wisdom of the "shallow minded" as seen from the standpoint of those too uncritical to notice the myriad inconsistencies and contradictions concealed therein (after Habermehl, 1994). Example: Habermehl is particularly scathing about the late Ronald Reagan's contribution to the history of informed and critical debate. 

 

 

Cover Story: A deliberately falsified official explanation, put about with the intention of concealing an unpleasant or operationally sensitive truth. Example: See the story of the Dahran Scud Attack, 1991, in our online database of "Aerospace Disasters"

 

 

Credit Boom (Systems View): A systems approach to the UK consumer credit boom of the last decade would attempt to provide hard data on such embarrassing issues as (1) the likely net export of GDP where the creditor institutions are offshore, (2) the likely impact of personal debt on consumer spending and employment in general, and on the housing market in particular, (3) the likely cost to the taxpayer of the resulting increased load on social services, and (4) the likely cost to the banking system of any consequent rise in bad debt. Example: "A woman who borrowed £10,800 to install a new kitchen is having to sell her home after her loan spiralled to more than £220,000. [.....] When [name] failed to keep up with the £240-a-month repayments the debt rapidly grew. Each time she missed a payment it was added back to the total with compound interest" (The Daily Mail, 25th November 2004; attempts to enforce usurous contracts like this are now being thrown out of British courts of law under unfair trading legislation).

 

 

Creel, George (1876-1953): [selected Internet biography] American journalist selected in 1917 as Director of the Committee on Public Information. Published his memoirs under the title "How We Advertised America" (Creel, 1920) [review of contents by www.historytools.org/sources].

 

 

Critical Evaluation: The skill of spotting fallacy in academic argument, and accordingly one of the principal ingredients of "graduateness".

 

 

Critical Thinking: One of the two main constituent skills of effective reasoning (the other being inference). That which is measured by the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal - see the separate entries for deductive reasoning, inference, interpretation, and recognition of assumptions.

 

 

Cultural Denial: The third subcategory of denial (individual or shared), as proposed by Cohen (2001). Denial which involves "unwritten agreements" (p11) about what a society ought to believe, and, accordingly, ought to deny. Example: "Brutalities against indigenous peoples" (p11). 

 

 

Cum Hoc ergo Propter Hoc: [Latin = "with this therefore because of this".] A type of fallacious argument in which a simple coincidence is confused with causation. A correlation by confounding variable [Research Methods Glossary] or coincidence, rather than by a causal rule. Example: It may be taken as a fact that ice cream sales are strongly correlated with crime rates, but it is nevertheless wholly fallacious to conclude either (a) that ice cream causes crime, or (b) that crime creates an appetite for ice cream. So what is to blame, then? Check it out. [Compare post hoc ergo propter hoc.]

 

 

Damer's Twelve Principles: Damer's (1995) analysis and summary of the separate mental disciplines which make for "effective rational discussion" (p172). [See now the separate entries for acceptability principle, burden of proof principle, charity principle, clarity principle, fallibility principle, rebuttal principle, reconsideration principle, relevance principle, resolution principle, sufficient grounds principle, suspension of judgement principle, truth-seeking principle.]

 

 

Damned by Faint Praise: [See firstly argument by adjective.] A figure of speech [Psycholinguistics Glossary] in which one's real opinion on a given issue or of a given person or group becomes clear by a refusal to allocate a highly positive adjectival qualifier. To make one's reservations apparent by what one cannot bring oneself to say. Example: TO FOLLOW.

 

 

Damned by High Praise: [See firstly argument by adjective.] A figure of speech [Psycholinguistics Glossary] in which one's real opinion on a given issue or of a given person or group is concealed by gratuitous and condescending flattery. Example: "President Bush, asked if he shared some critics' view of Mr. Blair as his 'poodle', said: 'He is a strong capable man and I admire him ... When he says something he means it. He is deep thinking and has clear vision'". (The Times, 13th November 2004.) [See now patting the poodle.]

 

 

Deception (1): "That which deceives; a piece of trickery; a cheat, sham" (OED). Of animals and humans alike, to conceal as to physical presence, identity, or intention. To dissemble. The use of deception techniques in the animal world became a major study area within comparative psychology after a keynote paper by Byrne and Whiten (1988). Its development in children has been studied by Vasek (1986).  Example: See under bluster above. [The potential of animal tactical deception methods as models for improving human military effectiveness has recently been publicly summarised by the Rand Corporation (2004 online). See also Machiavellian intelligence.]

 

 

Deception (2): See the entries for ethics and deception in our Research Methods Glossary.

 

 

Decision Making: One of the standard stages of problem solving. The selection of a particular course of action from a choice of several courses of action, each already thoroughly evaluated and costed against evidence presented. [Compare medical decision making.] 

 

 

Declaration of Interest: [See firstly arm's length.] The formal recording of a personal interest, actual or potential, by such people as business agents, executors, proxy holders, trustees, brokers, and solicitors. "Coming clean" in advance. Being "up front".

 

 

Deductive Reasoning: [See firstly reasoning.] Deductive reasoning, or simply "deduction", is what you might call "Sherlock Holmes reasoning", and involves deriving a specific conclusion from the available observations, given the prevailing understanding of the world. Thus if X has taken place and you know that X will causally induce Y, then you can deduce that Y is about to take place also. Alternatively, given a RULE (the first premise) and a CASE (the second premise), we reach a CONCLUSION (after Skemp, 2002/2004 online). The issue hinges, however, on whether the conclusion necessarily follows the given facts, and, since the ability to make such fine judgements is not distributed uniformly throughout the population, deductive reasoning powers are accordingly commonly seen in psychometric tests portfolios. Example: Test #3 of the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal is a test of deductive reasoning, and is structured as follows [correct answers shown in square brackets]. You are presented with the following scenario: "Some holidays are rainy. All rainy days are boring. Therefore .....": (1) No clear days are boring [NO]. (2) Some holidays are boring [YES]. (3) Some holidays are not boring [NO]. Weston (2000) points out that deductive arguments can sometimes field many true premises, but derive a false conclusion nonetheless. An important subclass of two-premise deductions is called syllogisms. [Compare abductive reasoning and inductive reasoning.]

 

 

Democracy: [Greek = "rule by the people"] "That form of government in which the sovereign power resides in the people as a whole, and is exercised either directly by them [or] by officers elected by them" (OED). The Greek ideal is cited as the inspiration for today's party-dominated, elected-representative, parliamentary democracies, but there is ample room for criticism. The elected representative aspect of the system is particularly important in the present context, because not only does it set the people and their chosen government in a state of eternal confrontation, but it also blurs the allocation of responsibility. For example, it gives an elected government the mandate to slaughter in their nation's name rather than in their own [whence the illocutionary power of the "NOT IN MY NAME" tee-shorts popular with opponents of the Iraq War], and - perhaps more worryingly - it also gives your enemy the perceived right to inflict civilian casualties upon you in return (because you voted the real perpetrators in).

 

 

Denial: An important psychodynamic defence mechanism, in which your attitudinal structures are protected from descending into emotional turmoil by voluntarily distorting unpleasant incoming facts. Rejection of the truth by denying the underlying propositions in some way. Believing what your viscera want to believe, rather than the evidence of your eyes and ears. Cohen (2001) identifies five "elementary forms" of denial, some with a number of subcategories. These five forms are denial of content, denial (individual or shared), denial (historical or contemporary), denial of agency, and denial by remoteness in space and time.

 

 

Denial by Remoteness in Space and Time: The fifth of Cohen's (2001) five "elementary forms" of denial. Denial justified by remoteness in space and time.

 

 

Denial (Historical or Contemporary): The third of Cohen's (2001) five "elementary forms" of denial. Denial placed on a continuum of historical time. Further subdivided into two subcategories, namely historical denial and contemporary denial - see separate entries.

 

 

Denial (Individual or Shared): The second of Cohen's (2001) five "elementary forms" of denial. Denial placed on a continuum of personal involvement, from private to collective. Further subdivided into three subcategories, namely personal denial, official denial, and cultural denial - see separate entries.

 

 

Denial of Agency: The fourth of Cohen's (2001) five "elementary forms" of denial. Denial placed within the "atrocity triangle" (p14) of victim, perpetrator, and bystander, that is to say, denial of victim, denial of perpetrator, and bystander denial - see separate entries.

 

 

Denial of Content: The first of Cohen's (2001) five "elementary forms" of denial. Denial of what. Further subdivided into three subcategories, namely literal denial, interpretive denial, and implicatory denial - see separate entries.

 

 

Denial of Perpetrator: The second subcategory of denial of agency, as proposed by Cohen (2001). Denial by the active participants in an atrocity. Examples: (1) "You can't call this torture" (p77). (2) The use of euphemisms such as Endlösung [= "final solution"]. <<AUTHOR'S NOTE: Cohen points out that the Reichbahn - the Nazi German railway system - was managed by some half a million civil servants and had some 900,000 people on the payroll. We have ourselves walked the final kilometre of their branch line from Auschwitz to Birkenau [pictures], and have to agree that the majority of these people had to have known what was going on.>>

 

 

Denial of Victim: The first subcategory of denial of agency, as proposed by Cohen (2001). Denial from the receiving end of an ongoing atrocity. Example: "Even when the warning signs were clear, Jewish communities in Germany and the rest of Europe refused to believe what was about to happen to them" (p14).

 

 

Department of Dirty Tricks: See Dirty Tricks, Department of and Central Intelligence Agency.

 

 

Department of Information: British governmental agency created in 1917 under Colonel John Buchan to oversee public information operations in the UK during World War One. 

 

 

Diagnosis: "Identification of a disease by careful investigation of its symptoms and history; also, the opinion (formally stated) [= professional opinion] resulting from such investigation" (OED).

 

 

Dirty Tricks: Foul play in general, and the stock-in-trade of a Department of Dirty Tricks in particular. Of the population at large, anything underhand.

