This essay continues the discussion of the logic of conspiracy theories. As noted in the previous essay, conspiracy theorists can make use of effective methods of inductive reasoning when arguing for their theory. While previously looking at the argument from authority, I will now look at the analogical argument.
An analogical argument is an argument in which one concludes that two things are alike in a certain respect because they are alike in other respects. An analogical argument will typically have three premises and a conclusion. The first premise two premises establish the analogy by showing that the things (X and Y) in question are similar in certain respects (properties P, Q, R, etc.). The third premise establishes that X has an additional quality, Z. The conclusion asserts that Y has property or feature Z as well. The form looks like this:
Premise 1: X has properties P,Q, and R.
Premise 2: Y has properties P,Q, and R.
Premise 3: X has property Z.
Conclusion: Y has property Z.
While one might wonder how reasoning by analogy could lead to a conspiracy theory, it does make sense. If the property Z is taken as some key feature of a conspiracy theory, such as a company acting in an evil way with the collusion of the state, all that is needed to make the argument for a conspiracy theory is a case in which something is known to have that property. Then it is simply a manner of drawing the analogy. For example, consider someone who thinks that vaccines are unsafe and that there is a conspiracy to present them as safe. They could make an analogical argument comparing what we know happened with opioids (pharmaceutical companies lying about the danger of opioids, doctors being bribed to prescribe, pharmacies going along with the prescriptions, and the state allowing it all) with what they think is true of vaccines. Looked at this way, inferring that the situation with vaccines is like the situation with opioids seems to be a decent argument. Yet, the theory of a vaccine conspiracy certainly seems wrong (in general). So, how does one sort assess this sort of argument? The answer is that one applies the following three standards.
First, the more properties X and Y have in common, the better the argument. The more two things are alike in other ways, the more likely it is that they will be alike in some other way. In the case of vaccines and opioids, there are many shared similarities; for example, both scenarios involve the same players (companies, doctors, pharmacies and the state).
Second, the more relevant the shared properties are to property Z, the stronger the argument. A specific property, for example P, is relevant to property Z if the presence or absence of P affects the likelihood that Z will be present. Third, it must be determined whether X and Y have relevant dissimilarities as well as similarities. The more dissimilarities and the more relevant they are, the weaker the argument.
In the case of inferring a conspiracy to sell dangerous vaccines from the real opioid conspiracy one must weigh the similarities and differences. While there are clearly relevant similarities, there are some crucial differences. Most importantly, vaccines have been extensively tested and are known to be relatively safe. In contrast, all the scientific evidence supports what should be common sense: opioids are addictive and potential very dangerous. While the companies and doctors do want to make money off both, this does not entail that vaccines are not safe, even though opioids are quite dangerous. While the analogy between the opioid conspiracy and the vaccine conspiracy breaks; there is nothing wrong with reasoning by analogy. If the standards are applied and relevant differences are considered, this method of reasoning is quite useful.