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Battle the Bullshit: Fitness Guru Fallacies

In today’s technological age, we are bombarded with information from a slew of sources. Navigating these treacherous waters, especially when it comes to information found on social media, can be a uniquely difficult endeavor. When we come across a post presenting an argument or claim we must decide whether or not what is being presented is legitimate. We must analyze the quality of information and arguments being given by so called “experts” through a critical, and often skeptical, lens, paying attention to credibility, relevance, logical strength, balance of evidence, and the author’s level of bias.

Now, it’s not a crime to try and persuade someone towards an opinion. Actually, we at Power Athlete have a mission to persuade you to battle the bullshit and guide you towards true principles in strength and conditioning. And like I hinted at, the main vehicle used to disperse this information is social media. The great part about social media is that everyone can use it, and it’s easily accessible. The bad part about social media...is that everyone can use it, and it’s easily accessible. There is a lot of great content out there, but there’s also a lot of bullshit that needs battling. Often, these bullshit artists may not have credible evidence or may only be relying on partial evidence, and will use other devices of argumentation to sway your thinking in an effort to promote or sell a product. These are known as logical fallacies. (6)

Like the name implies, logical fallacies come down to one thing - bad logic. By learning about these fallacies, you will be more likely to recognize their use, avoid using them yourself, and be better prepared to battle the bullshit arguments presented to you.

What is a Logical Fallacy?

Fallacies were explained thousands of years ago by a pretty smart dude named Aristotle. You may have heard of him before, and he is known as the father of argumentative rhetoric. He described these fallacies as “tricks of the mind”; they are deceptive arguments that make you believe one thing is true or happening, when in reality it isn’t. (4) As coaches, rehab professionals, or athletes, we are particularly vulnerable to fallacies as we look for any evidence that supports our own beliefs.

According to Jay Heinrich, author of the book Thank You For Arguing (4), when trying to determine if a statement is logically fallacious or not, you should ask three questions:

1) Does the proof hold up?

2) Am I given the right number of choices?

3) Does the proof lead to the conclusion?

You should also ask yourself the most important questions of all... who really gives a shit?

In this article I aim to arm you with the knowledge (after all, knowledge is power) to navigate disputes with colleagues, friends, family and even those cowardly turkeys that digress online debates into childish name-calling. You will be able to confidently own your arguments with sound logic and improve your awareness, protecting yourself from those who deceptively cheat, lie and steal, violating the 3 Power Athlete Rules we should all live by.

If you feel that you sometimes fall for logical fallacies, then you can use these questions to improve your awareness and protect yourself from would-be persuaders.

Ad Hominem and Straw Man

You think you are having a constructive conversational debate with another coach about the importance of squatting toes forward, when all of the sudden he or she resorts to a desperate attack, calling you a dim witted poo poo head. These Ad Hominem attacks are commonly found in shouting matches and the lively discussion in the comments section of most forums and the Facebook posts. Most people resort to these when they have run out of logical arguments, in an attempt to use the insult as if it were evidence in support of their stance. (2)

These typically go hand in hand with the straw man fallacy, where one opponent attacks a position their opponent doesn’t even hold. Just like in the Wizard of Oz, this harmless, lifeless scarecrow desperately needs a brain. Without enough evidence to support their own position, they attempt to make their opponent's stance look weaker by completely misinterpreting their claim. (2)

Red Herring

This one is akin to the pretty girl in the gym who distracts you and makes you drop a 45 pound plate on your big toe. The red herring tactic is common when someone doesn’t like the current topic, and wants to detour into something else instead, something easier or safer to address; think transitioning from a deep discussion on practical programming to how CrossFit makes girls look great in booty shorts. The topics are related, but the latter is much easier to talk about. Red herring arguments are premised on a “gap” between evidence and conclusion: the conclusion has nothing to do with the evidence. (1)

Slippery Slope

Did you know that eating deer antler velvet will increase your bench press by 100%, and make you more appealing to the opposite sex, thereby leading you to obtaining that dreamboat movie star for your Sig-O? This slippery slope fallacy works by moving from a seemingly benign premise or starting point, and gradually working through a number of small steps, ending at an improbable extreme. This assumes that a chain of future events is probable without really providing any evidence to their likelihood. The slippery slope is another illustration of poor inductive logic, in which the persuader generalizes from limited evidence, perhaps cherry-picking the examples that support their case, often citing one or two studies to support their claim. (5)

