Logical Fallacies Used to Deceive Patients and Harm Public Health
Updated: Sep 3
Social media and even traditional media like print and broadcast media, are often a wealth of information and misinformation. Often the media works against the best interest of the population at large, because they are funded by advertising, which means if something is going to attract more attention, they are more likely to run it, and discuss it, even if it is based on misinterpretation of information.
An example of this is when the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that countries with limited resources may want to prioritize other vaccines over the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.
This was interpreted by some media outlets as the WHO not recommending the Covid vaccine in children. This is a gross and often deliberate misinterpretation, which leads to more attention for the news outlet, and therefore advertising revenue.
There are logical fallacies used by the media to garner more attention. Logical fallacies are based on shortcuts our brains take in order to decrease our cognitive load and draw conclusion quickly. This is an efficient way to process information, but in logical fallacies, these shortcuts backfire and leads us to incorrect conclusions.
Sometimes a little kernel of truth can hook the reader, make an incorrect conclusion seem reasonable and then make the consumer more susceptible to larger more profound, incorrect ideas.
Example would be that onions have anti-microbial properties, which gets distorted to “wearing onions on your feet can improve the function of the immune system.”
Another common deception is the utilization of buzzwords that have no clear definition. Using words like “clean” or “natural” have no scientific meaning, but can increase sales by preying on the consumer’s fear of manufactured goods.
This dovetails into the appeal to nature fallacy, where anything that is “natural” must be better than anything manufactured.
Patients ultimately fall prey to misinformation and pseudoscience, because they are marketed very effectively to an audience who are often in a desperate situation; in that desperation, they are more easily misled.
The marketers will use confirmation bias, leveraging the belief that medicine is bad, or that pharmaceutical companies are evil, to increase the sale of their product. They then use the hasty generalization fallacy to take a poorly designed, small, cohort study, or an animal study, and extrapolate it to mean whatever they need it to mean.