The Ethical Skeptic

Challenging Pseudo-Skepticism, Institutional Propaganda and Cultivated Ignorance

Irish Pennants: The Nature of Flawed versus Sound Definitions

A definition is a form of argument, which once successful, becomes a predicate assumption. And like an argument, a definition may be evaluated for its basis, quality, and outcome. These are handy guidelines which the ethical skeptic may employ to keep a close watch on his definitions, so as to improve the overall value and clarity of his delivery. Altering of definitions is a subtle but oft used tactic of those seeking to obscure information and control thought. Such flawed definitions can be called Irish Pennants. They highlight the difference between a well vetted versus a casually worn science, logic or philosophy.

midshipman K Archer plebe summerWhen standing at attention during Plebe Summer at the United States Naval Academy (the grueling summer of initiation before commencement of your Freshman year), one quickly learns the difference between a uniform which is immaculate, and one which has received ‘gigs.’ Being gigged for uniform violations can result in a number of demerits of varying magnitude. Instances such as when your shirt and trouser lines are not aligned with your belt buckle edge (gig line), or your cover has smiles in it, or you have tiny threads hanging from the sewn seams of your pants or shirt, these things can get a Midshipman in hot water until he or she earns off the associated demerits. Of a particularly frustrating nature is the violation wherein one misses tiny little threads of material hanging from the seams in one’s uniform. These threads are known as ‘Irish Pennants.’ Nail clippers are useful in resolving these seam flaws. Moreover, if one is farsighted it is best to scour your uniform well with your glasses on, prior to any uniformed inspection. Irish Pennants are one of the telltale little indicators which reveal the difference between a well vetted and a casually worn uniform.

The casual wearing of science, logic and philosophy can be detected through a similar manner of silent diligent inspection.

Such diligence and discipline applies to the crafting of a logical calculus as well. It makes sense to keep watch over the means of persuasion, locution and argument one is making – but do we often carry such diligence into the definition coherence of our underlying terms? Social Skeptics appreciate a condition where the uniform of the recipient of authorized one-liner wisdom, is not vetted to the point where the listener can tell when they have been played by means of terminology. The making of an argument is a set of propositions expressed with the intent of persuading through reasoning. In an argument, a subset of propositions, called premises, constraints and predicates, provides support for some other proposition called the conclusion. One of the predicates to an argument is the definition basis for the terms which are employed in its locution. Failure to keep watch over your definitions can result in confusion or a whole host of even worse faulty portrayals of science, logic and philosophy.

puzzle definition 1A definition is an ‘argument which has been brought to concurrence.’ A definition allows two parties to rely upon a stable foundation of understanding and agreement, which allows knowledge development to continue (see Wittgenstein Error and Its Faithful Participants). A definition is a agreement among parties that the context, position, role, logical critical path and enlightening nature of the term has been revealed effectively in discussion. Social skeptics will willingly abrogate such tacit agreement, presuming that they are so smart that they are exempted from this level of integrity requirement. They will game lexicon, amphibology, equivocation and meaning in order to win an argument. This is the psychology of an arguer who has been taught that they must win at all costs.

Ethical skepticism demands that one watch for the characteristic traits which can improve or weaken an argument’s underpinning lexicon. This can be seen through the oft used analogy of a puzzle. When solving a classic die-cut puzzle, one is not solving one problem, rather three problems simultaneously. Three challenges which do not allow for coherence unless all three problem solutions agree independently on the final state of coherence, per below:

puzzle definition 2A puzzle (sans an available reference picture) consists of three layers of logic:

First, resolving the interlocking lexicon (fit) of piece shapes which one is trying to employ,

Second, ascertaining the overall single integral form (shape) that the pieces assemble into and

Third, realizing the argument or picture depicted on the puzzle pieces (image) which one is trying to bring into coherence.

Puzzle Pitfalls

A. If one does not care about the integrity of the first and second solution layers in a puzzle, then the third solution (the image) can be pretty much be a matter of arranging the puzzle pieces in any fashion we (or someone else) chooses, in order to depict any answer we desire.

