Exposing PseudoAstronomy

November 23, 2009

Logical Fallacies: Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire (AKA, Hasty Conclusion, or Jumping to a Conclusion)


Introduction

In my continuing series on logical fallacies and how people use them in pseudoastronomy, this post will be on the somewhat interesting fallacy of, “Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire.” And it’s being written at a comfortable cruising altitude of 35,000 feet.

What’s the “Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire” Fallacy?

This fallacy is best-known as the, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” phrase because it’s catchy and easy to figure out what it means. The idea is simple: Where you see smoke, that means there’s a fire. The fallacy occurs because you have jumped to that conclusion without actually knowing what caused the smoke — several different things can create smoke or smoke-like effects without there being a fire involved.

This fallacy is more formally known as the “Hasty Conclusion” or “Jumping to a Conclusion” for that very reason — one jumps to a hasty conclusion without actually examining the evidence or anything behind the claim.

Example from UFOlogy

While most of my examples of fallacious logic have centered around Young-Earth creationists, some of the better examples of this fallacy in the realm of bad astronomy is employed by people who believe that UFOs are alien craft.

A timely example has to do with the very recent Vatican conference on astrobiology, where they invited many scientists from around the world to meet in the Vatican City to discuss the latest in that field. This is prefaced by, in recent years, the Vatican releasing edicts (sayings?, papers?, speeches? … whatever official stuff from the Vatican is called) stating that the existence of extraterrestrial life does not conflict with Church teachings.

UFOlogists have used the recent conference and each of these proclamations by the Vatican to to jump on this as evidence the “Vatican knows something,” and “The Vatican is about to do disclosure [of the UFO phenomenon.”

In my occasionally humble opinion, it is much more likely that the Vatican realizes it’s a distinct possibility that astrobiologists will, in the coming decades, find evidence of past or present life on other planets. Rather than take a very firm stand on something they realize could alienate more of the faithful by simply denying that would-be discovery, they are laying the foundation to be able to say, “See, it’s okay that life exists elsewhere, it doesn’t mean God didn’t create us, it just means that he also created life elsewhere!” As opposed to, “Yeah, that little green guy who’s shaking hands with the President? The Bible says he can’t exist, so he doesn’t.”

Another UFOlogy Example

One of the key tenants of the UFO = aliens movement is that The Government knows what’s going on and does its darndest to cover it up so the general public caan’t figure it out. Among The Government’s key enforcers are the “Men in Black” and the military.

Hence, whenever there’s a UFO sighting that gets any press, if there is any military activity in the area, be it troop movements, air drills, or the like, UFO proponents will call fire to that smoke: The military activity is proof that it really was an alien spaceship. This conclusion is made without any actual evidence of an alien biological entity or technology, it’s simply concluded after an unexplained sighting and then any subsequent military activity.

Final Thoughts

The Hasty Conclusion / Jumping to a Conclusion / Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire fallacy is usually an easy one to pick out. The fallacy simply relies upon, well, jumping to a conclusion on very limited evidence without actually trying to figure out what’s really going on.

6 Comments »

  1. Obviously there’s no definitive proof that the UFO phenomena is due to Alien Craft. The phenomena exists for sure, what the unexplainables actually are; no real proof. Lots of trace evidence(100s of trace cases), plenty of credible multiple eye-witnesses, yet speculation must prevail. Take the time to study just the rendlesham forest incident and the Malmstrom AFB UFO/Missile Incident then you will be highly intrigued. There are a multitude of better speculative theoretical explanations than that of galactic visitors.

    Comment by Shaine — November 26, 2009 @ 4:52 am | Reply

    • I have not investigated UFO cases, which is partly why you may notice this blog has a definite lack of any direct UFO-related posts. I have listened to hours of other people investigating the two cases you mention, but one of the main issues I have is that much of the modern investigation relies upon present-day witness testimony of an event that occurred over a decade ago. Given the very well-documented problems with human memory, this is not convincing to me. In addition, I’m fairly sure that Brian Dunning over at the Skeptoid podcast has done the Rendlesham Forest incident. To me, if you have at least two equally plausible scenarios, then the one that requires the least amount of new information is the more plausible (e.g., UFOs = aliens as opposed to some confused officers mistaking their direction and observing a mostly blocked lighthouse).

      As I said, I have not investigated the incidents myself, and honestly, I don’t really have a desire to at the moment. I have heard of some interesting phenomena. But I also know how often people have no idea what really goes on in the sky with perfectly normal astronomical objects (even the moon) and since this post is really about a single logical fallacy, I think it is still fairly representative of what the vast majority of UFO believers commit.

      Comment by astrostu206265 — November 26, 2009 @ 8:19 am | Reply

  2. Yeah, the rendlesham forest incident seems to be a case of people unfamiliar with the extended geography, unfamiliar with the kinds of holes rabbits dig in the ground, and people wildly embellishing their story for TV shows years after the fact. The UFO believer script always seems to go “if you just take time to examine this case”. And when you do and find nothing compelling there’s the inevitable “well, if you just then examined this case”. And the cycle repeats itself.

    Shaine it’s pretty clear over the last half century of weak evidence it’s come time for those making the claim of alien visitors actually provide clear positive evidence: a body, a hunk of metal, etc.

    Comment by kamamer — November 27, 2009 @ 9:33 am | Reply

  3. […] death were a coincidence. Belkin, and other vaccine critics, are falling victim to the Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire Fallacy. Anti-vaxxers manufactured a public controversy, and now that people are falling for it and are […]

    Pingback by ‘Vaccine Epidemic’ book launch party invades my alma mater, part 2 » The Vaccine Times — March 3, 2011 @ 2:35 pm | Reply

  4. Most fallacious logic occurs around young earth creationists? LOL And what may I ask the logic behind that statement?

    Comment by doltCrusher — November 19, 2014 @ 10:09 am | Reply

    • Experience. You can find examples of most logical fallacies embedded within creationist arguments.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — November 19, 2014 @ 10:14 am | Reply


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