In the previous essay in this series, I discussed how you could provide “examples” of a War on X by using hyperbole and making straw men. In this essay, we’ll look at how you can use the fallacy of incomplete evidence to “prove” there is a WOX.
The fallacy of incomplete evidence occurs when available evidence that would count against a claim is ignored or suppressed. Looked at another way, it occurs when only evidence in support of a claim is selected (“cherry-picked”). It has the following form:
Premise 1: Evidence E is given for claim C.
Premise 2: There is no available evidence A that would significantly count against C (but A is available and is ignored or suppressed).
Conclusion: Therefore, C is true.
Unlike many other fallacies, this fallacy does not arise because the presented premises do not logically support the conclusion. Instead, the error is that the person making the argument fails (intentionally or accidentally) to consider available evidence would count against their conclusion. The fallacy does its work by conveying the impression to the target that the premises are both true and complete (that salient evidence has not been ignored or suppressed).
There are two factors that must be considered when determining whether the fallacy has been committed. The first is whether the suppressed/ignored evidence is significant enough to outweigh the presented evidence. That some salient information has been left out is not enough to establish the fallacy has been committed. What is needed is that the suppressed/ignored evidence would make a significant difference in the strength of the argument. If not, the fallacy is not committed. But in this context, you will want to commit the fallacy. You will need to determine which evidence would count against your claim and then ignore it. And hope your audience will do so as well.
The second is whether the (allegedly) suppressed/ignored evidence was reasonably available to the person committing the fallacy. If someone “ignored” evidence that they could not reasonably be expected to know, then they would not be committing this fallacy. Sorting out what a person can reasonably be expected to know can be challenging and thus there can be considerable dispute over whether the fallacy was committed. In this context, the evidence will obviously be available to you—you will be knowingly ignoring or suppressing the evidence.
When using this fallacy to start a WOX, one useful variant is to ignore inconvenient facts about the past. This version has the following form:
Premise 1: Evidence E is given for the claim there is a WOX.
Premise 2: There is no available evidence that E occurred before the WOX and would thus significantly count against their being a WOX (but there is available evidence that E did occur well before the WOX).
Conclusion: Therefore, there is a WOX.
This method does have advantages:
- The available evidence is what it is but the evidence you use is up to you.
- The evidence used can be true and unmodified.
While reality is what it is, picking the evidence you wish to use and what you want to ignore makes it easier to make your argument. If you are starting a WOX, there is certainly available evidence against your claims, but you can ignore it. While lies, hyperbole and straw men have their advantages, the use of incomplete evidence allows you to use true claims. This can sometimes increase your credibility and using some truth makes it harder to debunk your claims about a WOX. But this method has some disadvantages:
- There will, by the nature of the fallacy, be significant evidence against your claim.
- This method is lying by omission and many moralities and religions condemn lying.
This method entails that there is significant evidence against your claim which means that debunkers are likely to find it. Fortunately, the usual target audience for a WOX is unlikely to engage the matter critically and some of them will be happy to be in on the fallacy. While you will not be fabricating evidence, you will be lying by omission and many moralities and religions consider this unacceptable. Fortunately, as with lying in general, it is easy to work around this.
As an example of how to use incomplete evidence to start a WOX, consider how those pushing the War on Christmas use it. They point out, correctly, that people now use “Happy Holidays.” Making use of a straw man attack, they “infer” that the “real reason” this is occurring is because Christmas is under attack. They will also tend to lie and claim that no one can say “Merry Christmas” anymore without fear of some sort of reprisal. But a key part of this is the use of incomplete evidence: they do not mention that “Happy Holidays” has been in use for a long time. This can easily be confirmed by the 1942 film Holiday Inn in which Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds sing the song Happy Holiday. It was later released by Jo Stafford as a Christmas song in 1955. With a bit more effort, you can find that the term was used in 1863 and was used in advertising from at least 1937. This serves to undercut the idea that the use of “Happy Holidays” is evidence of a War on Christmas. The fact that the idea of the War on Christmas still has considerable power on the right shows how effective this fallacy can be. Despite the ease with which the “Happy Holiday” claims can be disproven, we still hear about the War on Christmas every year. As such, when using incomplete evidence for a WOX you will generally not need to worry about all that evidence you are ignoring—your audience will most likely just do the same.