Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Confusing Conditions

If you are a regular reader of blogs about autism, you’ve seen something like this before:

Blogger X writes, for example, “All good relationships require that the individuals involved respect one another, and this is true for autistic and non-autistic persons alike.”

The next day or week or month, Blogger Y obliquely references the first blog, claiming that X believes that “autistic children don’t need therapy or treatments of any sort, just respect.” This will often be followed by a rant decrying neurodiversity as a dangerous philosophy which ignores the real needs of autistic people.

What has happened here is a confusion, whether intentional or not, of sufficient and necessary conditions. This is a common form of logical fallacy, often used to avoid addressing the original argument by claiming that another, seemingly similar argument is wrong. Only, in reality, it isn’t similar at all.

Take a look at the original statement with all of those emotion inducing words replaced by symbols. Where A= good relationships and B = respect.

All A requires B.

The restated argument, as presented says:

A requires only B.

and the obvious counter-argument is

It is not true that A requires only B.

Now, to make the problem more visible, I’ll substitute some neutral everyday terms for A and B. Where A = cake and B = eggs:

All cakes require eggs.

Now we can easily see that the restated argument,

Cakes require only eggs

is false, since no cake can be made using only eggs. Other ingredients are required.
Thus, we are easily convinced by the argument:

Cakes do not require only eggs

for this argument is valid.

Another way to say this is that eggs are necessary to make a cake, but are not sufficient.

The person presenting such an argument hopes that he has slipped one past the reader, that no one will notice that the original argument has been incorrectly restated. The trick relies on the reader holding a vague memory of some words about respect and autistic people. When the reference is indirect, naming no particular person, finding the original statement can be difficult to impossible.

What about the reference to therapies, then? Did Y make this up? Well, not exactly, but close. It just so happens that blogger X (or maybe Z, a writer perceived as being an ally of X) has also stated, “Therapies which seek to eliminate behaviors through aversive measures are harmful to autistic people.”

Here A = therapies, B = aversive measures, C = autistic people.

So the statement reads:

(According to X) All A that contains B is harmful to C.

But blogger Y has implied that

(According to X) All A is harmful to C.

Assuming the existence of an A which could either contain B or not:

A = sandwiches, B = peanut butter C = persons with peanut allergy.

The original statement:

All sandwiches with peanut butter are harmful to people with peanut allergies

cannot be properly refuted with the statement

Not all sandwiches are harmful to people with peanut allergies

which is all blogger Y has implied.

(Note that there is no way to infer that only peanut butter sandwiches are harmful. There may also be other sandwiches containing peanut derivatives which would also be harmful, but these are not a part of the original argument.)

Again, the writer is depending on a vague memory of words about harmful therapies. In this case, he has taken a specific statement and generalized it to include all therapies, combined it with the statement about respect and made himself a nice straw man to knock down.

Such faulty arguments are not hard to find. From discussions of vaccination schedules to disclosing a disability in the workplace, anywhere you find people debating issues relevant to autism, you are sure to see examples of similar logical fallacies. These people are trying to make a cake without eggs (where cake = argument and eggs = logic). Yes, I know that such recipes exist. But I am not having any, thanks.


  1. Hello Bev,

    Thanks for the detailed explanation. I know a good many people need it, and the rest of us need for them to have it.

    Keep up the good work. One of our greatest strengths is our grasp of logic and detail.

    Jeff Deutsch

  2. OK, i kind of have to say this... eggs are not necessary to make cakes. I have several very delicious cake recipes (which i have successfully made cakes from) which have no eggs in them whatsoever...

    I appreciate that this is me being overly literal... ;)

    Agreed totally with the rest of your post tho :)

  3. Ah, yes, I have heard of those eggless cakes, but never known anyone who had tried it before.

    Blogger Y (or anyone) is welcome to dispute the necessity of the egg. I have no problem with that type of argument!

  4. Awesome post, Bev! And it's not just those talking about autism who want to make cakes out of eggs. Practically any discussion of current events seems to devolve into something similar. Sigh!

  5. This is brilliant. It made my day. Maybe my month.

  6. Another excellent (and necessary!) post. Thanks, Bev!

  7. I love your blog. I really do :o)

    Kind regards from Denmark - from a mother to a child with autism

  8. How do you do it?

    Your knack for finding the root of the problem, and then exposing it in easy to understand terms has never failed to amaze me. Bravo.

