Argumentum ad nauseam

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An argumentum ad nauseam (also known as an argument by repetition) is the logical fallacy that something becomes true if it is repeated often enough. It is a subset of argument by assertion and is an informal fallacy. An ad nauseam argument that can be easily shown to be false leads to the "point refuted a thousand times".

Due to the modern 24 hour cable news cycle and the fact that every idiot now has a blog, argumentum ad nauseam has become particularly prevalent. In politics it is usually used in the form of a talking point, which is then reduced to a three second sound bite and is repeated at every available opportunity. On the blogosphere it takes the form of a meme, where every like-minded blogger repeats a statement used by a fellow blogger. Twitter, where every message has to be less than 280 (and until recently just 140) characters, has only made this latter form of viral propaganda worse.

Repeating an opinion again and again seems to convince people that it is true, in large part because it simulates the effect of an appeal to the people (argumentum ad populum). Moreover, by assuming what needs proof, it is circular, and therefore amounts to begging the question (petitio principii). However, that does not apply to arguments such as "Hydrogen and oxygen molecules combine in a 2:1 ratio to create water; therefore, if you combine hydrogen and oxygen in proper proportion, water will result." Like redundancy, repetition is not inherently evil, nor does it constitute a logical fallacy (flawed reasoning) all by itself. If it were, every parent would be guilty of it, as would every teacher, every drill sergeant, and every conductor or director. It is also important to distinguish between opinions and arguments. By definition, an argument is a set of premises in support of a conclusion, whereas an opinion is merely a thought or a belief, whether it has or lacks any evidence to justify or support it. Accusing someone of committing a fallacy is not the same as proving it. Indeed, some of the examples cited here fall far short of the mark. Beware of bearing false witness, and of using the weapons of logic indiscriminately, lest they backfire on those who wield them. Beware of name-calling ("any idiot with a blog"), which is itself an ad hominem. And beware of thyself. Let one whose reasoning is flawless invent the first dismissive label. Or as the French say, honi soit qui mal y pense.



"Just the place for a Snark!" the Bellman cried,
As he landed his crew with care;
Supporting each man on the top of the tide
By a finger entwined in his hair.

"Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:

What I tell you three times is true."
Lewis Carroll, The Hunting Of The Snark

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Want to read this in another language?[edit]

Si vous voulez cet article en français, il peut être trouvé à Argumentum ad nauseam (français).

Русскоязычным вариантом данной статьи является статья Аргумент к тошноте

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