Back in my teaching days, one of my courses was logic, and I believe that the most useful part of the course was showing students how to identify fallacious argumentation. Perhaps the fallacy that we encounter most often in our political disputes is the ad hominem circumstantial fallacy. That’s the fallacy of claiming to have refuted an argument merely by pointing to some circumstance relating to the person who made the argument. Rational argument requires confronting the logic of the argument itself, not distracting readers with irrelevancies about the arguer.
Recently, the American Institute for Economic Research released what is called the Great Barrington Declaration. It is an argument in favor of a more liberal (in the original sense) approach to the COVID pandemic. It was written by three epidemiologists who maintain that the lockdown approach is a mistake that does more harm than good.
Predictably, the Declaration has come under fire, with the ammunition consisting of heavy rounds of the ad hominem circumstantial. Nafeez Ahmed, a writer for the Byline Times, claims to have refuted the argument for the Declaration by digging into the funding for AIER and finding that some of its money has come from the Koch Foundation. He doesn’t attempt to argue against the case presented by the three writers, but to discredit the Declaration by pointing to this circumstance about some of the financial support for AIER.
For more detail, I recommend this AIER piece by Joakim Book.
Given the pitiable state of American education, I suppose that this Nafeez Ahmed fellow isn’t aware that his “argument” against the Declaration is built on a fallacy. That’s how much of our “education” works these days: Students are taught to look for incriminating background on writers and scholars and once they’ve found it — gotcha! Nothing more need be said.
At Cafe Hayek, Don Boudreaux has a lot to say about this too.