 

 

Dirty Tricks, Department of: Of governments and large corporations, departments whose true purpose is to pursue undeclared war, using the full armoury of peacetime special operations, that is to say, black propaganda, selective assassination, psychological warfare, and economic warfare. As far as we have been able to establish, the term was first publicly coined by Bohannon (1961/2004 online) when discussing (CIA-coordinated) Philippines government operations against "insurgents" in the late 1940s, but only became popular as a synonym for the CIA in the later 1960s.

 

 

Dispensed Existence: [See firstly totalism.] One of the eight factors identified by Lifton (1961) as making for an effective system of thought reform. Totalism, according to Lifton, "draws a sharp line between those whose right to existence can be recognised, and those who possess no such right", between "the 'people'" and the "'lackeys of imperialism'" who oppress them (p492). The point is that being "outside the people" automatically makes you "nonpeople" devoid of normal human rights and protections [this powerful idea resurfaced in human ethology two decades later in the notion of "in-group" and "out-group" - see Section 3.3 of our e-handout on "Communication and the Naked Ape", and has been at the heart of public information operations in time of war ever since the words "us and them" were first invented].

 

 

Doctrine over Person: [See firstly totalism.] One of the eight factors identified by Lifton (1961) as making for an effective system of thought reform. Totalism, according to Lifton, "subordinates" human experience to "the claims of doctrine" (p490). As part of this process, "past historical events are retrospectively altered, wholly rewritten, or ignored" (p490).

 

 

Dogma: [Greek = "that which seems to one; opinion; tenet".] "That which is held as an opinion; a belief, principle, tenet; esp. a tenet or doctrine authoritatively laid down by a particular church, sect, or school of thought" (OED).

 

 

Economic Warfare: Attacks directed against the economic stability of an enemy. Examples: (1) The blockading of enemy ports or the interception of their shipping [common British practice in the American Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars]. (2) Trade boycotts and the like [as when French wine was poured down drains across the USA when France voted "the wrong way" on the Iraq issue - click here to join the anti-French boycott]. (3)  Currency forgery. (4) Cyberwarfare directed against a nation's e-banking and e-commerce systems.

 

 

Epistemology: "The branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge, its presuppositions and foundations, and its extent and validity" [TheFreeDictionary].

 

 

Equivocation: A type of fallacious argument in which imprecise and shifting definitions are used to convey an illusion of continuous argument or explanation. Deception by loose definition. Example: TO FOLLOW.

 

 

Evidence: "An appearance from which inferences may be drawn [] Grounds for belief; testimony or facts tending to prove or disprove any conclusion" (OED). [See now evidence-based practice.]

 

 

Evidence-Based Practice (EBP): [See firstly evidence.] Evidence-based practice is properly informed medical decision making in healthcare or, by extension, the professions as a whole. It is "the conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients" (Sackett et al, 1996). "It is a systematic approach to integrating current scientific evidence" (source). EBP is, however, only as good as the available evidence, and that is usually less than conclusive. In practice, therefore, the EBP philosophy requires that practitioners be sensitive to the relative merits of the different levels of evidence and keep themselves fully up-to-date with the latest research in their chosen specialism.

 

 

Expert Witness: [See firstly levels of evidence.] Scientists are frequently called upon to present expert opinion as evidence in the courts. "The main difference between an expert witness and an ordinary witness (i.e. a witness to fact), is that the former is able to give an opinion, whereas ordinary witnesses can only give factual evidence. The expert witness has a duty to provide the court with the necessary scientific criteria for the judge and jury to be able to evaluate the basis of the expert's opinion and conclusions." (British Psychological Society, "Psychologists as Expert Witnesses", 1999.)

 

 

Explanation: "A mutual declaration of the sense of spoken words, motives of action, etc., with a view to adjust a misunderstanding and reconcile differences" (OED).

 

 

"Eye of God" Technique: The personalised targeting of morale operations, originally and usually by referring to enemy servicemen by name and/or unit in either confrontational or broadcast propaganda. Extremely off-putting to those on the receiving end, (a) because it re-personalises an issue which your military training will have gone out of its way to depersonalise, and (b) because it shakes your faith in the superiority of your own side's intelligence services over your enemy's. Examples: (1) See Elliston (2004 online). (2) Any "We know where you live" pressure group activity.

 

 

Fabrication of Evidence: The planting of false evidence as part of a dirty trick. "Framing", or "fitting up".

 

 

Fair Play, Sense of: See sense of fair play.

 

 

Faith: [See firstly believe in, to.] In everyday usage, "faith" is generally "belief, trust, confidence" (OED). However, the word also has specific uses for "belief in the truths of religion" (OED). Within psychology, this makes faiths an important subclass of belief, and hence a major component of belief systems. With formalised belief systems such as religions and political parties, expressions of faith are typically called for as demonstrations of continued affiliation to the particular dogma on offer, in which respect it may serve the same function as in any other ideologically totalist system. The techniques of aura of sacredness and mystical manipulation are particularly noteworthy in this respect. Robert J. Lifton, in his analysis of the processes of thought reform, described it as follows: "..... he [= the affiliate] may adopt a complex pattern of inner division, and dutifully produce the expected clichés in public performances" (Lifton, 1961, pp489-490).

 

 

Fake Precision: A type of fallacious argument in which apparently precise numerical claims are made to impress the gullible. Cheap, but surprisingly effective. Example: TO FOLLOW. 

 

 

Fallacious Argument: [See firstly argument and fallacy.] An argument which sets out from unreliable premises and fails to detect that unreliability, or which draws unjustified conclusions. Fallacious arguments can only be exposed by skilled critical evaluation, and Weston (2000) argues that to understand fallacies "you need to understand what rules they break" (p71). We recommend the Gary N. Curtis "Fallacy Files" website for its detailed treatment of the subject. See the separate entries as follows .....

 

ad hominem

ambiguity

appeal to authority

appeal to fatuous sentiment

appeal to ignorance

appeal to solidarity

appeal to tradition

begging the question

causal simplification

cliché

cum hoc ergo propter hoc

equivocation

fake precision

false dilemma

faulty analogy

flattery

gambler's fallacy

hasty generalisation

illicit contrast

intimidation

loaded language

non sequitur

omission of key evidence

slippery slope

straw man

 

 

 

 

Fallacy: "Deception, guile, trickery; a deception, trick; a false statement, a lie [.....] a deceptive or misleading argument, a sophism. In Logic esp. a flaw, material or formal, which vitiates a syllogism ....." (OED; italics original).

 

 

Fallibility Principle: The first of Damer's (1995) 12 basic principles of rational argument. The principle that "when alternative positions on any disputed issue are under review, each participant in the discussion should acknowledge that possibly none of the positions presented is deserving of acceptance and that, at best, only one of them is true or the most defensible position. Therefore, it is possible that thorough examination of the issue will reveal that one's own initial position is a false or indefensible one." (p173.) [But see false fallibility.]

 

 

False Atrocity: [See firstly atrocity.] An attempt to motivate one's armed forces and stiffen public opinion using deliberately placed falsified or exaggerated reports of bestiality by enemy forces, typically involving the raping of nuns, the bayoneting of women and babies, and the murderous execution of unarmed prisoners of war; and made all the more believable - sad to relate - by the (rapidly denied) suspicion that one's own armed forces have been doing precisely the same things. Example: Knightly (1999/2004 online) profiles the insidious power of this commonly used technique - note the story of the Bryce Commission.

 

 

False Dilemma: A type of fallacious argument in which too few optional ways forward are presented for consideration, in an attempt to put across a "black or white" choice where such a choice is not strictly speaking justified. To ignore options, either through lack of due forethought or Machiavellian intention. Both forms are in widespread use, and both are surprisingly effective [depressingly so, indeed, for it says a lot about the critical faculties of the public at large]. Example: TO FOLLOW. 

 

 

False Fallibility: [See firstly fallibility principle.] A less-than-heartfelt declaration of fallibility. Apparent humility. Humbug. Playing to the gallery. Example: TO FOLLOW.  

 

 

Falsification: See principle of falsification.

 

 

Faulty Analogy: [See firstly argument by analogy.] A type of fallacious argument in which it is assumed "that because two things are alike in one or more respects, they necessarily are alike in some other respect" (Damer, 1995, p189). Example: TO FOLLOW. 

 

 

Fidentia: [Latin = "confidence"] One of the two principles of behaviour within the Lloyds of London insurance market [the other being uberrimae fides]. The notion that the customer need not fear fraud or abandonment.

 

 

527 Group: [After Section 527 of the US Taxation Code, which allowed their formation; usually heard as "five two seven group" or "five twenty-seven group".] The pinnacle of ad hominem argument in political debate. A tax-exempt political pressure group in US electioneering, intended to be funded covertly by those likely to benefit from their intervention, but, being a private organisation, not subject to the rules of electioneering which constrain the main political parties [more history]. Example: The most talked about example of a 527 group in the 2004 US presidential elections was Roy Hoffman's Swift Boat Veterans and POWs for Truth. The argument as the Swift Vets' own website [click here] tells it is that Democratic candidate John Kerry's campaign team had created a less than totally factual story about his war service record in Vietnam, and had published a lot of old comrades photographs to support that story. Unfortunately for the Democrats, not all of those depicted in these photographs were Kerry supporters, and they duly (and not unreasonably) took exception to the pictorial implication that they were. By thus motivating the Swift Vets to set the record straight from the Republican point of view, Kerry succeeded in polarising the influential veterans community.

 

 

Flattery: A type of fallacious argument in which mere praise doubles as evidence. Unsophisticated, but surprisingly effective, aided on many occasions by the "Barnum effect". Example: TO FOLLOW. [Compare damned by high praise.]

 

 

Freemason: "A member of the fraternity called more fully, Free and Accepted Masons" (OED; italics original). Perhaps the most famous secret society of all. There is considerable public debate on the Internet as to the role of masonic lodges in many of the major decisions of history. Example: Click here to see the view that masons fomented and organised the American Revolution, and here for some of the counterarguments; we have no data on the subject either way (but then we wouldn't have, would we - either way).

