Saturday, March 13, 2010

Durbin's Latest FiredUp! Conspriacy

Jim Durbin is at it again, illustrating the fallacious reasoning and flimsy evidence standards that characterize the St. Louis Tea Party and make all bloggers look bad. It's nowhere near as bad as when he accused the local animal control department of a massive conspiracy or baselessly attacked County Counselor Patricia Reddington, but it still says a lot about the bizarre leaps and bounds that are used to build up the conspiracy theories that sadly are a core part of the ideology of the St. Louis Tea Party.

Durbin's lastest bizarre twisting of reality was based on a question I asked on Show Me Progress nearly two years ago. I had had trouble registering an account at FiredUp and asked for advice. Clark on SMP replied by saying that he knows someone there and he'd be willing to ask about it. This was apparently enough to trigger hallucinations for Durbin, who then leapt to the conclusion that "you had to know someone," to register at FiredUp. Durbin then used this as the basis for further conspiracy theorizing.

First of all, Durbin's conspiracy completely misdescribes the situation. Too much time had passed from the issue I had wanted to discuss on FiredUp, so I didn't bother to register for the site at that time. A long time later, I wanted to discuss something different, so i registered, and was given an account. I didn't need to "know somebody." I simply got an account after registering. So Durbin's theory was based on an absurd extrapolation from a couple comments.

But let's assume that the original claim that I was allowed to post at FiredUp only after Eric talked to someone was true. Even so, Durbin's extrapolation would be completely unsupported. His argument is basically as follows:
1. If it's true that you have to know somebody to register at FiredUp, Adam Shriver could only register after knowing somebody.
2. Adam Shriver could only register after knowing somebody.
3. Therefore, it must be true that you have to know somebody to register at FiredUp.
But of course, this has the following basic structure, known in logic as the fallacy of affirming the consequent;
1. If P, then Q.
2. Q
3. Therefore P.
To see why this form of reasoning is fallacious, we can put in different terms:
1. If Mr. Ed is a dog, then Mr. Ed is a mammal.
2. Mr. Ed is a mammal.
3. Therefore, Mr Ed is a dog.

But of course, Mr. Ed could be a mammal without being a dog, so this is an invalid argument structure (both premises can be true but still have a false conclusion). And the same point is true of Durbin's original argument: even if it were true that I got an account after knowing someone, it wouldn't follow that you couldn't get an account without knowing someone. But of course Durbin's premises were false too, so not only was he using faulty logic, he was starting with incorrect information. Welcome to how the tea party builds up their massive conspiracy theories about the world.

One final note: Durbin continually likes to attack FiredUp, even suggesting at one point that he personally had defunded the blog. But of course, the reason Durbin attacks FiredUp so much is specifically because the blog is a progressive institution that successfully influences public debate. Influential Republican blogger John Combest even said he read FiredUp in his recent profile in the RFT. Thus, while Durbin continuously tries to make the case that FiredUp is a failure, he is attacking it only because it is such a success.

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