Bronze-level articleDeceit

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Deceit is the misrepresentation of the truth. Deceit can be used for many purposes, some more innocent, some more destructive. Lying, or explicit misrepresentation, is a subset of deceit.


[edit] Forms of deceit

...the author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself.
—Peter Medawar

Deceit can take many forms.

[edit] Deceit by affinity fraud

In this form of deceit, one deliberately invokes the halo effect by appealing to someone's sense of tribalism. Once that person's trust is gained it is then used to try to shortcut others' skepticism.

[edit] Examples

  • This is basically why the concern troll goes to such lengths to hide their real viewpoints in the first place.
  • "And that is why I am a true American hero, believer in apple pie and baseball. By the way, here are some unrelated political programs I support and that the commies oppose."

[edit] Deceit by censorship

Censorship is a good way of deceiving others. Basically, say something, then silence all dissenting viewpoints to create the illusion that there is no disagreement. This is popular with talk radio and magazines' letters columns who only publish stuff they agree with - or possibly they only publish stuff that disagrees with them when it's either badly written and easy to refute, thereby giving the impression that there is opposition, but the opposition is stupid.

[edit] Examples

[edit] Deceit by "forgetfulness"

A favorite when testifying before Congressional committees.

[edit] Examples

  • "Mr. Gonzales, what is your name?"
  • "Um, sir, I don't recall ever being at a meeting where that subject came up"

[edit] Deceit by misdirection

  • "Whose truth?" One way to deceive is to use misdirection to distract someone from the facts at hand. One way of doing this is to question the nature of truth itself.
  • Change of topic: Directing someone's attention to another issue is another form of deceit. Sometimes referred to as the "Look, a bear!" tactic.

[edit] Deceit by misquotation

In this form, an argument is presented using what appears to be a quote from an authority or involved party, which is not complete, or taken out of context. Giving the impression that someone is saying something that they aren't is extremely deceitful.

[edit] Examples

  • Quote mining: Butcher the top part of this site's main page and you can end up with the following (note that quote mining isn't usually this easy to spot):
[edit] About RationalWiki

Our purpose here at RationalWiki includes:

  1. ...pseudoscience... anti-science....
  2. ...full range of crank ideas.
  3. ...authoritarianism and fundamentalism.
  4. Analysis and criticism of ... the media.

[edit] Deceit by misrepresentation

This type of deceit - whether subtle or blatant - is very common in advertising. An example would be a car ad in which the owner is depicted in beautiful "getaway" surroundings, being fawned over by a beautiful sex object. Advertising can also overstate the usefulness of the product, or overhype the evidence supporting it - so "5 out of 10 people said it seemed to work kinda okay" becomes "a clinical trial showed proven results" in the paid-for spot.

[edit] Examples

  • "These pills have been clinically proven to increase your hair growth/penis size/weight loss." [1]
  • Oversimplification: Understating the complexity of a critical point in someone's argument in order to make something seem self-evident. Often accompanied by abuse of Occam's razor.
  • Straw man: Making it easier to destroy an argument by attacking something that you made up to represent it, rather than what it really represents.

[edit] Deceit by obfuscation

That's a completely separate article in and of itself.

[edit] Deceit by omission

This is when something that might have been expected to be included with information provided is not. One reason courts expect us to testify to the "whole truth" is to prevent us from deceit by omission. Deceit by omission can legally constitute fraud; in fact, in U.S. patent law, deceit by omission is the most common form of inequitable conduct. There is a Yiddish saying that a half truth is a whole lie.

[edit] Examples

  • Betty: "Where did my boyfriend go?"
  • Jim: "Outside for some air."
  • Jim knows Betty's boyfriend is outside trying to talk the panties off Betty's best friend, but leaves that information out. He is deceiving by omission to "protect" his buddy.

[edit] Deceit by omission bias

This form of deceit uses the fact that humans judge the morality of non-actions differently from actions even if they lead to the same outcome -- often even if the non-action leads to a worse outcome than a 'lesser evil' action. The user can then dodge responsibility by claiming non-action.