 

 

Fundamentalism: Religious or political belief systems characterised by a deliberately reactionary dogma and strictly enforced rules of membership, and enforced by the methods of thought reform.

 

 

Gambler's Fallacy: A type of fallacious argument in which different positions are regarded as being "hot" or "cold" in terms of probability of occurrence, because they have or have not been "running to luck" in the recent past. So named after the notion that a particular number, colour, or card is "due to come up" in casino gambling. 

 

 

Gambling Bill, 2004: Proposed UK legislation, enabling and encouraging the establishment of "Las Vegas style" casinos in Britain ("already the world's third biggest gambling nation after America and Japan" - The Times, 27th October 2004). [See now Jowell, Tessa, Hain, Peter, level playing field, and spin.]

 

 

Gambling Bill (Systems View): A systems approach to the Labour Party's 2004 Gambling Bill would attempt (a) to identify and (b) to quantify flow changes within the UK economy following the introduction of the US casino style culture proposed in said Bill. This would provide hard data on such embarrassing issues as (1) the likely net export of GDP in terms of house take, (2) the likely impact of personal debt on consumer spending and employment in general, and the housing market in particular, (3) the likely cost to the taxpayer of the resulting increased load on social services, and (4) the likely cost to the banking system of any consequent rise in bad debt.

 

 

Generalisation: In scientific explanation, the act of deriving a causal rule from a sample of cases [see induction] and then applying it to a wider population. Done properly, this has the intellectual purity of a law of nature; done carelessly or with malicious intent it makes for false analogy or hasty generalisation. Generalisations are not always bad things in research, providing they are adequately defended (Weston, 2000). 

 

 

Gullible: "Capable of being gulled or duped; easily cheated, befooled" (OED). Incapable of rational argument due to generally unhoned critical thinking skills. Immediately accepting of all cover stories, public information announcements, and spin doctorings, and generally incapable of spotting fallacious arguments.

 

 

Hain, Peter: UK Labour Party politician and Leader of the House of Commons, occasionally earnest in support of the Gambling Bill, and quoted in the entry for spin. 

 

 

Hasty Generalisation: A type of fallacious argument in which a general conclusion is unsafely drawn from what upon fuller analysis would turn out to be one-sided data. This makes for incomplete reasoning, and creates a grossly oversimplified picture of the world. It is lazy thinking, and appeals to those who like their truths to be conveniently bite-sized, or, worse, to match their deeper prejudices. Hence racial and political prejudices are frequently justified by generalisations of this sort. Example: TO FOLLOW. 

 

 

Hearsay: "Founded or depending upon what one has heard said, but not within one's direct knowledge" (OED). [See now hearsay evidence.]

 

 

Hearsay Evidence: [See firstly hearsay and evidence.] "Evidence consisting in what the witness has heard others say, or what is commonly said, as to facts of which he has himself no original or personal knowledge" (OED). Example: See appeal to authority.

 

 

Heidegger, Martin (1889-1976): [selected Internet biography]

 

 

Heuristic: In science, logic, or mathematics, a procedure or rule which aids the discovery of a hidden truth or scientific unknown. In computing, a program or procedure which uses "common-sense rules drawn from experience" (Webopedia).

 

 

Hidden Agenda: Motivations not declared when entering an argument. The cards not on the table. Example: TO FOLLOW.

 

 

Historical Denial: The first subcategory of denial (historical or contemporary), as proposed by Cohen (2001). Denial of past suffering - "social amnesia" (p12) - supported by appropriately censored histories. Example of Things Which Never Happened: French collaboration with the Nazis, dissenters against the Bolsheviks, atrocities by British troops, etc.

 

 

House Take: The casino's free bet [a.k.a. "gross profit", "cut", "rake off", or "piece of the action"]. Cup zero on a roulette wheel, for example, which comes up one time in 37, on average (on an undoctored wheel, at least), whereupon every bet is forfeit. 

 

 

Hume, David (1711-1776): [selected Internet biography]

 

 

Identification: An important psychodynamic defence mechanism, in which your attitudinal structures shift within themselves so as to engage differently with your theory of mind structures. To model your own self subconsciously on an external self. Freud himself described identification this way: "The assimilation of one ego to another one, as a result of which the first ego behaves like the second in certain respects, imitates it, and in a sense takes it up into itself" (Freud, 1933/1991. p94.) Sarnoff (1951) writes forcefully on this subject under the self-explanatory title "Identification with the Aggressor: Some Personality Correlates of Anti-Semitism among Jews". Having noted "the fact that some [concentration camp prisoners] do absorb the behaviours of their oppressors while others resist this absorption" (p200), he sought an explanation in personality differences between the two groups. His conclusion was that high levels of anti-Semitism tended to be associated with negative attitudes towards parents, lower self-esteem, and lower likelihood to retaliate actively against aggressors. 

 

 

Illicit Contrast: A type of fallacious argument in which one of the parties places "improper or unusual emphasis" (Damer, 1995, p190) on selected fragments of the other's argument, deliberately to divert its overall thrust. Example: TO FOLLOW.

 

 

Illusion: "A deceptive or illusive appearance, statement, belief, etc." (OED).

 

 

Implicatory Denial: [See firstly interpretive denial.] The third subcategory of denial of content, as proposed by Cohen (2001). Acceptance of the essential facts and the conventional interpretation, but denial of "the psychological, political, or moral implications that conventionally follow" (p8).

 

 

Impression (1): In everyday usage, "an effect, especially a strong effect, produced on the intellect, conscience, or feelings" (OED). Impressions are relevant to the current context because they are created in the first instance by the psychological process known as impression formation. [Compare impression (2).]

 

 

Impression (2): [See firstly impression (1).] Apart from its everyday usage, the term impression has a specific meaning within healthcare as a statement of best clinical judgement, given the available data. An attempt at medical diagnosis, but one which allows for an element of necessary residual uncertainty. How a patient "looks" (or, more formally, "presents"), rather than "what they have got".

 

 

Impression Formation: See firstly impression (1).] A long-standing and important study area within social psychology, dealing with the mental life history of impressions in social perception and opinion formation. The process by which we come to like/dislike, trust/distrust, etc., people, and therefore the ideas and opinions emanating from them. 

 

 

Inadmissible Evidence: [See firstly evidence.] Those categories of testimony and physical evidence not accepted as evidence under a nation's legal system. [Contrast admissible evidence.] 

 

 

Inanity: "Mental vacuity; lack of ideas or sense; frivolity, senselessness, silliness" (OED). In the present context, any fallacious argument of exceptional weakness, but still a shade short of sheer imbecility. Example: TO FOLLOW. 

 

 

Indoctrination: The process of converting a target population to a particular belief system, typically religious or political by explicit technique rather than gradual evolution. Examples: (1) The Jesuits on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church. (2) The commissar system on behalf of Stalinist Russia. (3) The cadre system on behalf of Maoist China. (4) Dr. Goebbels' Propaganda Ministry on behalf of Nazi Germany. (5) George Orwell's (fictional) "thought police". (6) The Committee on Public Information on behalf of World War One America. (7) The Department of Information on behalf of World War One Britain. (8) The Ministry of Information on behalf of World War Two Britain. 

 

 

Inductive Reasoning: [See firstly reasoning.] Inductive reasoning, or simply "induction", means deriving general principles from specific observations. We see this sort of reasoning in many guises, from argument by analogy to the sort of reasoning seen in rule-guessing experiments where subjects have to study a series of stimuli and work out what the underlying rule or pattern is. Alternatively, "inductive reasoning works with a CASE and a RESULT, to determine a RULE" (Skemp, 2002/2004 online). Since structured observation is at the heart of the correlational philosophy [Research Methods Glossary] of research, it follows that induction is an important part of the cycle of reasoning and observation by which the scientific method makes it advances. [Compare abductive reasoning, deductive reasoning, and law of nature.]

 

 

Inference: One of the two main constituent skills of effective reasoning (the other being critical thinking). "An inference is a conclusion that a person can draw from certain observed or supposed facts" (Watson and Glaser, 1991, p6). The process by which this takes place is known as reasoning. Example: It would normally be safe to suppose that attendance at a conference implies interest in the advertised subject matter [see now inference (psychometric tests of) and the fuller entry in our Psycholinguistics Glossary].

 

 

Inference (Psychometric Tests of): The Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal treats inference as a major aspect of critical thinking. It presents subjects with a number of brief scenarios and requires that they pick one of five optional answers, ranked as True, Probably True, Insufficient Data, Probably False, and False: Example: You are given the following scenario (from Watson and Glaser, 1991, p2): "Two hundred school pupils in their early teens voluntarily attended a recent weekend student conference in Leeds. At this conference, the topics of race relations and means of achieving lasting world peace were discussed, since these were the problems that the pupils selected as being most vital in today's world." The optional answers are then [in True to False order]: (1) "Some teenage pupils felt it worthwhile to discuss problems of race relations and ways of achieving world peace" (2) "[the pupils] showed a keener interest in broad social problems than do most other people in their early teens", (3) "the pupils came from all over the country", (4) "The majority of the pupils had not previously discussed the conference topics in the schools", and (5) "the pupils discussed mainly industrial relations problems".

 

 

Inoculation: In everyday usage, inoculation is "the act or practice of communicating a disease to a person in health by inserting contagious matter in his skin or flesh, usually for the purpose of inducing immunity to the disease" (Webster's Dictionary). In the present context, it a method of increasing a population's capacity to resist metaphorically "infective" propaganda. In its simplest form, inoculation involves the dissemination of mildly negative ideas about a belief held dear, in order to cultivate some level of "resistance" to attack by a full-blown "infective" idea. Attention was first drawn to this phenomenon by McGuire (1962, 1964), who identified three variables controlling how effective a given anticipatory defence (the inoculation) would be against a given future counter-attitudinal attack (the propaganda). These were (1) the amount of threat in the inoculation, (2) the extent to which the person in question has actively to participate in the defence, and (3) the time delay between the inoculation and the infection. Example: TO FOLLOW.

