Friday, October 14, 2005

Devil's Advocate

Devil's Advocate

Playing devil's advocate is usually fun. The best part, of course, is when the other person kindly explains how *your* opinions are wrong. When informed that you haven't said anything about your personal opinions, and are just pointing out inconsistencies with their views, your opponent is left befuddled.

But it can get you into trouble, precisely because many do not differentiate between opinions from arguments. If you are pro abortion, every anti abortion argument is wrong and every pro abortion one is correct. The same with most political issues.

A similar argument is going on between myself and Enigma4U over at OnTheMainLine. Engima put forth a faulty argument, namely, that because at least 2 children were reported to get sick due to MBP, the practice, which is disgusting, should be stopped. However, driving, an innocuous activity, is perfectly ok.

There are a number of flaws in his argument; First, what is the likelihood of transmission and infection is. The mohel has to have it, it has to be transmitted to the child, and the child has to get sick. Since one virus strand generally won't cause illness, a sufficient amount must pass to the child. But what are the numbers? I'm willing to bet that more

than 2 children have been infected over the course of history. But how many? Afterwards, you would need to compare it to the number of car accidents resulting in injuries. You could then do a comparison to see, from an empirical standpoint, which is more dangerous.

While it seems like a lot of work, people quote studies all the time, and there is definitely data on this. Especially on vague claims, where the average person doesn't know the information, to make a logical (and not emotional) argument, you need data.

That MBP is disgusting (for the sake of argument, let's accept that) doesn't relate to its danger. That relates to a social (or political) motive. But, by combining the two, the horror story of those two children, along with the fact that people find it disgusting makes for a stronger emotional plea.

From a rhetoric standpoint, Enigma makes a good point. A disgusting practice, only required by those in a cult, has caused severe harm and trauma to children and their families. It should be stopped. But an empirical argument, a more logical one, though it may exist, was not made.