Intellectual honesty

From RationalWiki
(Redirected from Intellectual dishonesty)
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Warning icon orange.svg This page contains too many unsourced statements and needs to be improved.

Intellectual honesty could use some help. Please research the article's assertions. Whatever is credible should be sourced, and what is not should be removed.

Thinking hardly
or hardly thinking?

Icon philosophy.svg
Major trains of thought
The good, the bad,
and the brain fart
Come to think of it

Intellectual honesty is honesty in the acquisition, analysis, and transmission of ideas. A person is being intellectually honest when they, knowing the truth, state that truth.

There are disincentives to intellectual honesty. Academics may find themselves pressured to argue for the stances of their benefactors, including governments and private entities that fund grants (in fact, this is trained into them in education, as the same pressures are exerted by teachers and professors upon their students). Judges may face political pressure to render a judicial opinion endorsing a legal argument that they know to be flawed. Auditors may issue a favorable opinion of a company's financial statements, despite having serious misgivings about their adherence to generally accepted accounting principles, in order to continue receiving business from that company. (In general, perverse incentivesWikipedia and conflicts of interest provide highly fertile ground for intellectual dishonesty.)

The more complicated the issue and the murkier the facts, the easier it may be for an intellectual to get away with presenting a plausible but flawed argument. In a world where people, including intellectuals, often pursue incentives more eagerly than they seek after high ideals, it is important that ways be found to make the interests of intellectuals coexist with the interests of those whose well-being depends on their intellectual honesty, if intellectual dishonesty is to be consistently avoided.

Intellectual dishonesty[edit]

Some intellectual dishonesty can be subtle. For example, relevant facts and information may be purposefully omitted when such things contradict one's hypothesis, or facts may be presented in a biased manner or twisted to give misleading impressions.
Broadly speaking, any of the following behaviors would fall under intellectual dishonesty.

  • Arguing for a viewpoint you yourself disbelieve.
    • Exception: The role of devil's advocate, when consciously acted out, is not intellectually dishonest. A good devil's advocate will express the opposition's strongest arguments, and draw attention to the weaknesses of the arguments of co-thinkers. This is a valuable tool for intellectual rigour and honesty, and also helps to ward off the dangers of echo chambers and the resulting groupthink.
    • Exception: arguing in practice debates, debate classes, or debate competitions
  • Deliberately ignoring facts and arguments that would undermine your position. (willful ignorance)
  • Knowingly using a logical fallacy.

Common forms of intellectual dishonesty include plagiarism, applying double standards, using false analogies, exaggeration and overgeneralization, presenting straw man arguments, and poisoning the well (not literally).[note 1] A form of intellectual dishonesty common on conservative sites like Conservapedia is the suppression of evidence that contradicts their orthodoxy by reverting without explanation any edit that links to or otherwise presents such evidence.

When a lot of money is involved, intellectual dishonesty rises to the level of industry-sponsored denialism campaigns, often under the umbrella of think tanks or industry lobbying groups: asbestos, Global warming (fossil fuel), lead, and tobacco smoking.

See also[edit]


  1. For an example of a "professional philosopher" who uses pretty much all of these tricks, bar plagiarism (he only quote mines…), see William Lane Craig.