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Nutpicking is a form of ad hominem attack mixed with cherry picking and straw manning. A broader opposite position is presented by picking out a particular weak or nutty representative, hence nutpicking. The scholarly term for the fallacy is the weak-man fallacy.[1]


[edit] Coinage

The word is a portmanteau of "nut" and "nitpicking," which was coined by Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum (thus it's sometimes called "Kevin's Law" or "Drum's Law"):[2]

If the best evidence of wackjobism you can find is a few anonymous nutballs commenting on a blog, then the particular brand of wackjobism you're complaining about must not be very widespread after all.

In other words, a few crazy people in a movement/organization are not enough to suggest that the entire movement is psychotic.

[edit] Basis

Nutpicking combines elements of several other fallacies; it primarily relies on guilt by association by seeking to tarnish a movement's reputation by associating it with what the "nut" is saying or doing, knowing that these statements or actions are generally considered to be unacceptable, if not outright reprehensible. Secondly, it is a type of ad hominem as it attacks an opponent's character (via the negative association), rather than countering the opponent's actual views or arguments.

The advent of the Internet (especially in conjunction with Sturgeon's Law) has made nutpicking far easier due to the massive expansion of recorded, publicly available and searchable material. Similar to Skarka's Law it's practically always possible to find some random whackjob whose opinions can be associated with your opponent's school of thought, and it's certainly much easier than it would have been in ancient Greece.

[edit] Applications

The practice of nutpicking is usually employed most frequently in political debates as a method of invoking a false equivalence or tu quoque where one side sifts through the blogs of people "on the other side" to hold up a nutty comment to say "you guys do it too!" For liberals, for example, an unhinged racist appearing at a conservative conference is proof of the nature of the conference in general.[3]

The most common nutpicking tactic by conservatives is probably trolling through Daily Kos comments or some Truther site and pulling up references to "Bushhitler." When the Tea Party found out about nutpicking, they immediately accused those who noted the racist elements of the Teabagger movement of nutpicking. That is, just because you can find a (whole lot) of racist depictions of "Kenya-born" Barack HUSSEIN Obama on Tea Party signs at "protests," it's not representative of the movement in any way, which is not racist. Of course, this also ignores the fact that the Teabaggers ran openly racist candidates like Carl Paladino[4] and Tom Tancredo,[5] the Paul family (who have made... interesting comments about the Civil Rights Act) as well as a guy who liked to dress up as a Nazi on weekends.[6]

One of the most egregious cases of nutpicking came when a Republican candidate for state legislature in Delaware ran a television ad nutpicking comments on a Democratic blog called Raising Kaine.[7]

Nutpicking occurs when men's rights activists share stories of female criminals as some kind of "proof" that women are evil.[8]

In terms of Internet culture, another form of nutpicking occurs when people selectively pick out the most egregious, harrowing, hypocritical, or downright silly examples of Internet posts and statements made by self-identifying members of a group, and then paint said group as universally holding said egregious, harrowing, hypocritical, or downright silly views. Usually, these posts and quotations are from websites and social media where anyone can post nearly anything regardless of how egregious, harrowing, hypocritical, or downright silly they are. It should go without saying that all groups have their extremists, and the GIFT theory[9] still quite readily applies in the more anonymous forms of social media (such as Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, comment sections, etc.).

Also, nutpicking occurs through editing of videos that interview random people in public about current events. The producers will edit them to select the most outrageous ones, for instance a video suggesting that University of Washington students would vote for Hillary Clinton only because she is a woman.[10] Also, Mark Dice has created videos asserting that people are willing to sign a petition to repeal the First Amendment.[11] The only point of these videos is to give viewers a false sense of moral and intellectual superiority.

Nutpicking may overlap with electioneering when supporters of one party attempt to get the opposite party to nominate the most extreme or unhinged candidate possible, thus guaranteeing that the first party will win since their candidate looks sane in comparison. Democrats crossing over to vote for Donald Trump might be an example of this phenomenon. However this can backfire if the extreme candidate actually does end up winning the general election.

[edit] Religion

The Calvinist apologist James White, founder of Alpha and Omega Ministries, is known to engage in nutpicking in a religious context. He once debated with Robert Sungenis on the relative merits of Calvinism vs. Catholicism. Given that Sungenis is a Holocaust-denying geocentrist, this gave White the opportunity to present his own brand of hardline Calvinism as moderate and reasonable in comparison. It's probably no accident that he selected the fringy Sungenis, rather than a more mainstream Catholic figure, as his debate opponent. The reverse of this situation would be a mainstream Catholic pointing to Westboro Baptist Church as representative of Calvinism.

White also engaged in an online debate with the even kookier Catholic Theodore Shoebat, which once again enabled him to position himself as the reasonable party, since at least James White (unlike Shoebat) doesn't support burning hundreds of millions of people at the stake!

Inter-religious polemics very frequently involve nutpicking, particularly when non-Muslims point to ISIS or jihadism as representative of all Islam, or when non-Hindus use thuggee or aghoris as examples of Hinduism (rather than, say, Gandhi).

Debates between religious and atheist commentators often involve nutpicking by both sides. For example, Bill Nye chose as his debate partner the Young Earther Ken Ham, not an advocate of a more moderate view like theistic evolution. Or creationists pointing to fringe scientists or pseudoscientists, who also happen to be atheists, as representative of mainstream secular science.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

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