Friday, September 8, 2023

Crushing a Grape and Crushing a Human Aren't The Same Thing - Why False Equivalent Analogies Are Problematic

My first attempt at explaining deep concern about advice tropes of the type "crush a grape, you get wine", "in baseball, hitting .333 is a hall of famer", etc.

Why do people like analogies like the baseball one so much? I agree they can sometimes be teaching or concept understanding tools. But used the way you did implies that actual life is a scenario where a .333 success rate is a good thing. And it must be true because it's true elsewhere, so it sounds like truth. But it's such a massive cognitive bias error. Business and baseball are wholly different things.

Another example of this I like to use is "when you crush a grape, you get wine!" used to call pressuring humans a good thing. Thing is, humans aren't grapes. Directly press a human and they, you know, die. And often social pressure just results in mental breakdowns, burnout, etc. So no, humans aren't grapes.

Example from social media of a well-intended but (to me) deeply disageeable and problematic post of this type...

Just want to say about being your own critic. A hall of fame hitter in baseball goes out 2 out of 3 times.

Second, humans make mistakes, you are human. You are biological, you tire, get distracted, need to eat,sleep, get happy, sad, etc. I’m sure you had subordinate technicians as a pharmacist. They made mistakes, it’s a cost of doing business. Did you berate them or just do a fix and move on. I’m guessing the latter. Why? Doesn’t do much good, and it doesn’t keep the line moving. Give yourself the Sam break. Got a problem. Lay in bed an hour extra and think about it. Doze off. Let your subconscious work on it while you sleep and send you the epiphany in the shower. Another one. When something unexpected happens, say to yourself, (or out loud) something good will come of it. Usually it does.

Finally, don’t beat yourself up, a number of your clients will be happy to take on that role uninvited. Don’t help them gang up. Go be a hall of gamer, get 1 out of 3 right.

Next Day Update - Questionable Analogies

After mulling this over with folks, have sharpened my critique and found some useful-seeming language for describing all this. Searching through lists of rhetorical devices and logical fallacies, came up with questionable analogy as a way to express this situation and why it's flawed. Two recommended sources for looking through fallacies are..

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Fallacies 

U Hawaii Introduction to Logic Course, Chapter 5 - Fallacies

From the UH website, we find several examples of the "crush grape" false analogy issue...

 A questionable analogy occurs in the premise and hence we should not presume evidence has been offered for the conclusion just because a creative analogy has been used to get our attention.   Key point: creative analogies can help us understand arguments, but they are not direct evidence that the conclusion is true.   For example, "Evolution of life on Earth is just like a huge bush of developing branches of life."   This analogy is often used in science to help people understand the concept of evolution, but what should convince us that evolution is true is a vast amount of anatomical, fossil, geological, and genetic evidence showing that the past branches really occurred.

Also, why do I care about this?

As readers here know, I work in anti-sanism mental health reform and often frequent spaces purporting to offer help and assistance. I've noticed that questionable analogies are especially rampant in these sorts of spaces. Note the example I used for this blog post also came from the advice world, though from the world of career advice.

The ask then is to stop using questionable analogies and rhetorical devices, and to be more careful and critical when reading such advice, especially without other supporting evidence that the advice is useful. Additionally, I will as always call out the frustration that the burden is placed on advice-seekers to be "more discerning" rather than holding advice-givers accountable for problematic or harmful advice. Tired of that. We are allowed to demand accountability for avoidable poor-quality advice.

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