B. If one is given a solution image in advance, then regardless of whether or not the advance-knowledge image is indeed correct or incorrect, the puzzle solver will tweak the interlocking portion of the puzzle pieces: definitions, persuasions, locutions and arguments, so as to effect that picture and no other (see The Appeal to Skepticism Fallacy).

Unless we can as an ethical skeptic, envision the disarray in the underlying structure of words and meaning and how to resolve such disarray, we may fall prey to the picture we have been given or have been trained to see. An example of just such a terminology misemployment in order to deceive, is shown below, in Irish Pennants 1a – 4e.

Arguments are built and are sustained on just such a platform of established coherence. Therefore, in order to corrupt the processes of science, without manifestly tampering with data, research freedom or the scientific method itself, all one has to undertake is a means by which one corrupts the shape or interlocking fit of the puzzle pieces which are used to assemble the image; that is to say the terminology which underpins the argument, the means by which a threatening or disfavored idea can be brought into coherence.

By tampering with terminology fit, one can render an argument obtuse, and thereby preempt disliked realizations.

This is enacted inside what is called a Descriptive Wittgenstein Error.

Wittgenstein Error (Descriptive)

Describable: I cannot observe it because I refuse to describe it.

Corruptible: Science cannot observe it because I have crafted language and definition so as to preclude its description.

/philosophy : knowledge development : symbolism and language/ – the contention or assumption that science has no evidence for or ability to measure a proposition or contention, when in fact it is only a flawed crafting of language and definition, limitation of language itself or lack of a cogent question or (willful) ignorance on the part of the participants which has limited science and not in reality science’s domain of observability.

Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.” ~Wittgenstein

puzzle definition 3However, there is another approach to pseudo-scientific control of thought, and that is the case where an agenda carrying agent realizes that a definition placeholder is mandatory and simply conducting Wittgenstein Descriptive blocking will not be seen as ethical or acceptable. In this case, the agenda carrying agent will attempt to isolate a threatening term as a neologism. Alternatively, if they cannot accomplish this, they will preemptively assign a false, correct-ish sounding version of the definition in advance of its term’s common employment. This is called an Irish Pennant error. It is a term which does not seem to fit the logic, structure or context of all the terms with which it is intended to interplay. Such a term is a pathway to equivocation and ambiguity – useful tools in the process of assembling propaganda.

In order to avoid an Irish Pennant error – to thwart obfuscation by means of terminology tampering – the ethical skeptic must examine the employment of a definition in terms of its integrity, along four characteristics of its effective employment:  Context framed, Isolate in nature, Critical Path in role, and effective in Reducing complicated-ness.

Irish Pennant

/philosophy : knowledge development : symbolism and language/ – a term, language or definition which is non sequitur with, fails to reduce complicated-ness of, is equivocal in meaning inside or otherwise lacks integrity with either the philosophy or remaining set of definitions inside its contended context. A tattered, overlapping or incomplete definition which has been altered through the lens of an agenda, rendering it at least partly incoherent with broader philosophy, or leaving gaps in the Wittgenstein (Descriptive) sufficient understanding of a subject.

Keys to Avoiding an Irish Pennant Error¹                   Example: The current pop-skeptic definition of the term “Pseudoscience”

1.  Terminology Definition Context

a.  Is its articulation in a colloquial or precise expression?                                                                                                                    Colloquial

b.  Is it constrained to an accurate context to the discussion, observation or problem?                                                                             True

c.  Does it possess coherence inside the presented context?                                                                                                                      False

d.  Is its non-applicability readily identified/identifiable?                                                                                                                               False

2.  Terminology Definition Isolate Nature

a.  Is it framed in objectively based terminology?                                                                                                                                          False

b.  Is it framed in employment by a knowledgeable but neutral party?                                                                                                       False

c.  Is it consistent with established understandings of equivalent context definitions?                                                                              True

d.  Does it fit as a puzzle piece inside a cohesive lexicon? Featuring:

       i. a minimum of overlap with other terms.                                                                                                                                                False

       ii. a minimum of multiple contexts of application.                                                                                                                                    False

       iii. fulfills a role in philosophy, logic or science which is otherwise vacant.                                                                                           True

