A new logical fallacy

Fallacy: Hoc posset esse praemium. Ergo hoc est iam solvit.


For the last seven years, I've been participating in online discussions of various science related subjects. It all started when, towards my second year of university, I decided to answer some physics questions on science-related facebook pages (e.g. I Fucking Love Science).

Shortly into that endeavor, I started to encounter dishonest people. People that framed a question, but then aggressively started to attack your simplified explanation because they didn't agree with some part of science. This happened for all sorts of topics, such as evolution, climate change, Einstein's gravity (general relativity), genetic engineering, the list goes on.

John Oliver tackled vaccines in his 
show. This shot was shared in anti-
vaccine groups - adding a little
flavour of their own.
I've seen a lot of online discussion. When I started, I had one foot firmly planted in the 'all natural' camp. Due to my participation in medieval fantasy fairs, I was surrounded by various people in that camp. I was perhaps not against, but sceptical of all sorts of practises, mostly medical.

Throughout the discussions, even ones I only touched upon because I saw a fault, I noticed how shaky the foundations for the 'natural' camp are. Like many, I didn't like the concept of pesticides. Of course I didn't, and I still don't. However, I do so the need for it and I have an actual, rather than imagined, idea of the consequences. 

I also started noticing one particular kind of argument that is still rampant today. That argument is in the title of today's blog post.

It could be paid, therefore it is paid.

Especially in things related to modern medicine, this argument is rampant. It is the argument that, because financial incentive are around, you can't trust people. But that is not how any of this works.
Financial incentive is a reason to be careful and evaluate what people say. Sure. The Dutch have this expression related to a certain product: We, the manufacturer, recommend our product. Of course, you need to evaluate if these claims are true. More so when they come from a dependent source.  I agree.

This is how the anti-GM crowd represents
 Dr. Folta. Dr. Folta is a harmless proponent
 of genetic engineering. He studies strawberries.
However, that a claim is made by a dependent source is not sufficient reason to dismiss a claim. To dismiss a claim, you need to show why. It's tied in to an old adage: He who makes the claim must prove it. Onus probandi.  When you claim it can be dismissed, you need to show that it can be. You can't make the claim and assume it true.

Likewise, you need to establish your claim that is dependent in the first place. What I often see happening is just the claim. Dr. Folta is paid by Monsanto. Monsanto has financial incentive. Therefore, you can't trust Dr. Folta. What is wrong in this scheme is that the two claims (propositions) aren't necessarily true. Dr. Folta isn't paid by Monsanto, so the propositions aren't true and the conclusion doesn't have to be either. 

It is a fallacy I've long characterised as "This could be the reward, therefore it is already paid." The possibility of financial ties leads to the foregone conclusion that it has been paid. The possibility of financial ties doesn't mean they are there, nor that they have been paid. However silly you think this sounds, it is a fact that the fallacy is made - it is made often.

I wrote this post in response to a post I saw in a (Dutch) vaccine discussion group. The story of an antivaxxer going provaccine was posted, and an antivaxxer responded: "Just commercials, I do not buy this. Who shows me that this isn't a story written by the vaccine corporations? They are so financially strong. Commercials can't be distinguished from reality."

Sure, you don't have to believe the story is true. But "this was made by a company" is a claim, that hasn't been proven. "The company has money" isn't an argument, it's a statement. Is Elon Musk immediately evil because he is filthy rich? Does this mean that anything he does is for financial gain? What about the Bill Gates foundation? He's rich. Well, it's about vaccines. Clearly, there's a financial perspective and therefore you can't believe what he says. Except that is not how any of this works!


This could be the prize, therefore it is paid. If only - I would lose my student debt and be able to go for things like buying a house. Instead, I'm just starting on my PhD in theoretical physics. With some effort - like on antivaxxer recently did - you can figure out who I am. Congratulations, but that doesn't make me paid. My name is hidden simply because family and friends were concerned by the rabid anti-science crowd I was engaging.

Hoc posset esse praemium. Ergo hoc est iam solvit . This could be the reward, therefore it is already paid. This is how I characterise the fallacy (in my best google translate latin). 

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