Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Logical Fallacies of the Cesspit

We have shown in this series that Holocaust deniers are negationists not revisionists. CODOH's five years of existence have provided numerous illustrations of this rule. The most common tactic of negation used by deniers is to employ logical fallacies to establish false parameters of argumentation and evidence evaluation. Below are seven logical fallacies that CODOH posters employ for the purpose of pure negation, whilst making no attempt to build a revised body of knowledge.

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1. The false 'house of cards' analogy - used here by Hargis, who says of Nuremberg that:
removing one card results in the fall of a house made of cards.
This is a logical fallacy because it fails to treat each piece of evidence on its own merits, and resorts instead to an 'ad hominem' attack on the all of the thousands of personnel who collected and supplied evidence for the IMT at Nuremberg. There is always a high statistical probability that a body of evidence consisting of thousands of items will contain a small number of items whose provenance or authenticity cannot be guaranteed, but it is absurd to infer from this that all the items are tarnished by the small number of dubious ones.

Hargis thus confirms Van Pelt's observation:
The assumption that the discovery of one little crack will bring the whole building down is the fundamental fallacy of Holocaust Denial.
2. Source negation instead of source evaluation - CODOH adopts a straw man approach to Holocaust historians which assumes that historians do not take account of source ambiguity or the motivation of eyewitnesses. This is an assumption based on ignorance of how historians check sources against other forms of verification and convergence. CODOH rejects techniques of convergence, corroboration and source evaluation because it wishes to exclude, a priori, any source that supports the normative history of the Holocaust .

3. 'All documentation is fake unless proven otherwise to our satisfaction (a standard which is impossible to attain)' - CODOH's approach to Holocaust documentation is to assume that it should be dismissed unless its veracity can be proven beyond even the most unreasonable levels of doubt. For example, on this thread, Hargis insists that the chain of custody of any piece of evidence must be demonstrated at every stage of its existence. This is pure negationism because it asks Holocaust historians to refute a paranoid claim, when in reality the burden of proof lies with negationists to prove that their paranoia has some legitimate basis. Historians are entitled to assume that large collections of documentary evidence, held in multiple archives across the world, have not be faked by some dark conspiratorial force. They are not obliged to subject every document to an assumption of disbelief merely to satisfy the epistemology of a paranoid fantasist.

4. 'You didn't prove your point, so your point is false.' - Every CODOH discussion of mass graves assumes that unless every body was exhumed and subjected to an autopsy, the claims of gassing are a hoax. This is an argumentum ad ignorantiam, because it assumes that a supposed lack of proof of A (exact identification of bodies) is proof of B (the gas chambers are a hoax). In other words, CODOH exhibits a fallacy which assumes that:
'a proposition is true simply on the basis that it has not been proved false, or that it is false because it has not been proved true' (Copi and Cohen, Introduction to Logic, 9th ed., 1994, p.116)
Walton discusses how this fallacy is used to foreclose discussion:
One such dialectical pattern has been studied by Krabbe (1995, p. 258), of a kind that corresponds to the fallacy van Eemeren and Grootendorst (1987, p. 291) call absolutizing the success of a defense, as characterized by the argumentative move, 'You didn't prove your point, so your point is false.' The argument from ignorance, analyzed in this way as a dialectical fallacy, could be described as an exaggerated statement of the results of a discussion. It is the tactic of implying that the discussion has already successfully reached the closing stage, whereas in reality, it should be seen as still being in the argumentation stage.
We can therefore see that the CODOH fallacy, 'You didn't prove your point, so your point is false,' is also a tactic, deployed specifically by Hargis as moderator, that attempts to impose false closure on a discussion. It is particularly ironic that a moderator should deploy this fallacy, because the moderator's function is meant to be to promote discussion, not foreclose it. An example of this tactic, relating to CODOH discussions of Chelmno, is given in point 5.