3.  Terminology Definition Critical Path

a.  Does it have integrity with its co-contended philosophy?                                                                                                                        False

b.  Is it salient to the argument contended?                                                                                                                     Relevant but not Salient

c.  Does it complete a logical calculus which underpins an argument?                                                                                                       False

d.  Does it allow others then to understand sufficiently so as to be equipped to replicate this logical calculus?                                    False

4.  Terminology Definition Reductive Nature

a.  Does the term help frame a more clear argument?                                                                                                                                   False

b.  Does the term help improve the nature of a scientific observation?                                                                                                        False

c.  Does the term help improve the effectiveness and salience of a scientific question?                                                                            False

d.  Does its framing and employment improve understanding, or only seek to leverage control of a discussion?                   Seeks Control

e.  Does its framing reduce an alternative set or complicated-ness of a scientific, logical or philosophical question?                            False

It behooves the ethical skeptic to constantly be on guard for employment of terms which can be used to deceive. People love easy reads. But easy reads can be used as a tool of propaganda. Be cognizant of Irish Pennant terms, plied inside of easy or ‘simple’ answers, and be alerted when this is used to excess. Question context, isolate nature, critical path of employment and the reductive effectiveness of each and every instance where a social skeptic has selected an imprecise term or weapon word in the process of condemning a subject they do not like.

Ignore the anger of the social skeptics. Integrity in your words, will lend to integrity in your method, which will end with integrity in your soul.

epoché vanguards gnosis

¹  These characteristics/features regarding definition stem from combining the input from a variety of resources too numerous to list and too convoluted to assign credit to one single source. The features are modified so that they all mutually reinforce each other, provide clarity and a commonality of language inside the contended definition framework. As such, these definitions are the work of The Ethical Skeptic, however may contain phrases common to similar definitions provided by other authors or resources.  Therefore, as definitions in the public domain and in common use and understanding – they are not required to be reference sourced.

January 13, 2016 Posted by | Argument Fallacies, Ethical Skepticism | , , , | Leave a comment

How You Say It Makes All the Difference

It’s not just what you say, but how you say it. I find it hard to believe, but just maybe those irritating sentence diagrams from 8th grade have paid off after all.  I believe that merit resides in splitting our categories of misrepresentation, in the Tree of Knowledge Obfuscation, into a structure producing an additional category member. That new member being – Misrepresentation through Locution or Semantics.

When I write, I tend to develop slightly longer and concatenated sentence structures than that of typical prose. This stems from decades of experience in technical writing. Technical writing tends to be composition inside of which the author attempts to anticipate and counter, in text, any imprecision which might lead later to a misunderstanding or manipulation of the material. Short, simply phrased sentences are prone to a whole host of potential problems with respect to interpretation. Everyone thinks that they fully understand a short simple sentence. But the reality is that such an approach to locution might not deliver the unequivocal or unambiguous integrity of material intended by the author.

Ill meaning forces delight in short idiomatic delivery. For in such a domain of uncertainty they can exploit meaning like a dancer, cavorting among the tombstones in the graveyard of ideas.

slept for 10 days too long - CopyAs one of my favorite comedians, Mitch O’Hedberg, quips in his monologue “I haven’t slept for ten days.  Because that would be too long.”  When one utters the phrase – ‘I haven’t slept for ten days’ – both deliverer and recipient believe that we have accurately conveyed the meaning of our original point. And in an idiomatic sense we have. People generally grasp the message one is attempting to convey through such a sentence. Mitch’s comedy lever often hinges on the humorous framing of equivocation, ambiguity and amphibology in our common language and life. But technical writing cannot rely upon the short cut of idiom and colloquial phrase. Ill intended forces, seeking control and not humor, will employ the holes in our delivery to effect outcomes and conclusions according to their preference. The most common (and perhaps least damaging) form of locution abuse occurs in attempts by Social Skeptics to place the deliverer of a message into a prescribed bucket of wink-and-nudge categorization. Oh, she’s an ‘intelligent design proponent,’ or a ‘believer.’ Uh, huh. Through this familiar, but very imprecise set of language vulnerabilities, they socially disarm a message and its proponent – before we can even consider what the proponent has to say.