 

 

Insider Dealing: The covert use for personal financial gain of information-in-trade by such people as business agents, executors, proxy holders, trustees, brokers, and solicitors. Globally improper, and more often than not illegal. 

 

 

Interpretation: The mental act of decoding a complex proposition, in which a proposed conclusion is judged as following beyond reasonable doubt from the given facts. Example: Test #4 of the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal is a test of interpretation, and is structured as follows [correct answers shown in square brackets]. You are presented with the following scenario: "A study of vocabulary growth in children from eight months to six year old shows that the size of spoken vocabulary increases from 0 words at age eight months to 2,562 words at age six years" and then asked to choose which of two "proposed conclusions" follow beyond reasonable doubt. These are "(1) None of the children in this study had learned to talk by the age of six months" [YES], and "(2) Vocabulary growth is slowest during the period when children are learning to talk" [NO]. 

 

 

Interpretive Denial: [See firstly literal denial.] The second subcategory of denial of content, as proposed by Cohen (2001). Acceptance of the essential facts, but denial of their interpretation. Example: Yes we had penetrative sex, but it was not really rape. 

 

 

Intimidation: A type of fallacious argument in which one party is told what to think, upon pain of physical, financial, emotional, or other penalty, or by simple browbeating and force of personality.

 

 

Investigative Journalism: [Russian самоубийство.] The honourable, but often fatal, pursuit of the darker truths of life, either against organised crime, secret service, or cabal. 

 

 

Jingoism: In-your-face patriotism [detailed etymology]. 

 

 

Jowell, Tessa: UK Labour Party politician and Culture Secretary, responsible for introducing the 2004 Gambling Bill to Parliament, and mentioned in the entries for argument by adjective, cliché, and waffle. Ms Jowell is also noted by both fellow-politicians and commentators for her skilled use of the confrontational eye stare during debate [for some of the hard science here, see Section 3.2 of our e-handout on "Communication and the Naked Ape", noting especially the possible pathological effect of such staring in the aetiology of autism and stuttering.] 

 

 

Judgement: "Any formal or authoritative decision, as of an umpire or arbiter" (OED). The end result of the process of decision making, itself the end result of a critical evaluation of evidence presented.

 

 

Kabbalah: See Colin Low's Kabbalah FAQ on this. 

 

 

Lansdale, General Edward G. (1909-1987): [selected Internet biography] [See firstly psychological warfare.] Maestro of morale operations on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency in their role as advisors to the Philippines government in the latter's struggle against the "Huk" communist insurgents, 1950-1953. [See Elliston (1996/2004 online) for some of General Lansdale's highly entertaining exploits (we especially liked the story of the asuang).]

 

 

Last Refuge of a Scoundrel: Patriotism, according to Samuel Johnson's dictionary. The use as evidence of emotive appeals such as "My country, right or wrong", especially when perpetuating a particular dogma or bolstering a particular political belief system. Xenophobia. Baboon troop politics. Jingoism. Crude, but as a substitute for rational argument it works every time. Example: TO FOLLOW. 

 

 

Law of Nature: [See firstly science.] "A physical law or a law of nature is a scientific generalisation based on empirical observations. Laws of nature are conclusions drawn from, or hypotheses confirmed by, scientific experiments. The production of a summary description of nature in the form of such laws is the fundamental aim of science. Laws of nature are distinct from legal code and religious law ....." (Wikipedia.) Examples: The Law of Gravity, Boyle's Law, the Laws of Thermodynamics, the Law of Requisite Variety [details], Parkinson's Law [details], etc. [For a more penetrating introduction to this topic, see The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy.]

 

 

Level of Evidence: [See firstly evidence-based practice.] A scheme for summarising the extent to which a particular theoretical proposition has been empirically supported, and therefore of the extent to which it can safely be relied upon in professional practice. Here, in paragraphs I to V, are the officially endorsed levels of evidence for the British medical profession as summarised by a Bandolier editorial in 1994 (2003 online), followed in paragraph VI by what the rest of us have to put up with .....

 

I - Multiple Randomised Controlled Trials, Well Designed and Systematically Reviewed: This is recognised as the strongest form of evidence of all, in that it obeys all the rules of good research design and scientific inference, and all key findings have been widely replicated. The assertion in question has been scientifically proven, so to speak, and may be taken as truth. [There is actually no such thing as "proven fact" in the medical or social sciences. Instead, blocks of objective data are assessed against a formally expressed hypothesis for their "statistical significance" [Research Methods Glossary], that is to say, the mathematically objective odds against that hypothesis being wrong.]

 

II - At Least One Multiple Randomised Controlled Trial, Well Designed and Under Review: This is identified as the second strongest form of evidence. The assertion in question has evidence in favour of it, but not yet enough to prove it beyond reasonable scientific doubt.

 

III - Lesser Studies, Loosely Coordinated: This is identified as the third strongest form of evidence. It lacks the formal strength of the RCT studies, but there is some coordination of effort. Moreover, due to the time it takes to conduct research to Level I or II standard, this may be the only level of evidence available.

 

IV - Lesser Studies, Uncoordinated but Well Designed: This is identified as the second weakest form of evidence. It attempts empirical support for a hypothesis, product, or treatment, but not enough studies have yet been done, and those which have been done lack coordination.

 

V - Professional Opinion, Consensus, and Anecdote: These are the weakest forms of evidence of all, in that they lack formally reviewed and published empirical support. Nevertheless, they are (a) not totally without heuristic value, and (b) frequently all you have available. Note that professional opinion, professional consensus, and professional anecdote are genuinely empirical, since they arose originally from clinical observation. They also qualify you to serve as an expert witness in your field, and need to be carefully distinguished from their political, journalistic, and everyday equivalents [see next]. And beware: lack of evidence does not in itself make a theoretical possibility wrong, it merely leaves it as-yet-unproven.

 

VI - Public and Personal Opinion, Consensus, and Anecdote: These are not evidence at all in the scientific sense, and reflect only the everyday experience of the non-professional, that is to say, of the population at large. They are nevertheless the content matter of most everyday arguments, and may be elevated to the status of evidence if given as testimony in a court of law. 

 

 

Level Playing Field: An everyday metaphor for an equal and fair contest. Allowing anything less than a level playing field in political or scientific debate is to encourage unfairness, and achieves its victory at the expense of enlightenment. Example: In the Autumn 2004 "casinos debate", it was at least a poorly managed decision making process which gave the gaming industry a (reputedly £100 million) political lobbying opportunity and yet shunned the views of the Salvation Army, who have been sweeping up after this and related industries for more than a century.

 

 

Lewin, Kurt (1890-1947): [selected Internet biography] German psychologist who emigrated to the US in 1933 and there helped import selected Gestaltist traditions into American psychology. His work is relevant in the current context as the derivation of attitude change theory (group theory).

 

 

Lifton, Robert J. (1926-): [selected Internet biography] Academic theorist on the topic of thought reform and its methods.

 

 

Literal Denial: The first subcategory of denial of content, as proposed by Cohen (2001). Denial of "the fact or knowledge of the fact" (p7). Example: My husband would never have done that to our daughter, so the social worker must be making it up. 

 

 

Loaded Language (1): A type of fallacious argument in which a proposition or question is phrased in such a way that it "presupposes that a definite answer has already been given to some other unasked question" (Damer, 1995, p190). Example: TO FOLLOW.

 

 

Loaded Language (2): [See firstly totalism.] One of the eight factors identified by Lifton (1961) as making for an effective system of thought reform. Totalism, according to Lifton, is "characterised by the though-terminating cliché", the sort of "brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases" which are easy to convey to a suitably prepared audience (p488). 

 

 

Machiavelli, Niccolo (1469-1527): [selected Internet biography]

 

 

Machiavellian: In the style of Niccolo Machiavelli. "..... preferring expediency to morality; practising duplicity in statecraft or in general conduct; astute, cunning, intriguing" (OED). Machiavellianism in the business world was first explicitly analysed by Jay (1967), who saw modern corporations as so similar to mediaeval nation states that managers needed as many of the skills of "princehood" as they could get their hands on. Machiavellian intelligence in the animal kingdom was first explicitly analysed by Byrne and Whiten (1988).

 

 

Machiavellian Intelligence: In the present context, the title of a collection of papers on intraspecific tactical deception in primates published by Byrne and Whiten (1988). "Social intelligence" as opposed to "object intelligence". The willingness to use one's fellows as "social tools", and the capacity for "mind reading" which this demands.

 

 

Medical Decision Making: A tightly co-engineered cluster of concepts and supporting mathematical procedures developed over the centuries by healthcare professionals for making life-or-death decisions in conditions of imperfect evidence. [See, for starters, sensitivity, specificity, and predictive value in our Research Methods Glossary.]

 

 

Meme: This is Dawkins' (1976) term for a unit of cultural ideation or folklore, transmittable as such from person to person more more or less effortless exposure, thus .....

 

"Most of what is unusual about man can be summed up in one word: 'culture'. I use the word not in its snobbish sense, but as a scientist uses it. Cultural transmission is analogous to genetic transmission in that, although basically conservative, it can give rise to a form of evolution" (Dawkins, 1976, p189).

 

Thus a meme is what suddenly arrives in your mind when you look at a recipe, or a patio arrangement, or some such, and say "Now that's a good idea". Dawkins, a geneticist, coined the term to give a psychological parallel to the gene. For further examples of memes, see the Wikipedia entry.

 

 

Mental Verbs: See this entry in our Psycholinguistics Glossary.