5. Dismissing one body of evidence because of supposed deficiencies in another body of evidence - This fallacy is encapsulated in this CODOH thread about Chelmno, in which Hargis states that:
Greiser's alleged letter and any assertions about documents concerning Chelmno must be examined in lieu of the alleged method of 'extermination' and body disposal at Chelmno...Given the lack of evidence, Greiser's alleged 'letter' as was shown is necessarily another transparent Communist creation
This statement contains two logical fallacies at once. Firstly, it begs the question about forensics and body disposal by assuming (without demonstrating) that gassing with a vehicle engine and incineration of bodies were impossible. Secondly, it is an appeal to ignorance because it assumes that an incompleteness of forensics at Chelmno proves that Grieser's letter is fake. Lack of Proof for A is therefore assumed to be proof of B.

6. A false hierarchy of evidence - This is also known as the 'Scissors, Paper, Stone' fallacy. It assumes that physical evidence always trumps documents, which in turn always trump eyewitnesses. This is clearly deployed by Hargis in the Chelmno example in Point 5. It is closely associated with the appeal to ignorance, because it is used as a device for falsely 'proving' that documents must be 'fake' and eyewitnesses must be 'lying' if there is any lack of proof in the associated forensics.

7. Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus - This is a common denier fallacy: "false in one thing, false in everything". It is the last refuge of the desperate denier, and can be easily exposed and debunked. This blog gives an example of a CODOH denier, Bradley Smith, who used the fallacy in this CODOH article as follows:
"Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus," or "false in one thing, false in everything," was a Roman legal principle. If a witness may not be believed in one thing, he should not be believed in anything. This principle is as valid today as it was two thousand years ago.
The fallacy can be debunked on three grounds, which Smith dishonestly ignored in his article. Firstly, as wikipedia notes, the term was only meant to be applied to witnesses whose testimony is without corroboration. It is:
A Roman legal principle indicating that a witness who willfully falsifies one matter is not credible on any matter. The underlying motive for attorneys to impeach opposing witnesses in court: the principle discredits the rest of their testimony if it is without corroboration.
Deniers ignore this crucial qualifier, which appears in classical US legal texts such as CHARLES C. MOORE, A Treatise on Facts, or the Weight and Value of Evidence (1908. Vol. II, § 1073).

Secondly, an alleged weakness in the testimony of Witness A tell us nothing about the veracity of witnesses B-Z. The CODOH technique of cherrypicking one witness in order to discredit dozens of others is, therefore, fallacious.

Thirdly, judges and juries are not obliged to apply the principle. This is made clear in the Manual Of Model Criminal Jury Instructions, used by US Circuit Courts, which states:
As to the credibility of a "perjurer," see United States v. Koonce, 485 F.2d 374, 378 n.8 (8th Cir. 1973); United States v. Spector, 793 F.2d 932, 939 (8th Cir. 1986); United States v. Reda, 765 F.2d 715, 718-19 (8th Cir. 1985); 1A Kevin F. O’Malley, et al., Federal Jury Practice and Instructions: Criminal § 15.10 (5th ed. 2000); Seventh Circuit Federal Jury Instructions: Criminal § 1.03 (1999); Ninth Cir. Crim. Jury Instr. 4.8 (1997). Both Koonce and Reda supported the trial court's rejection of a “falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus" instruction.
Juries are thus allowed to exercise discretion as to whether they reject the witness's entire testimony, or just part of it. This is made clear in the case of USA v James (Francis):
The anticipated falsus in uno instruction upon which Francis's counsel relied told the jury that it "may disregard the testimony of the witness in whole or in part" if the jury believed the witness committed perjury during the trial (emphasis added). Judge Dearie's response to the inquiring juror during deliberations did not refer explicitly to trial perjury, but he did say that "[a]fter considering all the evidence you decide on the basis of what you have heard whether to believe in whole or in part the testimony of a particular witness" (emphasis added).
Deniers who use this principle to insist that a witness's entire testimony must be dismissed are therefore ignorant of how the law works. More importantly, they expose once again their fallacious approach to questions of truth.

6 comments:

Ian Thal said...