As well, patent prosecutions, are submitted with just such a set of pitfalls in mind. In a patent application, one is seeking to protect the intellectual property entailed from forces which will seek a loophole. A loophole which would afford exploitation of the new intellectual property without the burden of having to honor the patent. A patent might be declined in an office action by a United States Patent and Trademark Office examiner for instance, in order to provide the applicant opportunity to clarify where semantic overlap has occurred with an existing intellectual property registry. The patent might be in need of small changes in the verbiage in order to eliminate the conflict. Technical writing, fortunately and unfortunately, is a bit like legalese; to wit, I have written many of the contracts my company has issued, with only a final review by our attorneys in many instances.  Attorneys are sticklers for ensuring that, in addition to compliance with the structure and stricture of the law, a specific set of locution introduced uncertainties are avoided at all costs.

Contracts cannot tolerate uncertainty in the terms of agreement, and neither can technical writing. Uncertainty, in the forms of the locution errors below, introduces the opportunity for cheating, skirting, misinterpretation, and misunderstanding. Things which can render a clause or an entire contract null in the inception. Things which offer a person wishing to politically manipulate the message of science in their preferred direction, if left any kind of loophole. This is done in both blatant and subtle fashion.

If the ambiguity is obvious it is called “patent,” and if there is a hidden ambiguity it is called “latent.” If there is an ambiguity, and the original writer cannot effectively explain it, then the ambiguity will be decided in the light most favorable to the other party.¹

But Social Skepticism, does not develop technical studies nor contracts. It celebrates the imprecise nature of language and locution. They are the dancers between the tombstones in the graveyard of ideas. Social Skepticism’s specialty is the promulgation of correct thought and the interpretation of science on behalf of us all, through the media. It is in this public forum where a whole series of misrepresentations occurs, both patent and latent. Below we outline our new category of misrepresentation in The Tree of Knowledge Obfuscation, Misrepresentation through Locution and Semantics.

Take for instance, a clip which might be found in a typical journalism piece on science and philosophy. The phrase at first glance might appear to the layman to make a lot of sense – when in reality it is a load of crap and non-sense.

locution errors - Copy cbg - Copy - Copy

Equivocation (Irish Pennant)

the misleading use of a term, principle or construct with more than one meaning, sense, or use in professional context by glossing over which meaning is intended in the instance of usage, in order to mis-define, change context of and inappropriately include or exclude domain inside  an argument.

Wittgenstein Error (Context) – one shifts the meaning of words to their favor or disfavor by the exploiting the context in which they are employed.

Data, sample, cohort, retrospective, evidence, study, meta-analysis

Wittgenstein Error (Footprint) – one employs words which have large grammatical footprint, in order to exploit a portion of that potential footprint of meaning in order to drive home an argument or craft a denial.

Woo, ridiculous, contrarian, outsider

Secundum Quid – when one exploits a failure to appreciate the distinction between using words absolutely and using them with qualification.

Pseudoscience, apophenia, pareidolia

Anodyne Phrasing – phrasing deliberately posed in suitable apothegms or buzzwords which are not likely to provoke dissent, offense or disagreement – so that more extreme agendas backed by such locution can be subtly approved by all. Terms such as ‘justice’, ‘hate’, ‘Nazi’, ‘equality’, ‘immigration’ – where the hearer hears one thing, but the agenda poser means another.

Slack Exploitation – an arguer employs a constraining term, which at face value appears to bound the discussion, model or position contended to a specific definition or domain. However, a purposely chosen word or domain has been employed which allows for several different forms of interpretation of the contention on the part of the arguer.

Unlikely, tail condition, law of large numbers

Object or Subject Ambiguity – the construction or delivery of a message in such words or fashion as to allow for several reasonable interpretations of person, place or thing to which the message applies.