 

 

Metacognition: In its broadest sense, "metacognition" is the act of turning one's mental faculties onto the mental faculties themselves. It is thus "thinking about thinking", or "knowing about knowing". The term was popularised by Flavell (1979), and is relevant to the current context because many theories of attitude change require reflective adjustment of attitudes in the light of ongoing counter-attitudinal experience [see, for example, attitude change theory (semantic differential theory), attitude certainty, and resistance to persuasion]. [For more on the cognitive science of metacognition, see the parallel entry in our Psycholinguistics Glossary.]

 

 

Milieu Control: [See firstly totalism.] One of the eight factors identified by Lifton (1961) as making for an effective system of thought reform. Totalism, according to Lifton, "seeks to establish domain over not only the individual's communication with the outside [.....] but also - in its penetration of his inner life - over what we may speak of as his communication with himself" (p478). [Psychology reserves the phrase "inner speech" to describe the process(es) of holding private conversations with oneself. Surprisingly, however, given that inner speech is automatically central to communication, reasoning, and consciousness studies, there is not a lot of theory and even less hard fact about it. For a quick introduction to the subject, see Section 4.4 of our e-paper on "Dyslexia".] 

 

 

Mind Control: [See firstly brainwashing.] An extreme form of indoctrination in which subjects allow their behaviour to be bent to the will of others, and may even surrender volition entirely, as in the (we hope) fictional accounts of "programmed assassins" such as seen in Richard Condon's 1959 novel "The Manchurian Candidate" (filmed 1962 and 2004). [For more on this topic, see the Skeptic's Dictionary entry.]

 

 

Ministry of Information: British governmental agency created in January 1940 under John Reith, to oversee public information operations in the UK during World War Two. 

 

 

Morale Operations: A type of special operations, designed to sap an enemy's will to fight, increase desertions from and lower the panic threshold in their armed forces, and the like. By extension, the same in corporate and interpersonal confrontation. Precise methods vary, and include propaganda at both tactical and strategic level. Example: "It is recorded that handbills were circulated among the British troops on Bunker Hill, offering them seven dollars a month, fresh provisions in plenty, health, freedom, ease, affluence, and a good farm, should they desert and join the American Army" (Lasswell, 1927/1972, p167) [buy a facsimile].

 

 

Mystical Manipulation: [See firstly totalism.] One of the eight factors identified by Lifton (1961) as making for an effective system of thought reform. Totalism, according to Lifton, insists on "personal manipulation" (p480). "Initiated from above, it seeks to provoke specific patterns of behaviour and emotion in such a way that these will appear to have arisen spontaneously from within the environment. This element of planned spontaneity, directed as it is by an ostensibly omniscient group, must assume for the manipulated, a near-mystical quality [and] any thought or action which questions the higher purpose is considered to be stimulated by a lower purpose, to be backward, selfish, and petty in the face of the great overriding mission." (p480.) 

 

 

Myth: [See firstly belief system.] "A purely fictitious narrative usually involving supernatural persons, actions, or events, and embodying some popular idea concerning natural or historical phenomena" (OED). [Compare myth, convenient and urban myth.]

 

 

Myth, Convenient: [See firstly myth.] A sanitised version of the way things are or were. History for five-year-olds of any age. The way we like to see things, rather than the objective truth, especially if this involves a doppelgänger self-delusional world of good guys and bad guys, a black-and-white morality, and no little syrupy sentimentality. Psychologically speaking, convenient myths are evidence of the "schematic" nature of human memory. Specifically, a memory "schema" [Memory Glossary] is formed from initially factual material boiled down into what can readily be remembered, but shaped also by what you would like to be the case. Example: One could argue that the American dream was itself a convenient myth, given the fact that the US is currently living beyond its means to the tune of £2 billion a day (The Times, 22nd November 2004), borrowed ultimately from other countries in the world economy less well off than they are. [We should explain for the benefit of any non-Christian readers that "living beyond one's means" would have been little short of anathema to the highly ascetic Pilgrim Fathers, who sowed the seeds of the American dream in the early 17th century.] We can even trace the "noble cowboy" part of the myth to Owen Wister's 1902 novel "The Virginian" (Macintyre, 2004).

 

 

"Nobble", To: [Racetrack slang] Originally, to overfeed or sedate a racehorse in order to decrease its chances in a forthcoming race. Nobbling one's own horses is easier than nobbling someone else's since one has better access, but the exercise can be highly profitable either way (and is, needless to say, highly illegal). By extension, to cause rival entries in any form of race or competition to underperform.

 

 

Non-Sequitur: [Latin = "does not follow".] A class of fallacious argument in which the evidence presented to support a particular proposition does not, upon close inspection, relate directly enough to the debate to carry true weight. Example: TO FOLLOW.

 

 

Observation: The flame front of the scientific method, and the ultimate source of all data and evidence. Ray (1967) explains the pivotal role of observation in this way: "Observation exists at the beginning and again at the end of the process: at the beginning, to determine more definitely and precisely the nature of the difficulty to be dealt with; at the end, to test the value of [the action taken]. Between those two termini of observation, we find the more distinctively mental aspects of the entire thought cycle: (i) inference, the suggestion of an explanation or solution; and (ii) reasoning, the development [of] the suggestion. Reasoning requires some experimental observation to confirm it, while experiment can be economically and fruitfully conducted only on the basis of an idea that has been tentatively developed by reasoning. [.....] The disciplined, or logically trained, mind - the aim of the educative process - is the mind able to judge how far each of these steps needs to be carried out in any particular situation. No cast iron rules can be laid down. Each case has to be dealt with as it arises [.....]. The trained mind is the one that best grasps the degree of observation, forming of ideas, reasoning, and experimental testing required in any special case, and that profits the most, in future thinking, by mistakes made in the past. What is important is that the mind should be sensitive to problems and skilled in methods of attack and solution." (p157; italics original; bold highlighting added.)

 

 

Official Denial: The second subcategory of denial (individual or shared), as proposed by Cohen (2001). Denials "that are initiated, structured, and sustained by the massive resources of the modern state" p10). Example: See the news any day, because "the entire rhetoric of government responses to allegations about atrocities consists of denial" (p10). 

 

 

Omission of Key Evidence: A type of fallacious argument in which whole blocks of evidence are deliberately overlooked in order to weaken, or indeed alter, a conclusion. Example:  Lord Levy, the Labour Party's unofficial lead fundraiser and Tony Blair's personal envy to the Middle East, was recently challenged whether a meeting he had had with Lloyd Nathan, a representative of the US casino industry, had been part of a drive to purchase UK government favours with Labour Party donations. His reply, delivered through a spokesman, stated only that "that at no stage in the meeting with Mr. Nathan did either man mention a financial contribution to Labour" (The Daily Mail, 25th October 2004). This was a seriously useless statement for the spokesman concerned [or the newspaper, indeed, if they have simply edited down a longer statement] to have put across, because it neither convicts nor discharges. It is, in short, almost totally irrelevant, and in direct contravention of the rebuttal principle of rational argument. This is because it does not address the substantive accusation, namely that the message had somehow got across to the casino industry (a) that "sweeteners" were in order, and (b) that the appropriate channel for these sweeteners would be through Labour Party funds. Far better to have phrased a fuller and more specific denial along the following lines [suggested insertions thus]: "At no stage in the meeting [or other meetings] with Mr. Nathan [or anyone else on his behalf] did either man [or woman] mention [or silently exchange papers relating to] a financial contribution [or actually deliver said contribution] to Labour [or any funds handling nominee on their behalf], etc., etc." [This may sound petty and seriously Pythonesque, but the art of courtroom defence is actually to tell as little of "the whole truth" as possible and leave it to the prosecution to wheedle it out of you; and vagueness, in this war of syntax and semantics, is your most powerful weapon. Ironically, Lord Levy went on to complain (6th March 2007) about the "partial, confused, and inaccurate" treatment he was getting from the press during the "cash for honours" scandal. If you are not already convinced of the need for total precision in your use of language, then check out the entries for indexicals in our Psycholinguistics Glossary.]

 

 

Opinion: [See firstly level of evidence.] In everyday usage, an opinion is "what one thinks about a particular thing, subject, or point; a judgement formed or a conclusion reached; a belief, view, notion" (OED). In psychology, "opinions are considered to be verbalisable, while attitudes are sometimes 'unconscious'" (Hovland, Janis, and Kelley, 1953, p7). Relevant here because the opinion of non-professionals (or of professionals speaking outside their area of expertise) should be treated as questionable authority rather than as professional opinion.

 

 

Orders of Representation: [See firstly Theory of Mind.] Dennett's (1978) notion (a) that each of us maintains within their mind a mental model of the real world, complete with representations of all the objects and people within it, including yourself, (b) that part of this representational structure has to do with what we/they are all thinking, and (c) that this representation of mental state has degrees of complexity - "orders" - to it. Thus if one of my "first-order beliefs" was that <Snow is white>, then one of my "second-order beliefs" might be that <Tom believes that snow is white>, and one of my "third order beliefs" might be that <Tom believes that Jim believes that snow is white>, and so on until the complexity of the proposition exceeds our momentary mental capacity.

 

 

Oversimplification: See causal oversimplification.

 

 

Paine, Tom (1737-1809): [See firstly pamphleteer.] English artisan whose repulsion for the monarchy of George III led him to emigrate to the American colonies, there to become a pamphleteer in support of American independence. His 1791 "The Rights of Man" is nevertheless one of the classics of sociopolitical theory. [See now the selected Internet biography.}

 

 

Pamphleteer: Small-scale author/publisher of political propaganda on behalf of a pressure group. Example: Tom Paine. [See also blog.]

