What is a False Equivalence

An argument or claim in which two completely opposing arguments appear to be logically equivalent – when in fact they are not.

In a false equivalence, comparison is way off in the order of magnitude, oversimplified, or important additional factors have been ignored or omitted.

Maybe not quite equal.

EXAMPLES

Publishing legitimate scientific findings alongside pseudoscience, or placing facts and obvious falsities on equal footing, as two alternative truths.

The confusion is often due to one or two shared characteristics (e.g. both are wearing a white coat, but one is a legitimate doctor and the other is just… a guy wearing a white lab coat).

False equivalence & pseudoscience

Publishing pseudoscientific writing alongside the work of highly regarded researchers provides credibility to the pseudoscientists, while undermining the authority of legitimate researchers and science.

Why False Equivalences Matter

Social media can amplify the voice of extremist fringe groups, that seem to represent a movement (which in turn may attract people who feel alone and left out).

Their arguments then start carrying more weight in the public discussion. You’ll hear things like: “equal media attention should be given to both sides”, and “this group can no longer be ignored” (while in fact it is only a tiny band of extremistst).

KEY CONCERNS

Equalling realistic moderate views with wacky extreme ones tends to shift normality towards the extreme viewpoints. A new, more extreme normal is established (see the shifting Overton window).

Meanwhile, placing facts and falsities on equal footing, as two alternative truths, weaves lies into the delicate fabric of the truth. They then become indistinguishable.

Because after the false equivalent another fallacy kicks in, namely the argument from middle ground that falsely assumes the truth is somewhere in the middle (isn’t always the case).

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

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