They, it, them, all, entire, those who, you, these

Hyperbolic Error – one employs words which overlap with more suitable terms, however which range into a realm of overemphasis or exaggeration which the arguer finds convenient.

Inconceivable, ridiculous, irrational, tirade

Praedicate Evidentia – one employs conclusive terms which suggest the end to a logical process, or the plenary state of its soundness or evidence, to imply something of greater inferential strength than what is indeed reality.

Consensus, conclusive, settled, indicative, points to, scientists consider, researchers have found

Accent Drift – one employs a specific type of ambiguity that arises when the meaning of a sentence is changed by placing an unusual prosodic stress (emphasis on a word), or when, in a written passage, it’s left unclear which word the emphasis was supposed to fall on.

Could, maybe, if, really, absolutely, certainly, probably, suppose, I guess

Compactifuscation – when one merges several disparate but associated concepts or definitions into one single descriptive term, so that epistemological weakness or strengths characteristic of a subset of the definitions held equivocally inside the term, can be ported over to the remaining set of definitions, without overt support or challenge in doing so.

Pseudoscience, numpty, neologism, sheeple

Portmanteau – originally a large trunk made of stiff leather, which opened into two differing but equal sized parts – which has transmuted into meaning a word blending the sounds and combining the meanings of two others.

Fauxtography (from ‘faux’ and ‘photography’) or brunch (from ‘breakfast’ and ‘lunch’)

Circular Reference – one employs definitions, data or expertise which obtain their authority through reference to other definitions, data or expertise which are of a single club in their origin – usually a club which suffers from anomie.

Irrational, credulous, magical thinking, contrarian

Weapon Word – a series of fashion terms among those who consider themselves elite and intelligent in comparison to a targeted disliked group in their mind. The manufacture, instruction and deployment of key expressions into the educational, push channel media, public and social skeptic discourse, targeting a goal of social intimidation and indoctrination.

Bubba, quack, creationist, truther

Anachronistic Proxy or Reference – one employs a concept, axiom or term which only has applicability or meaning in a current time frame of reference, however which suitably lenses past principles or events to now stand as examples for their argument or denial.

Myth, sadistic, stoic, archaic, pedantic, polemic, muckraker

Hedging – the a priori employment of ambiguous words or phrases, for the purposeful instance wherein they can be reinterpreted in such a way as to appear to be in consensus, if one is later found to be wrong on a position of denial and opposition.

Concerns, gaps, inconsistency, shortfall, non-compliance, irregularity

Advantageously Obtuse (Bridgman Reduction) – a principle which has been translated, summarized or dumbed-down for consumption so as to appear to be a ‘simple’ version of its source principle; however, which has been compromised through such a process.

“Occam’s” Razor versus Ockham’s Razor, Misrepresentations of: simple, Fat Tony, Anti-fragile, Popper Demarcation

Flummery – meaningless ceremonial or sycophant journalism – often characterized by worn out catch phrases, article structures, quotes, recitations, common bad guys, phrase cloning, celebrity deference and social peer flattery, often inexpertly applied and misunderstood by the writer.

Anti-science, tin-foil hatter, Moon landing hoax, Trumper, bed-wetter

Non Rectum Agitur – one executes a purposeful abrogation of the scientific or other logical method through corrupted method sequence or the framing and asking of the wrong, ill prepared, unit biased or invalid question, conducted as a pretense of executing such method on the part of a biased participant. Applying a step of such method, advantageously out of order.

Peer review, scientific method, publication, mathematical proof, proof, “Occam’s” Razor, evidence, Baloney detection kit, p-value, amaurosis

Aphronêsis – one employs twisted, extreme, ill timed, misconstrued, obtuse or misapplied wisdom, sometimes even considered correct under different contexts of usage – which allow an agenda holder to put on a display of pretend science, rationality and skepticism.

Critical thinking, rationality, science, investigation, research, skepticism

Tangenda – one forces the critical path of an argument to be constrained to term which sounds applicable, but entails or enforces a completely different logical calculus.