 

 

Patting the Poodle: A reward for sycophancy

 

 

Peer Review: To submit one's research and/or arguments to the critical evaluation of others in one's field of work. One of the fundamental aspects of the scientific method

 

 

Pensions Crisis (Systems View): A systems approach to the pensions problem facing Britain over the coming decades would attempt (a) to identify and (b) to quantify flow changes within the UK economy following the chronic underprovisioning now known to exist in both state and private pension sectors. This would provide hard data on such embarrassing issues as (1) just how little of our savings was ever put safely away in the first place, (2) just how little is left, (3) where did the rest of it actually go, and (4) to what age are we now going to have to work before retiring? In the case of the state pension, first introduced by the Old Age Pensions Act, 1908, none of it is left, because there never was an underlying investment pool. The pensions of the old have always been paid out the taxes paid by the young. In other words, state pension contributions have never been anything "more than disguised income tax. The payments, like tax revenues, go into general government funds to pay for all manner of services. They bear little relationship to future state pensions." (The Daily Mail, 8th September 2004.) In the case of private pensions, the man in the street was foolish enough to trust in the fidentia of the private savings industry. In this case, there is an underlying investment fund, but no requirement to provision it adequately. In addition, all investments are milked by the taxation system and subjected to regular management fees and commissions, and many are milked by the very trustees who ought to be guarding them! The Pensions Protection Fund (or "pensions lifeboat") - due to begin operations in April 2005 - will cost healthy businesses some £300-£600 million per year covering the pensions liability of failed companies (The Times, 2nd December 2004). Example: "[Name] worked for the same company for 26 years, safe in the knowledge that his company pension promised him a comfortable retirement. A year ago, he was made redundant and told that the company pension was effectively worthless. [.....] The workers' pensions were lost because the law does not require schemes to hold 100 per cent of the assets that are needed to secure the promised pensions. As long as the employer is a going concern, this does not matter. But if an employer behind a scheme goes bankrupt, and the pension is wound up, there may not be sufficient assets to pay out all the pensions. The problem has been worsened by the three-year bear market, which hit the equity investments of many schemes, leaving them in the red." (The Times, 27th November 2004). 

 

 

Personal Denial: The first subcategory of denial (individual or shared), as proposed by Cohen (2001). Denial at a "wholly individual" (p10) level. Example: Suppressed suspicion of a partner's marital infidelity.

 

 

Persuasion: In everyday usage, persuasion is "the presenting of inducements or winning arguments" (OED). In scientific psychology, it is a topic area dealing with the variables which determine whether and to what extent a given persuasive communication is likely to succeed in altering a recipient's beliefs, attitudes, opinions, and intentions. It is the science of the art of propaganda.

 

 

Persuasive Communication: [See firstly persuasion.] Propaganda great or small, good or bad. [We have to allow for good persuasive communication, since this is the nature of health promotion literature, and the like.] 

 

 

Philosophies of Science: (1) Title of book (Harré, 1972). (2) Ways of looking at the world in general, and at the development of human scientific knowledge in particular. Epistemologies. [See now scientific method.]

 

 

Post Hoc ergo Propter Hoc: [Latin = "after this therefore because of this".] A type of fallacious argument in which a simple sequence of events is confused with causation. Examples: (1) Consider the following news report: "Two Britons were killed by suspect Al Qaeda gunmen in Saudi Arabia yesterday - just hours after Middle East broadcasters aired reports that British troops had been photographed torturing an Iraqi prisoner" (The Mail on Sunday, 2nd May 2004). To say that the one event caused the other is to be arguing post-propter, and is unjustified and unproven. The attack may well have been a reprisal, but could just as easily have been coincidence. (2) Similarly, the fact that Yasser Arafat's death was followed a few days later by a plague of locusts across Israel (The Times, 22nd November 2004) should not be over-interpreted. [Compare cum hoc ergo propter hoc, and see the entry for "confounding" in our Research Methods Glossary.]

 

 

Prejudice: "To prepossess with an opinion; to give a bias or bent to, influence the mind or judgement of beforehand (often unfairly)" (OED). In the present context, prejudice implies a status quo ante disinclination to be persuaded by persuasive communication from, or evidence presented by, the disapproved source. Examples: Racial hatreds, social class hatreds, religious intolerances, and the like. A summative position came in Gordon Allport's monograph on "The Nature of Prejudice" (Allport, 1954/1979) .....

 

"Perhaps the briefest of all definitions of prejudice is: thinking ill of others without sufficient warrant. This crisp phrasing contains the two essential ingredients of all definitions - reference to unfounded judgment and to a feeling-tone. [.....] While it is important to bear in mind that biases may be pro as well as con, it is none the less true that ethnic prejudice is mostly negative" (Allport, 1954/1979, p6).

 

 

Premise: [Sometimes "premiss".] A statement of accepted propositional truth. A fact. "The starting point of reasoning" (Harré, 1972, p35).

 

 

Pressure Group: An association of like-minded lobbyists, pamphleteers, and fundraisers, on behalf of a certain cause, and not infrequently a front for direct action teams working close to or beyond the limits of legality. Examples: Gay rights groups, animal rights groups, the pro- and anti- foxhunting groups (UK), MigrationWatch UK, the National Rifle Association (US), etc. Many of the fundraising groups are clearly charitable organisations rather than lobbyists, for example, the British Friends of Israel War Disabled Trust [homepage] whereas the Palestine Solidarity Campaign [homepage] and NORAID [homepage] are more uniquely political.

 

 

Principle of Falsification: Popper's (1934/1959) slightly counterintuitive assertion that the scientific method is ultimately based on our ability to prove that an assertion is false by finding a counterexample to it. Popper looks down with disdain on evidence which supports a given position, preferring to regard it as "the failure of an attempt to falsify the hypothesis under test" (Harré, 1972, p48).

 

 

Probability: "The amount of antecedent likelihood of a particular event as measured by the relative frequency of occurrence of events of the same kind in the whole course of experience" (OED). For present purposes, probability becomes most interesting when there is not a lot of it about, because small probabilities present serious problems in the heads of those who wish to paint simplistic truths. Example: Included in the entry for asymptote. [For more on the technicalities of probability in research, see the cluster of entries in our Research Methods Glossary.]

 

 

Professional Opinion: [See firstly levels of evidence.] "The formal statement by a member of an advisory body, an expert, or professional man, or the like, of what he thinks, judges, or advises upon a question or matter submitted to and considered by him" (OED). Accepted in law from a recognised expert witness. The beauty of this arrangement lies in the rights it gives you to "ask for a second opinion". 

 

 

Projection: An important psychodynamic defence mechanism in which your attitudinal structures adjust themselves in the direction of blaming other people - typically one's own leaders or convenient out-groups - for your perceived troubles. Small surprise, therefore, that projection has been regularly identified as one of the "lethal triad" of "basic social forces common to radical groups" (Gilmartin, 1996/2004 online).

 

 

Propaganda: Originally "any association, systematic scheme, or concerted movement for the propagation of a particular doctrine or practice" (OED), but now also the persuasive material itself. Lasswell (1927/1971) identifies the following general objectives: to maintain an illusion of victory, to preserve friendships, and to demoralise the enemy. For a thorough introductory history of this subject, see Jowett and O'Donnell (1992/2004 online).

 

 

Proposition: See the entries for proposition and propositional network in our Psycholinguistics Glossary.

 

 

Propositional Truth: [See firstly proposition and truth.] A declaration of a truth, expressed as a proposition in subject-predicate form [Psycholinguistics Glossary] (i.e. in the format "my cat is black"), critically evaluated by due process, but, in the end, accepted by all parties and thus fulfilling the acceptability principle of rational argument. 

 

 

Psychological Warfare: [Alternatively "PsyWar", "PsyOps", or "Psywar Ops".] The battle for the "hearts and minds" of an enemy, either in its own right or as an aid to the taking of territory or the elimination of military assets. Warfare which targets an enemy's will to resist. Morale operations or propagandaExample: See Elliston (1996/2004 online) for some specific techniques. [See now the Psywarrior.Com briefing on this subject.]

 

 

Public Information Operations: State persuasion. The control of public opinion by the control of information flow in terms of timing, content, accuracy, and implication. Example: See the entry for Bryce Commission

 

 

Public Opinion: [See firstly opinion and persuasion.] The balance of opinion of the population as a whole on a particular issue, as determined by such instruments as public opinion polls. As a topic for academic study, the story begins with Lippmann (1922). The point about public opinion is that it (a) evolves over time, and (b) only loosely predicts actual behaviour. Here, for example, are the monthly percentages for UK opposition to the Iraqi War: April 2003 24%, June 2003 34%, November 2003 49%, June 2004 53%, and November 2004 57% (The Times, 9th November 2004).

 

 

Questionable Authority: [See firstly appeal to authority.] A type of fallacious argument in which an opinion is presented as evidence but turns out upon inspection to be either (a) not that of a recognised expert at all [hence not a professional opinion], or (b) that of a prejudiced expert [hence not objective]. Example: TO FOLLOW. 

 

 

Rational Argument: The "Holy Grail" of intelligent debate. An argument which cannot upon sustained inspection and analysis be faulted for any form of fallacious argument (and which might not be possible upon this planet at all). [Caution: Unfortunately, the adjective "rational" implies only "good" or "pure", and in itself makes no claims of success. Many perfectly rational arguments are bulldozed out of the way by this or that fallacious, but more heavily supported, alternative.]

 

 

Rationalisation: In its general everyday usage, "to rationalise" has drifted from its original sense "to render conformable to reason; to explain on a rational basis" (OED), and now carries the additional negative connotation of explaining away things you cannot otherwise explain at all. Indeed, the human capacity for rationalisation - be it before, during, or after the event itself is at least partly responsible for every single one of the perhaps 160 million war deaths in the 20th century, and totally responsible for the atrocities element thereof. Example: To claim that victims "had it coming to them" [regardless of what "it" actually is on a particular occasion] is to rationalise the original act. [See now denial and its subtypes.]

