Informal Fallacies

I’ve been kicked out of some of the best schools in the country, so I can’t say that my college career was in anyway stellar. But although it took me seven years to get my four year degree, I did manage to take away some important knowledge from the experience.

Part of that was an understanding of “Informal Fallacies of Logic“. When I was introduced to the Internet in 1984 on a VAX running Berkeley UNIX, it was first and foremost a text based experience. A lot of the action occurred on newsgroups, and thus I was exposed to the usual flamewars and hyperbole that one often finds there.

I knew of things like Godwin’s Law, but it wasn’t until I was introduced to informal fallacies that I had a way to formalize behavior that I saw on the Internet (and in “real” life as well). While Wikipedia as always has a definition, an “informal” fallacy is basically a statement that may be or seems to be true, but it is irrelevant or doesn’t support the argument being made.

What I didn’t realize is that, like the fnords, informal fallacies are everywhere. Once I had a method of formalizing them, they became much easier to see.

The reason I’ve been thinking about them today is that a gentleman named Dennis Byron has decided to take me to task for my post on The War for Open Source, first in the comments and then on his blog.

The point of the post was to state that the term “open source” has a certain meaning, defined by the OSI, and that the commercial software industry is trying to blur that meaning so that consumers won’t be able to tell the difference between truly open software and commercial software.

So, instead of attacking that argument, Mr. Byron decides to pull out some of my illustrative prose, find fault with it, and thus attempt to discredit me.

This is an informal fallacy known as a “Straw Man“. In a straw man fallacy, one “takes the original argument of his/her adversary and then offers a close imitation, or straw man, version of the original argument”. This argument, made of “straw” is much easier to defeat.

In the case of Mr. Byron, he attempts to find fault with my history of commercial software, which is funny since I never intended to write one.

And if anyone can tell me what the heck the “razor blades” are that the OpenNMS Group is selling, I’d love to know.

One thought on “Informal Fallacies

  1. OK, I’ll take the bait. To paraphrase wikipedia,Gillette gave away safety razors in order to generate sales of high margin razor blades. The blogger’s assertion is that like Gillette, you are giving away a sellable item (the OpenNMS code), in order to generate a continuous market for another item (commercial support from the OpenNMS group).

    This would perhaps be true were OpenNMS not Open Source. The blogger should remember that Gillette had a patent on his innovation. He was able to sell razor blades at a high margin because of the value of his innovation and the protection from competition afforded by the patent that he held. There is absolutely nothing to prevent me from profiting from OpenNMS, so long as I abide by the GPL. There is nothing stopping me from competing with it either.

    I’m cheered by the comparison though. The suggestion seems to be that, like Gillette’s safety razor, OpenNMS is significantly superior to the “competition”.

    Todays comment was brought to you by the word “specious”. Superficially plausible, but actually wrong.

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