Calling Out: Mitchell M. Handelsman Ph.D. & Psychologytoday

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There is an article publish in psychologytoday written by Mitchell M. Handelsman Ph.D. and it is entitled, Plausibility Does Not Equal Proof which is a great example of how disconnected the field of psychology is from the impact of sexism on logic. In the article, Professor Handelsman speaks about two fallacies in critical thinking. The first is, “Fallacy, Part 1:  A plausible explanation for a phenomenon is a true explanation.”And the second one is, “Fallacy, Part 2:  A plausible explanation for a phenomenon proves that the phenomenon exists.

For the first “fallacy”, Professor Handelsman said the following, ” a student might write this about a political advertisement they saw on TV: “This ad did not convince viewers to vote for the candidate because it aroused too much fear.” What comes after the word “because” is not evidence. It is merely a plausible hypothesis about why the ad is ineffective, albeit dressed up to sound like a fact. By the way, it doesn’t matter what the explanation is, as long as it’s plausible. For example, the student might argue that the ad was ineffective because “it did not contain any new information” or “only men were interviewed,” or “it did not arouse enough fear.” Students who write these kinds of statements have not considered evidence—they have merely made assertions.”

Professor Handelsman seem to forget the aspect of “application” in relation to reasoning. When a student says that “This ad did not convince viewers to vote for the candidate because it aroused too much fear.” the student is not giving a plausible explanation, but the student is speaking about his own explanation for something that requires the world to respect it. Meaning: the student felt that the ad aroused too much fear. That is something that he is entitled to feel and the world needs to respect as correct when it comes to him. In that, the student’s explanation speaks about the power of a personal opinion as something that one has to assume the world to respect. Hence, if the student was to make that ad and then he was to review it before it goes on TV and if that student felt that the ad aroused too much fear, he is obligated to change it whether others agree with him or not. For if one was to put that student on trial as to say, “did you not know that this ad arouses too much fear?” the student would be bound by such accusations into defending himself. Another student may have said that the ad, “did not contain any new information”…and same here: if that student was making the ad, he would not be happy with it as he must assume it to be unsatisfying for anyone else who sees it. That is the correct and not fallacy-filled way we think and make decisions.

Here is a fallacy in relation to critical thinking, however, “Women get periods, therefore they need to be treated like crap”. A personal opinion does not stretch this far for one to respect it. And one can ask, “does this explain sexism” and we would be speaking about our own periods more than the opinion of the man who thought of it as so. When we live in a world that does not understand personal opinions, it is that which becomes the major fallacy.

Fallacy, Part 2:  A plausible explanation for a phenomenon proves that the phenomenon exists.

For this “fallacy”, Professor Handelsman gives us this example, “Let’s say I ask my students, “Does living together before marriage reduce the likelihood of divorce for those couples?”  They might answer, “Yes, because the couple will get to know each other’s idiosyncrasies and get used to them.” Notice the fallacy: Students are answering a question about the existence of a fact only by presenting a plausible reason why that fact might exist. However, the answer to the question is no! The empirical data show that living together may have the opposite effect—the divorce rate is often higher among couples who marry after living together than among couples who do not live together.”

The fallacy in Professor Handelsman’s argument is one that is not respectful of the reasons why people live together being that people do live together because they think that it would lower their chances of getting a divorce. Whether this ends up happening or not does not remove the reason for why people lived together before getting married. Meaning: If people go to Disneyland because they think that it will be fun, then that is the reason why people went to Disneyland. If after going to Disneyland people said, “it was not fun at all”, then that does not remove the reason why they went there to begin with but, instead, it would explain why people felt disappointed after they went to Disneyland thinking that it would be fun and then finding out that it was not. Hence, in the divorce example, the question becomes, “why were couples able to live together to a point of finding themselves to be good enough of a couple to get married but have had a higher rate of divorce after doing so?” One reason could be because these couples thought that they have gotten “to know each other’s idiosyncrasies” and have gotten “used to them” only for that not to work out at the end. From there, one can bring in statistics showing that getting used to each others’ idiosyncrasies has not been shown to lower divorce rates after a person finds that this was a reason why people got married after living together. The reasons that the student gave are not wrong and cannot be dismissed and neither are they against the fact but in support of it even if the “fact” is actually not true. Hence, “A plausible explanation for a phenomenon proves that the phenomenon exists” is not a fallacy due to the fact that the answers that the students gave show why divorce rates are high given that people are marrying for a reason that does not support a long lasting marriage. Meaning: people are marrying after living with each other… the students said “why” that might be… after they are married, something else happened that made their reasons not enough to last as long as they thought they would. A better question would be, “do couples who live together tend to get married more often?” and if the answer is “yes”, then the students are even more right…and if the answer is “no”, then that would say that living together, in and of itself, has a negative effect on marriage and one can precede by finding out why using what the student’s have said where one explanation may be, “couples’ perception of each others’ idiosyncrasies change when they get married”. Either ways, couple research will continue to always be as challenged as a person is allowed to have a “change of heart” which is why “shame” is a more powerful measure tool as it keeps statistics factual and not so changing. I mean, if you want to accurately measure facts about human beings in such manner as if they were a rock, shame works wonders.

Here is what I am getting at: Opinions matter just as much as facts do which is something that men have long dismissed when it comes to women and our choices and our opinions. In the Middle East, divorce rates are very low but that does not say that the culture itself is not the reason why…and although such statistics may make one think, “their way is more correct in relation to marriage”, I say that the serial killer’s way is more correct in relation to making sure that a person is not alive (meaning: what is the point?). Logic stands as that which respects opinion as the murdered person’s opinion has not been respected. And when we have science that over looks people’s opinions, then what we have is a science that will only end up backing up sexism in all of its logic and all of its statistical findings. Needless to say, I  would support the students’ opinion as valid and factual. Meaning: “the couple will get to know each other’s idiosyncrasies and get used to them.” is a valid reason for why people have gotten married after living together and it is a respectable reason in relation to finding out why people have still managed to get a divorce if it were not true that living together before marriage reduce the likelihood of divorce for those couples. And I would take that answer and use it confidentially because those are people who would get married if they have gotten used to their partner’s idiosyncrasies as I would follow up on my research in order to ask, “did you get married after getting used to your partner’s idiosyncrasies or was that not enough to marry your partner?” And from there I would have a better conclusion for why divorce rates are higher amongst those who lived together before getting married.

For what is a fact but a thing that is made into reality whether it agrees with the truth or not? Meaning: it is a fact that a lot of people have diabetes. Is diabetes true to one’s body? No, which is why it is a disease. But diabetes is a fact nevertheless, right?! Cool… glad to get that out of the way… The students are right in all of these examples…they should be given an A. Instead many of them will fail miserably due to a failure in recognizing their input as respectable enough. Be a sponge, students…and suck up all the info leaving no room for yourselves to think… That shall keep the world going around given the gravity of such mistake.

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Liliyan Hassan

Liliyan Hassan

Founder: Go for Women

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