Monday, November 25, 2013

List of Cognitive Biases and Informal Fallacies

Identifying biases and informal fallacies are key concepts in critical thinking and rational analysis. There are a couple of excellent lists on Wikipedia. What I want to do is just post of few of my favorites for quick reference.


Anchoring or Focalism: The tendency to rely too heavily, or "anchor," on one trait or piece of information when making decisions. The tendency to place too much importance on one aspect of an event.

Attentional Bias: the tendency to pay attention to emotionally dominant stimuli in one's environment and to neglect relevant data when making judgments of a correlation or association.

Availability Cascade: A self-reinforcing process in which a collective belief gains more and more plausibility through its increasing repetition in public discourse (or "repeat something long enough and it will become true").

Backfiring Effect: People reacting to dis-confirming evidence, rationale, etc. by strengthening their beliefs.

Bandwagon Effect, Herd Behavior, Social Media Bias: The tendency to do (or believe) things because many other people do (or believe) the same.

Belief Bias: An effect where someone's evaluation of the rational strength of an argument is biased by the believability of the conclusion.

Confirmation Bias: The tendency to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions.

Congruence Bias: The tendency to test hypotheses exclusively through direct testing, instead of testing possible alternative hypotheses. (in physics relativity and nebular hypothesis are guilty of this)

Conservatism (Bayesian): The tendency to insufficiently revise one's beliefs when presented with better assumptions, explanations, evidences, etc.

Curse of Knowledge: When better-informed people find it extremely difficult to think about problems from the perspective of lesser-informed people. (Note Ecclesiastes 1:18: For with great wisdom comes great frustration; whoever increases his knowledge merely increases his heartache.

Empathy Gap: The tendency to underestimate the influence or strength of feelings, in either oneself or others.

Framing Effect: Drawing different conclusions from the same information, depending on how or by whom that information is presented.

Hard Easy Effect: Based on a specific level of task difficulty, the confidence in judgments is too conservative and not extreme enough.

Illusory Correlation: inaccurately perceiving a relationship between two unrelated events.

Irrational Escalation: The phenomenon where people justify increased investment in a decision, based on the cumulative prior investment, despite new evidence suggesting that the decision was probably wrong.

Ludic Fallacy: The misuse of games to model real-life situations. (computer simulations in nebular hypothesis and genetics may come close to this fallacy)

Observer Frequency Effect: When a researcher expects a given result and therefore unconsciously manipulates an experiment or misinterprets data in order to find it. (This is why in science one must 'kill the observer')

Omission Bias: The tendency to judge harmful actions as worse, or less moral, than equally harmful omissions (inactions).

Pro-Innovation Bias: The tendency to reflect an excessive optimism towards an invention/innovation's usefulness throughout society, while often failing to identify limitations and weaknesses or address the possibility of failure. (Modern culture is guilty of this bias)

Semmelweis Reflex: The tendency to reject new evidence that contradicts a paradigm.

Status Quo Bias: The tendency to like things to stay relatively the same.

Subjective Validation: Perception that something is true if a subject's belief demands it to be true. Also assigns perceived connections between coincidences.

Illusion of Truth Effect: People are more likely to identify as true statements those they have previously heard (even if they cannot consciously remember having heard them), regardless of the actual validity of the statement. In other words, a person is more likely to believe a familiar statement than an unfamiliar one.

Informal Fallacies

Argument from Ignorance:  (appeal to ignorance, argumentum ad ignorantiam) assuming that a claim is true (or false) because it has not been proven false (true) or cannot be proven false (true).

Argument from (personal) incredulity (divine fallacy, appeal to common sense): cannot imagine how this could be true, therefore it must be false.

Argument from Repetition:  (argumentum ad nauseam) signifies that it has been discussed extensively until nobody cares to discuss it anymore.

Begging the Question:  (petitio principii) – providing what is essentially the conclusion of the argument as a premise.

Shifting the Burden of Proof: I need not justify or prove my claim, you must prove or justify it is false or irrational.

Circular Reasoning:  when the reasoner begins with what he or she is trying to end up with; sometimes called assuming the conclusion.

Circular Consequence:  where the consequence of the phenomenon is claimed to be its root cause.

Etymological Fallacy:  which reasons that the original or historical meaning of a word or phrase is necessarily similar to its actual present-day meaning.

Fallacy of Compositions: assuming that something true of part of a whole must also be true of the whole.

Fallacy of Many Questions:  (complex question, fallacy of presupposition, loaded question, plurium interrogationum) someone asks a question that presupposes something that has not been proven or accepted by all the people involved. This fallacy is often used rhetorically, so that the question limits direct replies to those that serve the questioner's agenda.

False Attribution:  an advocate appeals to an irrelevant, unqualified, unidentified, biased or fabricated source in support of an argument.

Fallacy of Quoting Out of Context:  (contextomy) – refers to the selective excerpting of words from their original context in a way that distorts the source's intended meaning

Hedging:  using words with ambiguous meanings, then changing the meaning of them later.

Mind Projection Fallacy:  when one considers the way one sees the world as the way the world really is.

Reification: (hypostatization) a fallacy of ambiguity, when an abstraction (abstract belief or hypothetical construct) is treated as if it were a concrete, real event or physical entity. In other words, it is the error of treating as a "real thing" something which is not a real thing, but merely an idea.

Cherry Picking:  (suppressed evidence, incomplete evidence) act of pointing at individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position.

False Analogy (argument from analogy): in which the analogy is poorly suited.

Continuum Fallacy(fallacy of the beard, line-drawing fallacy, sorites fallacy, fallacy of the heap, bald man fallacy):  improperly rejecting a claim for being imprecise.

Shotgun Argumentation:  the arguer offers such a large number of arguments for their position that the opponent can't possibly respond to all of them.

Proof by Verbiosity: (argumentum verbosium, proof by intimidation) submission of others to an argument too complex and verbose to reasonably deal with in all its intimate details.

Red Herring:  a speaker attempts to distract an audience by deviating from the topic at hand by introducing a separate argument which the speaker believes will be easier to speak to.

Hasty Generalization: (fallacy of insufficient statistics, fallacy of insufficient sample, fallacy of the lonely fact, leaping to a conclusion, hasty induction, secundum quid, converse accident) basing a broad conclusion on a small sample of an originally proposed argument.

Argumentum ad baculum: (appeal to the stick, appeal to force, appeal to threat):  an argument made through coercion or threats of force to support position.

Argumentum ad populum: (appeal to widespread belief, bandwagon argument, appeal to the majority, appeal to the people) where a proposition is claimed to be true or good solely because many people believe it to be so.

Straw Man:  an argument based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position

Appeal to Authority: where an assertion is deemed true because of the position or authority of the person asserting it

Equivocation: the misleading use of a term with more than one meaning (by glossing over which meaning is intended at a particular time)

False Dilemma (false dichotomy, fallacy of bifurcation, black-or-white fallacy): two alternative statements are held to be the only possible options, when in reality there are more.


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