Post Hoc

Post hoc is short for post hoc ergo propter hoc (“after this, therefore because of this”), and occurs when you mistake something for the cause of an event or outcome just because it came first. This is where most professionals get in trouble. They assume correlation and causation are equal, without any supporting evidence. One of the biggest post hoc fallacies pervading the strength and conditioning community today is assuming that foam rolling is “breaking up scar tissue.” The post hoc fallacy draws improper conclusions from good, reasonable evidence (“feeling” more mobile after foam rolling), often by assuming the most extreme conclusion available (breaking down tissue), when in reality it is merely creating a positive neurological input into the brain. The wrong ending fallacy emphasizes the common feature of all logical fallacies: the disconnect between premises and conclusions. (4)

Bandwagon and Appeal to Authority

You want to be like Mike? You better eat your Wheaties, because he ate them. Want to get jacked and tan? You need to get yourself the latest version of Jack3D, because Arnold takes it. This is the bandwagon fallacy, where we assume something is true (or right, or good) because other people agree with it or endorse it. When something is accepted because it’s popular and has the reputation of lending status, it has a huge appeal, as not taking it makes you look like the outsider; those who use this thing are “important” and “successful”, which means if you don’t use it, you must not be. There is often no supporting evidence available in this case. However, when it comes to logic, ignorance is not an acceptable form of proof. The authority figure, also known as a “doctor,” might conclude that you are in perfect health because of the tests he performed on you came back negative. However, you may in fact have some underlying issue that the doctor didn’t test for.

Along the same vein is the appeal to authority where we steer conveniently away from other tested and validated evidence, as if expert opinion is always correct. Suppose someone says, “I buy Lululemon underwear because John Welbourn says it’s the best. Although John is the foremost special guest on the premier podcast in strength and conditioning -ing -ing -ing, he isn’t a relevant authority when it comes to underwear. This is a fallacy of irrelevant authority. (4)

Master Your Movement: Be Aware…

Now of course, these fallacies are not always in play every time. However, they can become very pervasive, seemingly irrefutable, and yet bringing absolutely nothing to the conversation. Worse yet, they may seem sound even after being clearly exposed as false, especially if they are supported by strong emotion.

Like the sport of fitness, fallacies sometimes scorch entire populations and professions, often with the most devastating results, making what seems like a good idea turn into tragedy. Fallacies are not always deliberate, but a prudent athlete and coach should always be able to identify and unmask fallacies in arguments. Arm yourself with the knowledge to have airtight, logical arguments by signing up for the Power Athlete Methodology!

I hope this introduction to logical fallacies helps you to navigate future disputes with friends, colleagues, and unhinged online acquaintances without descending into childish name-calling. Who am I kidding? We live in the era of social media where everyone is a so called expert on everything. At least, when the childish name-calling commences, you’ll be in a great position to recognize your opponent’s bullshit with call them out with sound reasoning and airtight logic.

SOURCES:

  1. Darling-Hammond, L. (2008). How can we teach for meaningful learning? In L. Darling-Hammond (Ed.), Powerful Learning, 1–10. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  2. Dwyer, C. P. (2011). The evaluation of argument mapping as a learning tool. Doctoral Thesis, National University of Ireland, Galway.
  3. Fundamentals of argumentation theory: A handbook of historical backgrounds and contemporary developments. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum
  4. Heinrichs J. Thank You for Arguing, What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us about the Art of Persuasion. Three Rivers Press (CA); 2017.
  5. Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. UK: Penguin.
  6. Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1974). Heuristics and biases: Judgement under uncertainty. Science, 185, 1124-1130.

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Matthew Zanis

Power Athlete Block One Coach at Power Athlete
PT, DPT, FAAOMPT, OCS, ATC, CSCS Former baseball catcher and an avid outdoorsman. Worked with Division 1 basketball, football, and track and field at the University of Pittsburgh, along with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Arizona Cardinals organizations. Received a Bachelors in Athletic Training from the University of Pittsburgh in 2011 and a Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Duke University in 2014. Is board certified in Orthopedics and a Fellow through the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists. Is a PT with the United States Olympic Committee and USA Shooting. Currently operates his performance therapy practice in Scottsdale, AZ with Dr. Tom Incledon of Causenta Wellness, and became a Power Athlete Block One Coach in September of 2017.

Dr. Zanis utilizes the Power Athlete Methodology to optimize performance, reduce injury risk, and rehab his clients and athletes through movement assessment, coaching, and individualized program design.

Latest posts by Matthew Zanis (see all)

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