There are many ways in which we can be convinced that something is true. If we are not convinced a tsunami has taken place but someone shows us video footage of the event then we will most likely be convinced that it did happen. Unfortunately there are more bad ways to be convinced something is true than there are good ways. One of the ways I am going to talk about here is when people claim something is untrue based on there being financial motivation behind the evidence.
The New York Times posted an article in 2016 titled How the Sugar Industry Shifted the Blame to Fat. The article claims that some researchers were paid by the Sugar Association to conduct studies on sugar and dietary fat and their effects on heart disease. It also claims that the studies depicted dietary fat negatively and sugar more positively and it has been used as evidence that sugar must be bad for you and therefor dietary fat must be good because the study was financially motivated. Most people, including myself when I read the article, hear this information and conclude that if people paid money then it must have been to get a certain result from a study therefor the result must be wrong making the opposite true. But this argument does not stand up to scrutiny. If we assume the reason they paid researchers was to get that particular result we have to consider other more logical reasons as to why they would do that. The most likely one is going to be profit. If the Sugar Association can use a study to demonise fat and depict sugar in a good light then they will most likely profit. But people have made the assumption that fat is good based on the motivation behind the study. However when we put it in a logical form we can see that the reasoning does not make sense:
- If someone pays money to achieve a particular result in his or her interest then the opposite must be true.
- The Sugar Association paid researchers to conduct a study that was then used to demonise fat and depict sugar in a more positive light.
- Therefor the opposite is true: sugar is bad and dietary fat is good.
Because someone paid researchers to conduct a study, or even influence it to make fat look worse than sugar does that automatically mean fat must be good? Although this logical argument may make sense to some, the first statement is false. And if something is based on a false statement we shouldn’t assert that the conclusion is true. At the least we should investigate further. A more reasonable argument might look like this:
- If someone pays researchers to conduct or influence a study that can be used to benefit the industry they make money from; then they would most likely do it to benefit themselves financially.
- The Sugar Association paid researchers to conduct or influence a study that was then used to demonize fat and depict sugar in a more positive light.
- Therefor they most likely did it to benefit themselves financially.
The conclusion most people came to from the article, that sugar is bad and fat is good, was based on a false statement. But does this mean that their conclusion is wrong? Not necessarily. Something can be factually true while being based on a false statement. This would make the argument, in philosophical terms, valid but not sound. The argument makes sense but is not factually true. Which means we should look into it more and perhaps find better statements to base our conclusions on.
Bad reasoning can lead to conclusions that crumble due to their bad foundations. We should want our conclusions to have strong foundations and good reasons for why we believe them. Using the financial motivation of something to prove it to be false is not a good reason. Next time you read something that makes a strong claim like the article discussed; find out if the conclusions the writer is asserting make sense logically.