 

 

Reasoning: According to the Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid, reasoning is the process by which we pass from one judgement to another (Reid, 1863, cited in Thomson, 1892). Alternatively, it the process by which humans "draw explicit conclusions from evidence" (Wason and Johnson-Laird, 1972, p1). Most authorities identify two fundamentally different ways to do this, namely inductive and deductive, but some recent ones have added a third way, namely abductive. [See now abductive reasoning, deductive reasoning, and inductive reasoning.] Reasoning calls for a number of basic cognitive skills, including inference, and sustained effort at detecting fallacious argument.

 

 

Rebuttal Principle: The ninth of Damer's (1995) 12 basic principles of rational argument. The principle that "one who presents an argument for or attacks a position should attempt to provide effective responses to all serious challenges or rebuttals to the argument or position at issue" (p182). Damer sees this as "perhaps the most difficult" aspect of rational argument, and suggests that "the rebuttal should be the primary driving force behind the formulation of every argument [so that] one will have a constant reminder that an argument is not finished until one has finished off the counterarguments" (p182). 

 

 

Recognition of Assumptions: [See firstly reasoning.] The ability to use assumptions wisely is one of the component skills of critical thinking. Example: Test #2 of the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal is a test of assumption spotting, and is structured as follows. You are given the following statement (from Watson and Glaser, 1991, p4): "We need to save time in getting there so we'd better go by plane". There are then a number of proposed assumptions which need to be judged as necessarily made in the given statement. The optional answers are (1) that going by plane will take less time than other means of transport [YES], (2) that there is a plane service available [YES], and (3) that travel by plane is more convenient than travel by train [NO]. 

 

 

Reconsideration Principle: The twelfth of Damer's (1995) 12 basic principles of rational argument. The principle that if a closed argument is subsequently found to have been flawed in some way "one is obliged to reopen the issue for further consideration and resolution" (p185). 

 

 

Reference Group: "A group of people or organisation of which an individual respects, identifies with, or aspires to join, e.g. membership or associative groups" (Source).

 

 

Reflective Practice: Of healthcare and similar professions, a state of perpetual critical self-appraisal which attempts to enhance a practitioner's clinical autonomy. Reflective practitioners are seen as preventers who constantly question their means of prevention, as assessors who constantly question their methods of assessment, as interveners who constantly question their proposed point of intervention, and so on. 

 

 

Resistance to Persuasion: [See firstly the various entries for attitude change.] Of both individuals and groups, the ability to maintain the coherence and integrity of one's initial attitudinal structures - the schemas, the convenient myths, the traditions, the belief systems, etc. - in the face of counter-attitudinal attack. Tormala and Petty (2004/2004 online) have analysed some of the issues here, and emphasise the importance of metacognitive factors in determining how resistant a given person is going to be. [See now inoculation.] 

 

 

Resolution Principle: The tenth of Damer's (1995) 12 basic principles of rational argument. The principle that we ought to be able to resolve arguments "much more frequently than we do" (p184). There are a number of perfectly innocent reasons for failure, as when the suspension of judgement principle is invoked, but normally you would suspect over-involvement emotionally, lack of knowledge or basic argumentation skill, or the existence of a hidden agenda

 

 

Sacred Science: [See firstly thought reform and aura of sacredness.] The tendency on the part of totalist regimes to frame their fundamental beliefs with "absolute 'scientific' precision" (Lifton, 1961, p487). 

 

 

SAUFOCOM: Contraction of Saucer Force Command. [See now visiting Martians.]

 

 

Schema: See this entry in our Memory Glossary.

 

 

Science: "A branch of study which is concerned either with a connected body of demonstrated truths or with observed facts systematically classified and [.....] brought under general laws" (OED). "A leap frog process of fact accumulation and theoretical advance" (Harré, 1972, p43). [See now law of nature.]

 

 

Scientific Method: [See firstly causation and philosophies of science.] The use of inductive reasoning in the pursuit of new knowledge. The roots of the scientific method go back to Sir Francis Bacon, and are based upon the repeated, published, and peer-reviewed empirical testing of hypotheses. [For more on what this involves in practice, just start at hypothetico-deductive method in our Research Methods Glossary, and work outwards from there.] 

 

 

Secret Service: The clandestine military intelligence and special operations arms of government, which - sometimes in conjunction with, and sometimes despite, assistance from non-governmental secret societies - steer our respective vessels of state through the mists of history. Example: See our three-part e-paper on "Codes and Cyphers in History", which, whilst not totally on topic, makes frequent enough mention of secret service operations to be of use. 

 

 

Secret Society: [See firstly secret service.] The term "secret society" encompasses such things as the lodges, cabals, and pressure groups, which - sometimes in conjunction with, and sometimes despite, assistance from governmental secret services - steer our respective vessels of state in particular directions through the mists of history.

 

 

Self-Sanctification: [See firstly totalism.] One of the eight factors identified by Lifton (1961) as making for an effective system of thought reform. A demand for "absolute purity" (p482) of affiliation by a system which induces feelings of guilt and then uses them as instruments of control. 

 

 

Semantic Differential: A "semantic differential" is an hypothetical continuum between an adjective and its semantic opposite [e.g. GOOD-BAD]. Semantic differentials are believed by followers of Osgood, Suci, and Tannenbaum (1957) to be important building blocks for attitudes. Here, for example, is a tabular array of an eight-adjective rating of "the ideal automobile" .....

 

stylish

X

 

 

 

 

ugly

fast

 

X

 

 

 

slow

expensive

 

 

 

X

 

cheap

secure

X

 

 

 

 

insecure

safe

X

 

 

 

 

dangerous

big

 

 

 

X

 

small

large boot

 

 

X

 

 

small boot

saloon

 

 

 

 

X

cabriolet

 

Osgood et al's particular development of the differential array [which may, of course, be several thousands of items deep if the researchers so wish] was to allocate each specific dimension to one of three superordinate categories, as follows .....

 

E- The Evaluative Factor: This subsumes all adjectives implying some sense of goodness-badness [e.g., stylish, expensive, secure, safe].

 

P- The Potency Factor: This subsumes all adjectives implying some sense of strength-weakness [e.g., big].

 

E- The Activity Factor: This subsumes all adjectives implying some sense of activity-inertia [e.g., fast].

 

 [See now attitude change theory (semantic differential theory).] 

 

 

Sense of Fair Play: One of the principles of natural justice. The notion that one of the duties of a society is to implement a rule of law for the settling of disputes. 

 

 

Sheer Imbecility: [See firstly imbecile.] Breathtaking simple-mindedness or lack of forethought. Example: "Tony Blair yesterday promised Black Watch troops they will be 'home by Christmas' " (The Daily Mail, 21st October 2004). <<AUTHOR'S NOTE: The point at issue here is not whether this may or may not happen [it eventually did], but rather that the armies of both world wars were promised precisely this, only to be retained in theatre for considerably longer and slaughtered for their troubles. The phrase "home by Christmas" therefore has ominous overtones for service personnel and these appear to have been completely overlooked on this occasion: indeed, were one to set out deliberately to find a calculated insult or to show one's ignorance this would be the perfect way of doing it.>>

 

 

Slippery Slope: A type of fallacious argument in which - with or without intention to deceive - there is loose use of a series of "if-then" arguments, one or more of which does NOT upon proper inspection follow the one before, but is actually quite difficult to detect. [Alternative Wikipedia definition.] Example: TO FOLLOW. 

 

 

Smear Tactics: Ad hominem argument supported by briefing against, character assassination, or the like, in political campaigning.

 

 

Socialisation: "The process by which children and others adopt the behaviour patterns of the culture that surrounds them" (Wikipedia). [See now political socialisation.]

 

 

Sophistry: "Specious but fallacious reasoning; employment of arguments which are intentionally deceptive" (OED).

 

 

Special Effects (SFX): Conjuring tricks and sleights of hand in the context of theatre and cinema [more].

 

 

Special Operations: Of the military and secret services, operations of especial tactical or strategic value, usually undertaken by a small force of highly trained and specially equipped personnel, and typically coordinated by a Department of Dirty Tricks. In time of war, this includes activities such as sabotage, assassination, kidnappings, diversionary attacks, the organisation of resistance groups, and the general pursuit of psychological warfare. In time of peace it includes - er - much the same. 

 

 

Speech Act: See this entry in our Psycholinguistics Glossary.

 

 

Spin: [See firstly spin doctor.] Propaganda directed by a government against its own people as though they were the enemy. State or corporate sophistry. The deliberate manipulation of public opinion by the calculated misrepresentation of an underlying truth.  Example: The received view on casino gambling in the UK is that such establishments exist to make profits for their owners at the expense of the majority of their customers and to the downright ruin of a not inconsiderable minority thereof. This more or less propositional truth then gets corrupted by the mouths of politicians as follows: "Casinos provide a modern opportunity for people and their families to go and either have some entertainment or be able to indulge in leisure gambling in an adult fashion." (Leader of the House, Peter Hain, The Daily Mail, 27th October 2004; considered as a locutionary act [Psycholinguistics Glossary], this statement is not untrue as such, but as an attempt to advance a serious ongoing debate it is execrable.)

 

 

Spin Doctor: (1) Originally, one who interfered with the free and random operation of any wheel of fortune device, in order to increase the house take. A fraudster, therefore, in the general category of insider dealers and racetrack "nobblers". Hence (2) one who interferes with any commercial mechanism or procedure in order to separate the working man from his money. Hence (3) one who interferes with the natural presentation of truth in order to influence public opinion

 

 

Stating the Bleeding Obvious: To be guilty of uttering so blatant a truism as to exasperate one's audience.

 

 

Stone, Isidor Feinstein (1907-1989): US investigative journalist and self-proclaimed awkward SOB. Famous for his exposé of the workings of the US Departments of Dirty Tricks during the run-up to, and early years of, the Korean War (Stone, 1952) (and thereafter for more of the same). 

 

 

Stonewalling: Giving nothing away. Standing solid and true despite constant attack. Obstructing or hindering. So named after General Thomas J. ("Stonewall") Jackson (1824-1863), Confederate Army, whose troops at the First Battle of Bull Run "stood like a stone wall". A positive descriptor if your side is the one doing the stonewalling, but a negative one if you are on the receiving end of it.

