Fancy a game of Spot the Fallacy?

If you enjoy / despair of the frequent front-end ‘debates’ that crop up on social media on a regular basis, I’ve got a tip for you that will help you deal with them.

It’s all too easy for heated discussions and strong opinions about (for example) CSS-in-JS, progressive enhancement or the curse of too much JavaScript to find their way from social media and blog posts into internal development team discussions.

Sometimes these debates can be healthy. Sometimes they can descend into mud-slinging.

But I think we can all agree that the worst person in these discussions is the one that points out the other’s logical fallacies.

Merely by barking “False equivalence!” it’s possible to stop a discussion dead in its tracks as everyone else tries to remember what that means.

As team lead, I dealt with heated discussions like this by sitting firmly on the fence. I still have a giant ‘It Depends’ graphic as my Twitter background image to broadcast how important it is to me that I straddle all possible positions.

This worked well enough until someone pointed out that Wikipedia’s List of Fallacies includes the fallacy Appeal to Moderation “which asserts that the truth must be found as a compromise between two opposite positions.”

Of course, this fallacy doesn’t always apply, but it’s important to recognise that appeasing blatant falsehoods through moderation is not a great tactic in a team environment.

The point here is that we all make use of formal and informal fallacies all the time. It’s part of how humans communicate.

So how do you deal with strong disagreements in a team? Well, it depends (😎).

One thing you can do as a group exercise is to have some fun analysing the public arguments around the discussion together, rather than just reacting to them and taking a position.

The List of Fallacies is a great resource for this, because it allows you to discuss the merit of each position in common terms, without resorting to mudslinging.

Some examples of fallacies commonly wielded on social media include:

  • Definitional retreat
  • Motte-and-bailey fallacy
  • Ecological fallacy
  • Fallacy of composition
  • Fallacy of division
  • False attribution
  • False dilemma
  • False equivalence
  • Kettle logic
  • McNamara fallacy
  • Moving the goalposts
  • Nirvana fallacy
  • etc, etc.

What fallacy are you guilty of falling foul of most often? Why do you use it so much?

All the best,

– Jim

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