Bad Arguments: Learning the Lost Art of Making Sense

BookendsCindy: No matter your political affiliation, there’s nothing like an election year to bring out the bad logic. Lynn and I discovered An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments by Ali AlmossawiThe Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments: Learning the Lost Art of Making Sense (2014) by Ali Almossawi at BookExpo in May. Previously published online at Book of Bad Arguments, this edition is a delightful—and above all logical—presentation of critical thinking.

The preface opens with a quote about how to write from Stephen King’s On Writing:

One learns most clearly what not to do by reading bad prose.

Instead, this work presents examples of faulty logic and reasoning so that readers can improve their critical thinking, debate, and online commenting skills by learning what NOT to do. Each bad argument is presented on a double-page spread, categorized within a branch of logic shown on an organizational chart in the book, and illustrated with a humorous sepia-toned cartoon example from Alejandro Giraldo.

Bad Arguments Ad Hominem illustrationFor example, we often see the Ad Hominem reasoning that attack the person making a claim rather than debating the claim itself. This diversionary attack certainly is prevalent in political commercials, but it is also frequently seen in nonproductive comments made in online discussion threads, often from participants referred to as “trolls.”  Giraldo’s illustration of the Ad Hominem bad argument features a walrus engaging in such illogical online discourse.

Other bad arguments fall in the Red Herring category, including: Appeal to Fear, Appeal to Bandwagon, Straw Man, Guilt by Association, and Argument from Consequences. Other branches of the organization chart include Slippery Slope, Appeal to Ignorance, Hasty Generalization, and more! The opportunities for curricular connections in middle and high school history classes and in argumentative writing assignments are many. I can’t wait to show this to my teachers.

Even if we are unable to get our friends and family to use sound logic, reading this book will be helpful. As Almossawi also says in the preface, “The ability to analyze others’ arguments can also serve as a yardstick for when to withdraw from discussions that will most likely be futile.” That skill, my friends, is sure to be invaluable come fall.

Lynn: This is a fun and really useful book! I know that because Cindy has said so. Cindy more often than not agrees with me, and I am seldom wrong about books, therefore the book is valuable. Read the book to discover just what category of bad argument I just used.

Really, though, this IS a wonderful book that will help bring logic to the illogical arguments that are and will be used this political season—or in department meetings, news broadcasts, and, well, any instance in which issues are being supported or resisted. This would be a terrific book to use with government students, debate teams, or in irritating town hall meetings.

Besides the really fascinating information, there is a wealth of interesting end matter including definitions and a truly eclectic bibliography. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Alice in Wonderland, Bertrand Russell’s The Problems of Philosophy, and Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World on the same list! No one can resist  this book—if they did, they might fail to draw appropriate conclusions, lose their jobs, and have to sit contemplating the error of their ways at  Starbucks while the entire world fell into ruin. (I’ll give you this one: Appeal to Fear.) Now read this and start arguing!



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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