Sunday Surgical Scrub

Before each and every case, a surgeon scrubs and disinfects his hands. At the same time, he or she becomes solely focused on the task at hand – preparing to navigate a complex surgical path – and ready to confront any difficulties that lie ahead. Here, on the Sunday Surgical Scrub, I bring you what I’m pondering for the week ahead.

David Almeida MD MBA PhD

Latest Post: Straw Man Fallacy

“The light obtained by setting straw men on fire is not what we mean by illumination.” ―Adam Gopnik

 

TASK AT HAND: This week I’m thinking about the straw man fallacy. This is one of the most common logical fallacies that I see occurring in media, television, social commentary and public discourse. Touching everything from science to religion, entrenched in politics and ethics, the straw man fallacy is a hurtful and dishonest approach to discussion.

The straw man fallacy occurs when someone attempts to rebut a discussion by diverting the argument to an unrelated topic. For example, someone purports that A leads to B. The other person then attacks by bringing forth argument C. The perpetrator of the straw man fallacy, instead of opining about the argument that A leads to B, attacks position C which us unrelated and designated as the “straw man”. In practical terms, the straw man fallacy causes gross distortion of the original position by misrepresenting it with another point.

“In practical terms, the straw man fallacy causes gross distortion of the original position by misrepresenting it with another point.

I am disenfranchised by how often I see individuals attack straw man with loud voices, distasteful words, and erroneous opinions. See, the problem is, people love to attack the straw man because the straw man does not fight back. It is unrelated to the original argument which sometimes catches the first person off guard. Now, the attacker of the straw man proclaims victory in the argument but, all the while, not realizing that the straw man attack is unrelated to the original position. In actuality, the original argument is untouched by the gauche comment.

It is important to realize that, at times, there may be nothing wrong with the argument created by the one attacking the straw man – it might be correct or accepted as fact. However, it is unrelated to the original argument and therefore lacks correct context. The straw man fallacy is an easy logical fallacy to catch and many times takes the form of a counterargument beginning as “well, how about…” or “but, how about…”. What frustrates me most is the few times this logical fallacy is called out.

Now, how can this help your strategy?

When you are faced with someone attacking the strawman, DO NOT shift to their argument. Call out the fallacy, and return the discussion to the original topic. You must avoid the incredulous feelings that give rise to perplexing anger. Simply call out the fallacy and redirect them to the initial point.

This simple tactic will exhaust the ability of your counterpart to attack the straw man by diverting the discussion to the original point. The burden of proof is not on you to defend the straw man because he has no place in the argument. Your gamesmanship is to re-direct the argument to the proper context. Do not fall victim to the straw man!

 

MEDICINE & MACULA: The power of placebo is a real effect! A 2014 knee pain study found that 74% of patients who underwent placebo knee surgery described deriving some benefit. This was as effective as the actual elective surgery about 50% of the time. The routine of fasting, anesthesia, fake incisions – independent of actual surgery – seems to have a dramatic effect in patients undergoing elective surgery.

FiveThirtyEight.com has a fantastic piece on this (check it out here). You can find the study, Use of placebo controls in the evaluation of surgery: systematic review (BMJ 2014;348:g3253) here.

Sham or placebo surgery is a controversial topic in medical ethics but studies like this show that, without well designed placebo controlled trials of surgery, ineffective treatment may continue.

 

GRATIS: “A straw vote only shows which way the hot air blows.” -O. Henry

 

My best to you,

David Almeida

david@davidalmeidamd.com