72°F
weather icon Clear

Decisions must be based on fact, not fallacy

Over time, you’ve heard my repeated plea that we need to elevate our political dialogue to ever higher levels, avoiding personal attacks and other forms of incivility which only serve to circumvent the real issues and mask the truth.

Logical fallacies are another form of public discourse that we should avoid like the plague. These are flaws in reasoning or illusions of thought which, though sometimes inadvertent, are often intentionally used to trick people into adopting an irrational point of view.

Unfortunately, logical fallacies have been rampant in Boulder City’s debate over Ballot Question No. 1, a measure which asks voters whether to remove that portion of our controlled-growth ordinance that restricts the number of residential permits in a single development to 30 per year (the “30 restriction”).

Following are just a few examples: The Slippery Slope Fallacy plays on our fears by using unsubstantiated hypotheticals, suggesting that if we allow one seemingly innocent thing to happen now, we’ll be on a slippery slope to an endless parade of problems in the future. For example, if we keep guns at home, then our kids will grow up to be hardened criminals and join radical militias. Or, if we overlook one student’s tardiness today, then before you know it, the whole school will simply stop showing up.

Likewise, an argument commonly used by Question No. 1 opponents is that if we eliminate the 30 restriction, then we risk opening the floodgate to further amendments down the road, including elimination of the annual 120-home limit and eventually even the entire growth-control ordinance. Such camel’s nose, domino theory and slippery slope arguments are no less absurd than the gun and tardiness examples above, but that hasn’t stopped people from making and gullibly accepting them.

The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy gets its name from the image of a marksman shooting randomly at barns, then painting bull’s-eye targets around the spot where the most bullet holes appear to make it appear that he’s a really good shooter. Like bullet-hole clusters from a randomly fired gun, clusters of data sometimes naturally appear by chance, but they don’t necessarily indicate cause-and-effect relationships. And we obviously shouldn’t go out of our way to paint false bull’s-eyes around them in order to make it seem like we’ve discovered a scientific correlation that supports our preconceived agendas.

For instance, it would be wrong for Dr. Pepper to highlight research showing that three of the countries where its soft drink sells best are among the world’s five healthiest nations, then conclude that Dr. Pepper is therefore healthy.

Similarly, Question No. 1 opponents frequently cite a report issued by Ledcor Construction, which supposedly asserts that the average number of homes built by Las Vegas homebuilders is only 32 per year, from which they conclude that there’s consequently no need to eliminate the 30 restriction.

Not only have these opponents never read the Ledcor report, their use of this data, even if it is true, makes them culpable of the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. The reality is that Las Vegas homebuilders are all over the spectrum when it comes to the number of homes they build each year, some building only one or two and others building dozens or even hundreds, but it just so happens that the average is 32 (assuming that’s even correct). Think about it.

No one would rationally argue the every single Las Vegas homebuilder builds exactly 32 homes each year and then quits. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find a single developer that built exactly 32 in any given year. But Question No. 1 opponents are quick to draw their bull’s-eye around this average data cluster to make you believe that their anti agenda is supported by scientific evidence.

Employing the Strawman Fallacy means that you misrepresent or exaggerate your opponent’s stance on the issues, or, worse yet, completely fabricate and attribute a false strawman position to your opponent, making him much easier to attack and your own perspectives much easier to defend.

In this election, one of the many strawmen fabricated by Question No. 1 opponents is that the City Council is pushing a massive growth agenda to build thousands of homes in Boulder City, so we need to strike down Question No. 1. Like deluded Don Quixote who imagined that windmills were monsters to be destroyed, Question No. 1 opponents have created phantom notions out of thin air in order to have an easy target against which to tilt their lances.

Nobody on Council, however, has ever espoused anything other than modest growth, and manufacturing fictions like these is blatantly dishonest and only serves to undermine fair and rational debate.

If I had the space, I could debunk dozens of other logical fallacies employed in this campaign, mostly by no-growth advocates. The point, however, is that they’re all misleading, substantially increasing the likelihood that we’ll make decisions based on deception rather than truth.

Of course, I would never presume to tell you how to vote on Question No. 1 (though it’s probably not hard to see how I feel). But I will tell you that your vote and, more importantly, our public debate on issues like these should always be based on facts rather than fiction and fallacies.

Rod Woodbury is mayor of Boulder City. He has been serving on the City Council since 2011 and is the president and managing shareholder of his law firm, Woodbury Law.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST
Home is where you are welcome

When I was a sophomore in high school, I learned the truth from Thomas Wolfe’s book, “You Can’t Go Home Again” when I realized I couldn’t go back to the life I’d had the year before.

We deflect, not confront, water problems

More photo ops, more hand wringing, more florid speeches by officials, more federal money doled out without effect, more breast beating about hollow and inadequate efforts at water conservation regularly occur here and throughout the American West.

Electric vehicles not really friendly to environment

As somewhat of a gearhead, I am fascinated with the newest technologies relating to electric-powered vehicles, otherwise known as EVs. Tesla is thought to be the leader in these technologies. Still, others, such as Hyundai, Honda, Toyota and Kia, along with the major car manufacturers in the USA, have been making significant strides in developing electric vehicles with outstanding performance.

Pictures of past tell many stories

I know this is an opinion column and what I’ve written here is less of an opinion piece and more of an amusing anecdote. I hope you’ll forgive me for that. It was simply too good not to share and I think it’s a nice, if mundane, example of why Boulder City is such a lovely place to live.

Water conservation efforts to thwart drought delusional

I was entering my junior year at Boulder City High School when Lake Mead reached its top elevation of 1,225 feet in 1983. Water rushed over Hoover Dam’s fully extended spillway gates with such force that even an umbrella didn’t keep us dry from the downpour caused by its rebounding spray. Since then, the lake has dropped 185 feet, including a 170-foot decline over the last 22 years during the worst Colorado River system drought in recorded history.

Guest commentary: Are fair elections possible in digital age?

I am wondering whether or not we should be paying attention to how our elections are being conducted in Nevada as to whether or not our votes are actually counted fairly. I suspect that the voting machines have a lot to do with the situation.

A retreat to push us forward

Succeeding in today’s business climate is not an easy task. It’s even more challenging for women, who have had to overcome decades of inequality in the workplace while juggling traditional roles of keeper of the home and family.

Keep ‘wet blankets’ out of water talks

“Blanket statements” are usually meant to cover wide swaths of a topic. A “wet blanket,” on the other hand, implies stifling everything it touches or, in this context, greatly limiting a topic’s discussion. If this column comes somewhere between one or the other, I’ll consider it a success.

Reparations needed from president’s supporters

What exactly are reparations? The Merriam-Webster definition is: “The act of making amends, offering expiation or giving satisfaction for a wrong, injury, or something done or given as amends.”