The Destructive Power of a False Analogy


The other day I read an article based upon a false analogy and realized anew the power that such an analogy could wield over the minds and emotions of readers who did not realize it was false. The writer, a leader in corporate “reform,” expressed with what seemed to me a phony and condescending sadness his dismay that parents would refuse the tests for their children. He likened this supposedly misguided protectiveness to refusal to take one’s child for an annual exam by a physician. Of course, the child might not enjoy the exam, but surely even minimally enlightened parents can appreciate the value of this checkup for the child’s physical well-being. No, taking standardized tests is not fun and there is some anxiety involved, but the children survive and are, he implied condescendingly, helped by these annual evaluations in the progress of their education.

It plays on parental fears

The analogy is insidious because it is false and shaming. It plays on parental fears of overprotecting their children and so doing them harm in the long run. It implies poor parenting. It is a lie. How is it a lie? The two evaluations, the medical checkup and the standardized test, are not analogous. It’s a false comparison.

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