The Winter Games opened in mourning as Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died in a training accident in the days leading up to the Opening Ceremony.
Another person died at Vancouver on Friday: a straw man. The Vancouver Olympic Committee issued a statement blaming Kumaritashvili’s accident entirely on human error, concluding there were no “deficiencies” of any kind with the track.
Forget for a moment your disgust for these officials blaming a dead man’s “inexperience” before he’s even been buried. (He’s an Olympic athlete, how inexperienced can he be?)
No one said he didn’t make a mistake. The Vancouver Olympic Committee was stomping down a weak argument – a “straw man” argument–which no one was making, ignoring the crux of the opposing position: the track is too fast, which denies athletes the split seconds they need to save themselves from mistakes. Merely saying that the rider made a mistake doesn’t address the real argument.
(Note: Olympic officials backtracked from their early announcements and shortened the course, added walls, and added padding.)
Sportstalk is rife with logical fallacies such as the straw man. These statements lower the debate, prevent progress, insult fans, and occasionally, launch disgusting attacks on the dead. Let’s examine some less serious violators:
Anyone who’s studied football, statistics, and/or Madden knows that sometimes, it’s OK to go for it on fourth down. And anyone with a sense of logic knows that the outcome of a particular fourth down attempt doesn’t prove which way a coach should go on an unrelated fourth down. But how many times have we heard the broadcast team commit the fallacy of accident-concluding one instance defines all possible instances. Or worse, they’ll wait for the outcome to declare their position:
Announcer: “And the Ravens.. don’t get the first down! Why did they ever take such a risk, going for it on fourth down!?”
::two minutes later, replay review has overturned the spot of the ball::
Announcer: “And it turns out to be a great decision by valiant Coach Harbaugh! First down, Ravens!”
NFL OVERTIME DEFENDERS
“Defense is a part of the game” is a phrase you’ll hear every defender of NFL overtime employ. This falls under the wide umbrella for fallacies arrived at via “irrelevant conclusion.” No one is arguing whether a team’s defense should play a role in overtime. The question is whether it is fair to only test one team’s defense.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL ANALYSTS
During the run-up to the college football season, you’ll hear things like, “College University’s easy schedule makes them a BCS title contender!” which is the fallacy of… wait, the voters reward easy schedules, so that one’s true! Wow, what a horrible championship system. Sorry, I was mixed up for a second.
During broadcasts of poker tournaments–not that I’ve ever watched one! Really! I swear!–the Historian’s fallacy comes into play. This is where you assume that someone else has access to the same perspective you have. Players are bashed for betting their four kings against four aces, as if the players have the benefit of those little cameras that tell viewers who has which cards. Interestingly, poker announcers avoid the gambler’s fallacy.
Fans–that’s you and me–we’ve all tried the magic of the gambler’s fallacy! “We’re on a 10-0 run, I can’t get up to go to the bathroom, if I even shift my weight we’re doomed!”
I guess we’re all guilty of fallacy.