In our increasingly connected world, one thing has become ever clearer to everyone who possesses a device that allows them to connect to the greatest communication network the world has ever seen: There are some people out there with some really stupid arguments. Whether you spend your Facebook time debating the government shutdown with a former middle school crush or in a virtual shouting match with your belligerent uncle about precisely whose fault the Giants' 0-4 start is, you've probably been witness to some fallacious logic in your time.
If you've been looking for a primer that illustrates exactly what's wrong with an argument that denies the existence of global warming because of the importance of the auto industry to the global economy, it now exists--with an emphasis on the illustrates part.
Ali Almossawi, a data visualizer and designer who divides his time between working with Mozilla and design firm Skyrill, wrote the book on bad arguments. Almossawi's An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments features lovely, sepia-toned, woodcut-style illustrations by Alejandro Giraldo of cute animals who explain what straw man, false dilemma, and no true scotsman arguments--among many others--are, with a few brief paragraphs on opposite pages explaining in clear, concise language how those arguments work in greater detail.
"It's useful to be able to encapsulate a concept like a bad argument in a single illustration," Almossawi says when he explains why he took the approach he did with the book. "Partly because I'm a visual person, partly because it hadn't been done before, and partly because it's a hat tip to Lewis Carroll, whose The Hunting of the Snark is illustrated in a similar woodcut style."
Bad Arguments, as it exists now, is strictly available as an eBook, readable via your web browser--readers flip the pages with the left and right arrow keys--which is an interesting experiment for something that clearly involved a lot of time and effort, and which seems tailor-made for the gift-book market. But the experiment panned out--Almossawi is publishing a hardcover version in November. "I'm happy with the results," he says. "Designers have written in commenting on its design; English majors have commented on grammar; and philosophy professors and students have commented on various aspects of the book. As a result, the work has benefited from going through an open process of scrutiny over the past two months, which means the hardback is now a better product thanks to those readers."
The response to the web-based version also informed Almossawi what sort of market exists for the print edition. And that print edition is something that should have utility for a very long time--after all, it's not like bad arguments ever really go out of style.
"It's a timeless topic," Almossawi says. "One would hope that a useful contribution in this field would be of value for a long time. It serves an educational and positive purpose--we see irrational thinking leading to a lot of tension in the world."
See some bad arguments in the slide show above.
Note: this post has been updated to include the illustrator's name.