Fallacies of Relevance
The purpose of all fallacies of relevance is to persuade. Good logic independently convinces a listener, regardless of the source, but fallacies depend more on the presentation, rather than the argument. All kinds of fallacies of relevance are based on faulty reasoning, and it is often up to the responsible listener or the reader to figure out the fallacies a statement may or may not contain.
Relevance as the Currency on the Internet
The problem is simple enough but becomes increasingly difficult when the environment shifts to the Internet. Here, the medium is that of relevance, not of logic or truth. A quick look at any search result and you will see relevant results, not factual ones. The whole foundation of search engine results and page rank is relevance, and makes it more prone to the fallacies.
For example, take a look at the whole industry of reputation management. This Internet industry begins with a damaged reputation of one Internet persona. The work is based on the SEO strategy of burying the unfavorable content in search engine results, so that only the writer of the damaging content will ever know what he has written.
Relevance Without Fact
In University of Chicago in 2011, several neuroscientists experimented with rats in the given scenario. A rat and a piece of chocolate were placed in simple to open cages, and a second rat was let loose in the environment. The tests consistently showed the free rat opening the cage of the restrained rat first as often as it tried to attempt to get at the chocolate. The conclusion was that helping a fellow rat in distress was equally motivating as a piece of chocolate – a show of empathy, so to speak, in the fellowship of rats.
While the study was done as scientifically as possible, a comment from a reader both validated and belittled the findings. Apparently, in many stables, the reader says, there is always a horse the stablehands call Houdini – the horse that, at night, will open the gate to his stable, get out, and proceed to open other gates of the other horses, for the whole herd to get out in the night. And if you ask around, it really does happen.
Opposing Studies Reducing Relevance
Finding conflicting studies is easy, especially in pharmaceuticals. Ginkgo Biloba, for example, is cited for two distinct scientifically done studies with conflicting results. One study done in 2008 in Imperial College in London proves that Ginkgo Biloba definitely does not help patients suffering from dementia – and in the same BBC article, it cites a Cochrane review in 2002 showing results that dementia may be eased with ginkgo.
This case is the same with most herbal or alternative cures – and the most commonly cited problem regarding conflicting studies is the placebo effect, where a patient can experience an improvement in his condition even if the medicine given to him has no active substance in it.
Fallacies of relevance are based on relevance, the same currency as search engine results. And fact or logic has no value with relevance on the Internet, unless it plays the same game as the fallacies of relevance. This makes fallacies and fact indistinguishable from each other, in the domain of relevance.