[edit] Examples

  • The fact that Calvinists try to make a distinction between predestination (which is sad, but, what are you going to do? Not everyone is going to be saved) and double predestination (OMG! So wicked! We'd never believe that God would deliberately send someone to hell!) in a universe run by an omnipotent deity is a clear example of this.
  • "Look at all of the children suffering from auto-immune disorders after vaccination! If those doctors would've kept to themselves they wouldn't have died. Ban vaccination!"
  • See our article on privilege, or rather, the denial/hysteria of people who enjoy privilege while dodging responsibility because they're not the ones directly discriminating.

[edit] Deceit by path dependency

In this form of deceit, a person puts another along a course of action that will lead to something that wouldn't have normally been accepted beforehand but once they are along that path it is too costly to refuse.

[edit] Examples

  • "Oh, turns out that overseas route to Asia isn't as short as I thought. Might as well set up shop in the Americas, right men?"
  • "Looks like you'll need another payday loan to pay for your original payday loan. Imagine that."

[edit] Deceit via "plausible deniability"

This is when a person, typically a high level executive, tries to make sure there is no trail of evidence that can prove that they actually knew what actions their subordinates were taking, in spite of the probable fact that they did approve of them. Ronald Reagan was a master of this technique; Holocaust deniers often use a form of it to get Hitler off the hook for a mass murder they claim never happened in the first place (see also One single proof).

[edit] Deceit by propaganda

In this form, a person uses media typically used for entertainment. By cloaking their rhetoric in the guise of entertainment, the audience is unlikely to actually give the material the critical analysis that it deserves. A good example is the pilot episode of Eli Stone where the main character takes the case of a mother of an autistic child suing a company for using a mercury-based preservative in their vaccinations. Completely ignoring the real world, the show created a greedy corporation that refused to remove the mercury-based preservatives from their vaccines, despite having internal investigations that showed a (fictional) risk of autism due to their preservative. So convincing was that fictional data that the CEO of the company refused to inoculate his own child with one of their company's vaccines.

This technique is fairly typical of other faith-based TV programming as well, where right-wing rhetoric is reaffirmed to audiences, who are already watching because the story has a "Christian" theme. This is sometimes known as the "wave shiny things at them" tactic.

[edit] Deceit by revisionism

This is when supporting evidence that did not exist is created, by "revising" history to reflect what is argued by its supporters. An example is the rejection of same-sex marriage by individuals who insist that the "one woman and one man" marriage was the most common form of marriage throughout history, despite the anthropological evidence showing that it was actually polygamy.

This can also entail making a straw man version of an opponent's view, which is easily defeated.

[edit] Deceit through statistics

Mark Twain wrote that there are "lies, damned lies, and statistics".

Statistics can be misinterpreted, incomplete, or inconclusive, and yet they carry the rhetorical weight of "hard numbers".

[edit] Examples

[edit] Deceit in the Bible

Perhaps one of the best examples of deceit is this example, found in the book of Genesis in the Bible. In these verses, Isaac, a patriarch of the Israelites and Edomites, instructs his first-born son, Esau, to prepare some food so that Esau may then receive the blessing of the first-born. Esau leaves to hunt and Rebekah, Isaac's wife who overheard the charge given to Esau, prepares food for Jacob (Esau's twin, born second of the two and another primary patriarch in Judeo-Christian tradition), dresses him in goatskin (since Jacob is smooth-skinned and Esau is hairy), and sends him before Isaac to deceitfully receive the blessing of the first-born in Esau's place. Isaac is old and has gone blind, but is convinced by the food and by the hairiness of Jacob's goatskin disguise and gives Jacob the blessing of the first-born. Esau returns and Isaac eventually learns of the deceit, but the blessing cannot be undone--Esau, the rightful first-born receives a minor blessing and a legacy of scorn and Jacob, whose name is later changed to Israel, goes on to become the father of the 12 tribes of Israel and ancestor of Jesus Christ.

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. To be fair, laxatives do cause temporary weight loss by inducing diarrhea; so if they are selling it in a pill...
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