 

 

Straw Man: A type of fallacious argument in which the attention of one party is deliberately diverted from the issue at point onto a contrived but ultimately irrelevant non-issue. Example: TO FOLLOW. 

 

 

Sufficient Grounds Principle: The 8th of Damer's (1995) 12 basic principles of rational argument. The principle that "one who presents an argument for or attacks a position should attempt to provide reasons that are sufficient in number, kind, and weight to support the acceptance of the conclusion" (p181).

 

 

Superstition: "An irrational religious belief or practice" (OED). 

 

 

Suspension of Judgement Principle: The 11th of Damer's (1995) 12 basic principles of rational argument. The principle that "if no position comes close to being successfully defended, or if two or more positions seem to be defended with equal strength, on should, in most cases, suspend judgement about the issue" (p185). [But carefully contrast clarity principle.]

 

 

Swift Vets: [In full, Swift Boat Veterans and POWs for Truth.] See the entry for 527 groups.

 

 

Sycophant: "A mean, servile, cringing, or abject flatterer; a parasite, toady, lickspittle" (OED).

 

 

Sycophancy: The natural behaviours of a sycophant.  A subtype of flattery, in which the flattered party is usually one's own immediate superior.

 

 

Syllogism: [See firstly deductive reasoning.] A form of deduction in which there are two premises, one primary and one secondary, and a conclusion [longer definition]. Example: Here, from Cohen and Manion (1989, p3) is an unflawed syllogism [note the flow from general rule to particular example]: First Premise: All planets orbit the sun. Second Premise: The Earth is a planet. Conclusion: Therefore the Earth orbits the sun.

 

 

Systems View: A dispassionate analysis of an otherwise politically sensitive and partisan area. A search for natural truth and justice, involving the identification of underlying flow patterns (of money, people, or other commodities). Examples: See the separate entries for the credit boom, Gambling Bill, and pensions crisis. [For a detailed analysis of the cognitive science at work here, see our e-paper on "Systems Thinking".]

 

 

Tautology: "The repetition [of] the same idea or statement in other words; usually as a fault of style" (OED). Example: TO FOLLOW.

 

 

Teleology: [Greek telos = "far" or "distant", as in "television", seeing at a distance] "The doctrine or study of ends or final causes" (OED). Teleologies are usually assertions of voluntary prior purpose, as in "I'm studying for my exams". Teleological explanations are severely frowned upon by science, because prior purpose is never objectively observable. The philosophical point at issue is that the agent of this possible volition - known popularly as "the will" - is a poorly defined concept, and in practice it is all too easy to impute will where none actually exists. Example: The observation that a fruit fly flew from A to B and drank ought not to be described as "That fruit fly flew from A to B to get a drink". The fly in question was at A, it took off, it flew to B, it landed, it drank - a chain of simple reflexes could achieve the same (and does). Similarly, animals do not mate in order to continue their blood line, they just exist and respond when programmed to respond.

 

 

Theory: "A scheme or system of ideas or statements held as an explanation or account of a group of facts or phenomena; a hypothesis that has been confirmed or established by observation or experiment, and is propounded or accepted as accounting for the known facts" (OED).

 

 

Theory of Mind: One of the most promising research areas in modern cognitive science. The term itself comes originally from Premack and Woodruff (1978), who used it to describe an individual's ability to "impute mental states to himself and others" (p515). The idea was then developed by Dennett (1978), who popularised the notion of "orders of representation", again by Wimmer and Perner (1983), who described the phenomenon in entirely metacognitive terms as having "beliefs about beliefs", and again by Baron-Cohen (1989), who devised a particularly powerful "false-belief" experimental paradigm for testing the theory of mind capabilities of children with special educational needs such as autism. 

 

 

Thought Reform: [Chinese hsiang kai-tsao = "ideological remoulding"] The Chinese Communist system of indoctrination during the 1940s and 1950s, which gave rise to more focused techniques such as brainwashing when high value subjects presented themselves. The techniques of thought reform were thoroughly analysed by Lifton (1961). [See now totalism.]

 

 

Totalism: [Short for "ideological totalism".] [See firstly thought reform.] Lifton's (1961) term for "the coming together of immoderate ideology with equally immoderate individual character traits - an extremist meeting ground between people and ideas" (p477). "Human zealotry" (Ibid.). The psychological power house for "those ideologies which are most sweeping in their content and most ambitious - or messianic - in their claims, whether religious, political, or scientific" (Ibid.). In Lifton's analysis, eight separate factors - "psychological themes" (Ibid.) - need to be addressed, dealt with separately as milieu control, mystical manipulation, confession, self-sanctification, aura of sacredness, loaded language, doctrine over person, and dispensed existence. [Carefully contrast totalitarianism.]

 

 

Totalitarianism: "a system of rule, driven by an ideology, that seeks direction of all aspects of public activity, political, economic and social, and uses to that end, at least to a degree, propaganda and terror" (Pleuger, 2004 online). [Carefully contrast totalism.]

 

 

Tradition: The way things have always been done. The essence of a particular culture, both as overt behaviours and belief systems. Emotionally anchored habit. [See now appeal to tradition.]

 

 

Truism: "A self-evident truth" (OED). [Compare stating the bleeding obvious.]

 

 

Truth: In everyday usage, truth means "conformity with fact; agreement with reality; accuracy, correctness, verity (of statement or thought)" (OED). In philosophy, it is the broader issue of the nature and limits of human thinking, and is thus as old as reflective thought itself [see now truth, essence of and truth, scientific]. In a court of law, it is the construction - the schema - put upon the evidence and expert opinion produced. In public information operations, it is the belief system being promoted by the agency picking up the tab. And in times of war, it is invariably "the first casualty" (Senator Hiram Johnson, 1917). 

 

 

Truth, Essence of: [See firstly aletheia and truth.] Title of a classic paper ["Vom Wesen der Wahrheit" (Heidegger, 1930)] by the philosopher Martin Heidegger.

 

 

Truth, Scientific: [See firstly truth.] A propositional truth established using the scientific method. 

 

 

Truth-Seeking Principle: The second of Damer's twelve principles of effective rational discussion. The notion that "each participant [in a rational discussion] should be committed to the task of earnestly searching for the truth or at least the most defensible position on the issue at stake" (Damer, 1995, p175).

 

 

Uberrimae Fides: [Latin = "utmost good faith".] One of the two principles of behaviour within the Lloyds of London insurance market [the other being fidentia]. The notion that "one's word is one's bond".

 

 

Urban Myth: [See firstly myth.] A vivid and typically ungrounded rumour, so frequently mentioned as to be taken as true. Examples: We have nothing to add to those already well documented at Uncle Ken's Urban Myth Page.

 

 

Value: In everyday usage, a "value" is an "estimate or opinion of, liking for, a person or thing" (OED; italics original). The word retains much the same sense when used as a technical term in social psychology, where it refers to the behaviour traits we hold dear, either personally, or in those we look up to. Values are thus beliefs about how one ought to behave.

 

 

Visiting Martians: Devil's advocates. In the present context, a hypothetical band of truth-curious aliens who - thanks to their larger brains and lack of any side but their own - habitually see through the lies, confabulations [Memory Glossary], rationalisations, and cover stories put forward by Earthlings. This leads them to ask penetrating and at times extremely uncomfortable questions which we ourselves had either overlooked or suppressed. The gold standard for the critical evaluation of one's own arguments is therefore to do a thought experiment in which you take the role of a visiting Martian and see how uncomfortable you can make yourself. Example of Usage: "Visiting Martians would not be alone in wondering why parliament has spent so much of the last five years debating hunting. Plenty of Earthlings are mystified too." (The Guardian, 4th December 2002.) Examples of Uncomfortable Questions: (1) Why do you Earthlings call it peace when there is so much fighting going on? (2) Why are not all UN resolutions enforced by coalition action? (3) Why are some popular militias referred to as "partisans" or "resistance fighters" and praised for the mayhem they cause, whilst others are called "terrorists" or "insurgents"? (4) Give it to us again about how producing such a lot of heroin in those mountains over there fits in with this "democracy" thing you're always on about [background]. (5) We've just been watching this video called "The Magnificent Seven", and there's this bunch of bandidos crashing about on some sort of four-legged humvees, generally kicking butt. This is clearly some earlier form of coalition. So how come they get to lose? (6) One other thing while we're on - we like the way you deploy these "combat chaplains" real close to the action, so as to keep the guys on message. We'll be implementing this in SAUFOCOM shortly.

 

 

Waffle, To: [Mild English slang.] To expatiate upon a topic of discussion without actually addressing any of the substantive issues. Example: This from Tessa Jowell, defending her position on the Gambling Bill before Parliament: "'I, er, didn't refer to people as snobs', she said. 'I referred to a whiff of snobbery, which is quite different'." (The Daily Mail, 2nd November 2004; the defence is factually true, but factual truth is irrelevant here because the waffle-factor comes in making fine points of semantics in defence of the inherently indefensible.)

 

 

Wheel of Fortune: A generic name for a class of fairground and casino attractions in which money is staked on the various sectors of a rotating circular platten or pointer, the winning selection being determined by the position of the moving part when coming to rest. Fairground attractions of this type include "Crown and Anchor" [detail/picture] and the "Big Wheel" [detail], whilst the principal casino example is the roulette wheel. The wheel of fortune concept becomes relevant to the present discussion thanks to the understandable (but nonetheless reprehensible) temptation to "doctor" [= interfere with] the spin thereof using a hidden braking device - hence spin doctor, hence spin.

 

 

Wister, Owen (1860-1938): [Selected Internet biography.] American novelist, whose 1902 best-seller "The Virginian" became the principal sourcework for the modern myth of the Hollywood cowboy.

 

3 - References

See the Master References List

[Home]