The Alpha Parent logic fail

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Allison Dixley, the self-proclaimed Alpha Parent, is the perfect foil. She’s my go-to source for sanctimony, viciousness, and misinformation on breastfeeding and formula feeding. Now I find out that she is also clueless.

Her most recent post, Embarrassing Tricks of the Mommy Wars, is a delicious illustration of her utter lack of insight. It’s supposed to be an analysis of the faulty logic that opponents use against her, but, instead, it is a shining example of her faulty logic.

Allison writes:

Let’s take a look at the 15 most common badly-thought-out tactics that mothers resort to in their fight for maternal supremacy.

Her cluelessness occurs on three levels. First, Allison fails to appreciate that she routinely uses many of the tactics she despises as illogical. Second, she clearly does not understand specific logical fallacies. Third, many of her examples are not illogical at all. She simply tars them as such in an effort to avoid answering them.

Here are the highlights of Allison’s list, with my comments:

1. The Ad Hominem:

Attacking the character of the person with whom you are arguing rather than finding fault with his or her argument is a technique of rhetoric. As a debating strategy it is an epic fail because discrediting the source of the argument usually leaves the argument itself intact.

That’s rich coming from the woman who routinely refers to formula feeders as selfish cheaters.

2. Anecdotes

The temptation to over-generalize on the basis of a potentially misleading particular experience seems to be irresistible in the Mommy Wars.

I laughed out loud at this one. Every week Allison features “Triumphant Tuesday,” the story of a woman who overcame a specific breastfeeding challenge, aka an anecdote.

3. The correlation =/= causation safety net

If all else fails, recite the mantra “correlation does not mean causation”.

Earth to Allison: Correlation does NOT equal causation. That’s not a logical fallacy; that’s fact.

5. It’s not child abuse

That’s not a logical fallacy; that’s yet another fact. Formula feeding is NOT child abuse.

7. and 8. are “missing the point” the point and irrelevance. Too bad the examples Allison offers fail to illustrate either missing the point or irrelevance.

10. The schoolyard comparison

The Schoolyard Comparison involves the rhetorical question: “In a class of 30 kids, can you tell who was formula fed and who was breast fed?” To which the answer is – of course you can’t bloody can’t. That’s what scientific studies are for.

No, that’s what scientific studies can do when the differences are tiny and not necessarily clinically relevant. It is perfectly reasonable to question the supposed superiority of breastfeeding by asking if it has any real world advantages. If there are no advantages, or the advantages are so trivial that you have to do a scientific study to establish them, you can’t really make the case that breastfeeding is superior.

12. Prove it

Prove it’, also known as ‘proof by ignorance’ or ‘OMG SAUCE’, is an informal fallacy in which lack of known evidence against a belief is taken as an indication that it is true.

Allison gets this precisely backwards. The argument from ignorance is NOT an absence of evidence. The argument from ignorance is the fallacy that demands proving the negative.

In order to make a claim, you MUST prove it. Otherwise it is nothing more than your opinion.

13. Shifting the goal posts and 14. Zigzagging

Once again, the examples that Allison cites, aren’t illustrative of either shifting the goal posts or zigzagging

At the end of the list, I was left with several impressions.

First, Allison doesn’t understand logic. She routinely labels valid arguments as fallacies, and misunderstands specific logical fallacies.

Second, Allison thinks that shouting “logical fallacy” relieves her of the twin responsibilities of proving her allegation that a claim is a logical fallacy, and of addressing facts that aren’t fallacies at all.

Allison’s ultimate problem is that she has no scientific evidence to support the grossly inflated benefits of breastfeeding and the grossly inflated risks of formula feeding that she espouses. Her list is one long excuse for why she believes she doesn’t need to present scientific evidence for her claims.

That’s her biggest mistake of all.