Virtue, democracy, aid, slavery, nationalism, unemployment


the construction or delivery of a message in such words or fashion as to allow for several reasonable interpretations of the context, object, subject, relationship, material or backing of the intended message.

Organic Untruth (verum mendacium) – a constructive form of argument which exploits concealed ambiguity or altered premise as the core of its foundational structure. A statement which is true at face value, but was not true or was of unknown verity under the time frame or original basis, soundness, domain or context under discussion.

Not a Logical Truth – It is not that this type of statement is false. The basis of this type of assertion may even reside in scientific validity, or may be only categorically true – i.e. only true if given a specific set of circumstances. However the statement is not a logical truth – a truth of syllogism which is comprehensive, unqualified and unequivocal. Logical truth is the state of syllogism which a deceitful person is wishing for you to infer when they state a categorical truth, yet do not specify its conditions. It is a means of lying through stating something which is only conditionally accurate – hoping that their victim will accept the statement as one which addresses all circumstance.

Slack Exploitation – a form of equivocation or rhetoric wherein an arguer employs a term which at face value appears to constrain the discussion or position contended to a specific definition or domain. However, a purposely chosen word or domain has been employed which allows for several different forms/domains of interpretation of the contention on the part of the arguer. Often this allows the arguer to petition the listener to infer a more acceptable version of his contention, when in fact he is asserting what he knows to be a less acceptable form of it.

Uti Dolo (trick question) – a question which is formed for the primary purpose of misleading a person into selecting (through their inference and/or questioner’s implication) the incorrect answer or answer not preferred inside a slack exploited play of ambiguity, interpretation, sequence, context or meaning. The strong version being where the wrong context is inferred by means of deceptive question delivery; the weak version being where the question is posed inside a slack domain where it can be interpreted legitimately in each of two different ways – each producing a differing answer.


is a situation where a sentence may be interpreted in more than one way due to ambiguous sentence structure. An amphibology is permissible, but not preferable, only if all of its various interpretations are simultaneously and organically true.

Context Dancing

the twisting of the context inside which a quotation or idea has been expressed such that it appears to support a separate argument and inappropriately promote a desired specific outcome.

Wittgenstein Error

Descriptive – the inability to discuss, observe or measure a proposition or contention, because of a language limitation, which has limited discourse and not in reality science’s domain of observability.

Contextual – employment of words in such as fashion as to craft rhetoric, in the form of persuasive or semantic abuse, by means of shift in word or concept definition by emphasis, modifier, employment or context.

Epistemological – the contention that a proposition must be supported by empirical data or else it is meaningless, nonsense or useless, or that a contention which is supported by empirical data is therefore sensible, when in fact the proposition can be framed into meaninglessness, nonsense or uselessness based upon its underlying state or lacking of definition, structure, logical calculus or usefulness in addressing a logical critical path.

bedeutungslos – meaningless. A proposition or question which resides upon a lack of definition, or which contains no meaning in and of its self.

unsinnig – nonsense. A proposition of compromised coherency. Feynman ‘not even wrong.’

sinnlos – useless. A contention which does not follow from the evidence, is correct at face value but disinformative or is otherwise useless.

Accent Drift

is a specific type of ambiguity that arises when the meaning or level of hyperbole of a sentence is changed by placing an unusual prosodic stress (emphasis on a word), or when, in a written passage, it’s left unclear which word the emphasis was supposed to fall on.²

Subject Ambiguity

the construction or delivery of a message in such words or fashion as to allow for several reasonable interpretations of person, place or thing to which the message applies.

There are of course more errors of locution and semantics which are included in The Tree of Knowledge Obfuscation, but they all in reality stem from a more complex employment of these eight base errors in locution and semantics.

Enjoy truth. Epoché Vanguards Gnosis.

¹  Encyclopedia of American Law: Ambiguity. (n.d.) West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. (2008). Retrieved August 29 2015.

²  Accent (fallacy), Wikipedia; Retrieved August 29, 2015.

August 29, 2015 Posted by | Agenda Propaganda, Argument Fallacies | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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