  9. This post I'm preserving for posterity and on all occasions will direct the likes of Doherty or Mitchell. Actually, it's not likely to do any good since Doherty has a strict agenda and so does Mitchell come to think of it. Still, it exposes the incredible weakness of the anti neurodiversity arguments.

    Can't thank you enough Bev. Muito obrigada:)

  10. I LOVE the logic! Being a fellow Aspergerian, the straight forth logic is great.

    And yes, there are eggless cakes and cakes with just eggs are called omletes, we've just defined cakes as being something of a flour (but not all cakes use wheat (the norm) flour)matrix.

    To the unknowing, I could call an all egg omlete a "cake" and to take person, they would only see it as a cake.

    but now I want cake...

  11. The problem is that people have a fixed idea in their head of what neurodiversity is. Then they automatically twist anything that is said to fit that idea. I believe this is mostly unintentional.

  12. I wonder what a eggless, milkless, butterless cake tastes like; a pancake?? I have a recipe but have never tried it.

    Hmmmmm...logic...I get too swept up in the minor details.

  13. this reminds me of a question on the lsat :)

  14. A ancake needs milk and eggs. An eggless, milkless, butterless cake, could, however, work. You'd need dairy-free margerine instead.
    But back to the original point, I think that lack of logic is a big problem, but s is logic based on faulty premises.
    If you start from the premise that anyone who was truly autistic would want a cure, then it's logical t say that anyone who doesn't want a cure isn't truly autistic.

  15. Oh how easy it appears to brush off difficult arguments by portraying opponents' claims as logical fallacies made upon simple logical premises of yours. It shouldn't be expected that opponents won't read between the lines of your statements, to see what the underlying rhetoric implies, especially after seeing numerous instances where similar rhetoric points to the same conclusion. The conclusion being that treatment and cure are opposed by those making statements about "respect", no matter what the severity of the impairments. And I think I've seen statements nearly explicitly denouncing treatment anyway.

  16. Lurker - I don't wish to speak for Bev, but I am opposed to curing autism in the same way that I am opposed to making myself immortal using unicorn droppings. There is no cure fo autism. I cannot oppose a non-existamt thing. I do, however, oppose anything which is falsely marketed as a cure, especially if it is dangerous to people's health.

    There are plenty of effective treatments for certain unpleasant aspects of autism and related disorders. I support any therapy which has been proven to be effective and harmless of them and I would like to see more funding for them. In my country, the National Health Service is supposed to provide some of these treatments (occupational therapy, speech and language therapy etc) but autistic people and ther parents/carers are caught between being told they are "not severe enough" to need it and being told they are so severe that they are beyond help. Those who can afford to pay for these treatments often find out that such statements aout being "too severe" or "not severe enough" are false.

    There are also many therapies and biomedical treatments which are ineffective and/or harmful. The people who sell these treatments are defruding autistic people ad their families. They are, in some cases, endangering the physical and mental health of disabled people. They have even been responsible for deaths:

    I believe that autistic people and their families need to be protected from dangerous fraudsters and that the law should be changed to stop them, if necessary.

  17. Interesting post. I sure do know that making any decisions in regards to treatments is very difficult.

    I can see where blogging can bring up varying viewpoints within the blog itself.

  18. Here's a list of eggless cake recipes:

  19. Bev, looking at one of the comments here, maybe you should also do something refuting the argument that goes like this:

    "Persons A, B, C, D, and E, all say something vaguely resembling G (in our heads anyway... sort of). Therefore, when Person F comes along and say something vaguely resembling G (in our heads anyway... sort of) then person F's arguments can be refuted by refuting Person C's arguments, even if person F and person C have totally different arguments for an idea that is only similar on the surface. Any attempt by person F point out "this isn't what I'm saying", can be refuted by saying "But can't you see what [b]you all[/b] are saying all the time?", or by expecting person F to answer for the opinions of persons A, B, C, D, and E."

  20. If you're interested, i just posted my favourite egg-free cake recipe:http://biodiverseresistance.blogspot.com/2008/11/cake-is-not-lie.html

    (for some reason i thought i had posted it back in August! well, obviously i didn't...)

  21. Ever had chelated cake? It's cake that's devoid of taste. xD


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