About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Bad logic can kill you!

And so will the following: bad science education, political demagoguery, sensationalist media, and religious idiocy. Amazingly, all of these came together to spread polio among Indonesian children, according to a National Public Radio story broadcast today.

Polio had almost been eradicated from the planet just two years ago, but ignorance and stupidity came to its rescue, and now 300 children have been crippled in Indonesia, 60,000 are infected, and there is a serious risk of the disease spreading not only to neighboring countries, but to Europe and the US as well.

How could this happen? One factor is -- literally -- faulty logic on the part of some mothers. Despite their naturally good intentions towards their children, some Indonesian mothers have noted that polio re-emerged at the same time that the vaccine was being distributed in their area. They then committed one of the classical logical fallacies, post hoc ergo propter hoc (after that, therefore because of that), and concluded that the polio had returned because of the vaccine. Local politicians, religious authorities, and media jumped on the story and actually spread the (false) news that the vaccine was unsafe. Despite a thorough study that showed that the original cases were in fact not due to the vaccine (it was simply a coincidence that the two occurred at about the same time), still many mothers refuse to have their children vaccinated. This endangers not only the children in question, of course, but a much larger number worldwide.

Next time you think learning basic logic is an idle exercise for wanna-be philosophers, think again. It could save your life!

1 comment:

  1. After taking my first class in college for philosophy I was immedatly convinced that a logic and rhetoric class should be a CORE class for highschool and college students. Most of it was not foreign to me, but the class helped to codify many of the things that I already knew.

    between that and discrete mathmatics, you know enough to be really dangerous.


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