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Friday, September 03, 2004

Flopping the Flip

This "flip flopping" smear line must simply be exposed for the fallacy it really is.

Changing one's position in the light of new and compelling evidence is sound natural logical thinking - things change and we change, so our positions and beliefs change. This is evolution - the result of curiosity and reflection.

We look to the past:

Nothing endures but change.
Heraclitus, from Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent PhilosophersGreek philosopher (540 BC - 480 BC)

You are young, my son, and, as the years go by, time will change and even reverse many of your present opinions. Refrain therefore awhile from setting yourself up as a judge of the highest matters.
Plato (427 BC - 347 BC), Dialogues, Theatetus

The first duty of a man is the seeking after and the investigation of truth.
Cicero (106 BC - 43 BC)

That is true wisdom, to know how to alter one's mind when occasion demands it.
Terence (185 BC - 159 BC)

Holding steadfast to a particular position in the light of new compelling facts and evidence is argumentative suicide. In doing so you must resort to fallacies and sophist tactics to make your point, all the while facing mounting evidence and obvious facts that contradict your rigid stance.
Again to the past:

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
John Adams (1735 - 1826), 'Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials,' December 1770

The partisan, when he is engaged in a dispute, cares nothing about the rights of the question, but is anxious only to convince his hearers of his own assertions.
Plato (427 BC - 347 BC), Dialogues, Phaedo

To follow by faith alone is to follow blindly.
Benjamin Franklin (1706 - 1790)

The deepest sin against the human mind is to believe things without evidence.
Thomas H. Huxley (1825 - 1895)

You can continue to call changing positions on new or re-evaluated evidence and facts "flip flopping" but that simply uses other classic argumentative fallacies.
Loaded language and persuasive definition come to mind.

In general, avoid language whose only function is to sway emotions of your readers or hearers, either for or against the view you are discussing. This is "loaded" language.
Persuasive definition: defining a term in a way which appears to be straightforward but which in fact is subtly loaded.
Anthony Weston, A Rulebook for Arguments (© 1992)

Misleading, twisting facts and flat out lying are destructive to all our safety.

Truth persuades by teaching, but does not teach by persuading.
Quintus Septimius Tertullianus (160 AD - 230 AD), Adversus Valentinianos

The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.
John F. Kennedy (1917 - 1963), speech at Vanderbilt University, May 18, 1963

The men who create power make an indispensable contribution to the Nation’s greatness, but the men who question power make a contribution just as indispensable, especially when that questioning is disinterested, for they determine whether we use power or power uses us.
John F. Kennedy (1917 - 1963), Amherst College, Oct 26, 1963 - Source JFK Library, Boston, Mass.
We must keep vigorously questioning. In doing so our opinions may change and we shall learn. We have a duty to speak up, to inquire,to debate, to follow the evidence where it leads us - accepting facts even if they force a change in our orginal position for that is how we learn.

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.
Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)