False Equivalence

False balance

False equivalence is a logical fallacy in which two completely opposing arguments appear to be logically equivalent when in fact they are not. This fallacy is categorized as a fallacy of inconsistency.

False equivalence is a common result when an anecdotal similarity is pointed out as equal, but the claim of equivalence doesn’t bear because the similarity is based on oversimplification or ignorance of additional factors. False equivalence arguments are often used in journalism and in politics, where the minor flaws of one candidate may be compared to major flaws of another.

A common way for this fallacy to be perpetuated is one shared trait between two subjects is assumed to show equivalence, especially in order of magnitude, when equivalence is not necessarily the logical result. The pattern of the fallacy is often as such: ‘If A is the set of c and d, and B is the set of d and e, then since they both contain d, A and B are equal”. d is not required to exist in both sets; only a passing similarity is required to cause this fallacy to be used.’

The following statement is an examples of false equivalence: ‘They’re both living animals that metabolize chemical energy. There’s no difference between a pet cat and a pet snail.’
The equivalence is in factors that are not relevant to the animals’ suitability as pets.

Political scientist Thomas Patterson of the Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University wrote about the false equivalency used by the media during the 2016 US Presidential race: ‘F]alse equivalencies are developing on a grand scale as a result of relentlessly negative news. If everything and everyone is portrayed negatively, there’s a leveling effect that opens the door to charlatans. The press historically has helped citizens recognize the difference between the earnest politician and the pretender. Today’s news coverage blurs the distinction.’

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