Thank you for an excellent debunking of the sort of logical fallacies engaged in by conspiracy theorists in general, Holocaust deniers in particular, and Bradley Smith/CODOH specifically. However, you mention at the very beginning that CODOH has had "five years of existence." I've not known Bradley Smith to cease operations yet, and I first came across his propaganda in 1993.

Jonathan Harrison said...

Sorry for the confusion. The 'five years' refers to the CODOH Revisionist Forum - CODOH's talkboard - which began operations on November 26th, 2002.

david woolfe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
david woolfe said...

When I first read Bradely Smith's invocation of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus as if to suggest it as an inexorable proposition of logic, I couldn't believe what I was reading. As an attorney, I'm familiar with the principle, as it is given as a jury instruction in basically ever jury trial in California.

The version used in California reads as follows:

However, if you decide that a witness deliberately testified
untruthfully ABOUT SOMETHING IMPORTANT, you MAY CHOOSE not to
believe anything that witness said. On the other hand, if you think the witness testified untruthfully about some things but told the truth about others, you may accept the part you think is true and ignore the rest.
(Emphasis added.)

Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI), Instruction 5003

Incidentally, that is a small part of a larger instruction that contains several guidelines for assessing the credibility of witnesses. These guidelines are a matter of common sense. Notably, these guidelines that we give to juries are basically a simplified version of the methods that scholars use to evaluate historical testimony. Most of it is so much a matter of common sense that I often wonder whether juries need an explicit instruction at all. But apparently this common sense is lost on the deniers. Here is the full text of the instruction:

A witness is a person who has knowledge related to this case. You
will have to decide whether you believe each witness and how
important each witness’s testimony is to the case. You may believe
all, part, or none of a witness’s testimony.
In deciding whether to believe a witness’s testimony, you may
consider, among other factors, the following:
(a) How well did the witness see, hear, or otherwise sense what
he or she described in court?
(b) How well did the witness remember and describe what
happened?
(c) How did the witness look, act, and speak while testifying?
(d) Did the witness have any reason to say something that was
not true? Did the witness show any bias or prejudice? Did
the witness have a personal relationship with any of the
parties involved in the case? Does the witness have a
personal stake in how this case is decided?
(e) What was the witness’s attitude toward this case or about
giving testimony?
Sometimes a witness may say something that is not consistent with
something else he or she said. Sometimes different witnesses will
give different versions of what happened. People often forget
things or make mistakes in what they remember. Also, two people
may see the same event but remember it differently. You may
consider these differences, but do not decide that testimony is
untrue just because it differs from other testimony.
However, if you decide that a witness deliberately testified
untruthfully about something important, you may choose not to
believe anything that witness said. On the other hand, if you think
the witness testified untruthfully about some things but told the
truth about others, you may accept the part you think is true and
ignore the rest.
Do not make any decision simply because there were more
witnesses on one side than on the other. If you believe it is true,
the testimony of a single witness is enough to prove a fact.
You must not be biased in favor of or against any witness because
of his or her disability, gender, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual
orientation, age, national origin, [or] socioeconomic status[, or
[insert any other impermissible form of bias]].

Jonathan Harrison said...

David, many thanks for that excellent summary.

Jonathan Harrison said...

I am grateful to Roberto for finding this classic example of argumentum ad ignorantiam from the NAFCASH homepage:

«Until the alleged huge mass graves of Treblinka are found - NO mass graves = NO crushed bone = NO burning of bodies = NO homicidal gas chambers = NO mass murder = NO extermination camp = NO Treblinka holocaust = THE TRUTH – TREBLINKA II WAS A TRANSIT CAMP, and the so called gas chambers were, in reality, delousing facilities designed to protect the health and prolong the lives of the shameless liars who fraudulently claimed to be the victims of a genocidal extermination program. Remember, there are only two options: extermination center (for those who believe in magic) or transit camp (for those who believe in the scientific method). There is no third option and only one truth.»

Could these fuckwits be more bloody stupid?