"Old things are more durable/reliable than new things": what kind of logical fallacy?

We’ve all heard it.

“Older houses were built to last! They’re built much more solidly than newer houses.”
“Older cars were built with steel panels an inch thick, and were designed to last for decades! Not like newer cars, with thin doors and tiny engines!”

They say this, pointing to examples of well-preserved Queen Anne-style mansions or Craftsman bungalows, but discount the fact that hundreds of thousands of houses built decades ago – if not millions – were shoddily constructed or fell victim to neglect, and torn down; what’s left are the “solid and built to last” houses. Same thing with cars; the old car fan will point to the few “solid” classic cars on the road, neglecting the fact that a minuscule percentage of cars built in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s are still on the roads; the rest were scrapped years ago.

What kind of logical fallacy is this?

Survivor bias.

That was fast. Thanks!

A lot of current houses (included MacMansions) are build in a very substandard manner but at least they meet building codes. Now turn back the clock and look at the houses that were built by in the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, etc. Try to find a square angle in them. Try to find a foundation that doesn’t need repair. Yes, the thickness of the materials is often greater but the structural integrity is often much worse.(The roof sags but isn’t that cute?}

Cars? Gimme a break! I grew up in a Midwestern state with miserable weather. The cars were built with no rustproofing. They quickly became rustbuckets that not only required constant maintenance (points, plugs, tires, tune-ups, alignment, chassis lube, brake linings, etc., etc.) but rotted out in just a few years and were intrinsically unsafe. Yes, the steel in the panels was thicker but they were designed to transfer the energy of a crash to the passenger instead of dissipating it.

Yea, the good old days. . .

All right, show me a new thing that’s been around longer than an old thing! :stuck_out_tongue: :smiley:

No problem. That and it’s evil twin confirmation bias (remembering or counting the hits and “forgetting” the misses) are the two main reasons why no amount of anecdotes is sufficient to give you a scientific answer (and why the controlled, double-blind trial is necessary) to causal questions, so it’s usually on the top of my head.

If high school science taught everyone the ubiquity of these two biases in human reasoning, and how to eliminate them, I believe it would have done it’s job (the scientific method pretty much falls out of the effort to eliminate them).

This is a really interesting topic and not something I had thought about before. Are there cases where there are products that are definitely designed to have a shorter working life than hitherto?

Edit: Sorry for the hijack. I can start another thread if that would be better.

My house was built in 1760 and is still in remarkable shape in the main part of the house. However, this relies on a theme that you will find in lots of surviving examples of everything from houses to bridges. They didn’t understand engineering well so they massively overbuilt everything to compensate for that weakness, Today’s structures are usually at least as strong but they rely on fancy geometry and specific materials to make things work. The brute force approach can work but superior engineering can make things much better in the case of things like natural disasters.

In the case of cars, nostalgia has caused severe intoxication when people think that the old cars were better in any conceivable category. A common complaint is that you could hit a tree at 10 mph in a 57 pickup truck and not get a scratch while a modern bumper sustains damage at the same speed. I can understand the cost of repair angle but older cars were deathtraps that transferred the damage to the riders, had inferior glass, hard steering wheels and dashboards plus poor controlability overall. I wouldn’t want my kids riding around in one today. Their brute force drivetrain engineering was also terrible unreliable by today’s standards and gave poor performance even in the muscle cars.

The first thing that comes to mind is old lunch boxes and Thermoses.

Not specifically for a shorter working life, no. What they are is designed to only last their projected useful life in order to save costs and so sell more cheaply; that is, they are not over-designed and over-built.

Building a lunch-box that lasts 100 years is simply a waste, given its use-life is only likely to be, say, 5 or 10 years.

Leather bound books from prior to 1900 were generally hand bound, and used leather tanned with Oak. The Oak tannin was highly water soluble, and was washed out during the tanning process. After around 1910 polychrome tanning was widespread, and the practice of “case binding” was introduced. Polychrome is much less soluble in water, and was therefore less thoroughly removed from the leather. The residual was slightly acidic, and in only a decade or two the leather would crack, and the end papers of the binding would begin to decay no matter how well they were treated. In a few more decades the book would be unusable. Those bound before the turn of the century, given the same level of care were still in quite good shape after fifty, or even a hundred years.

School blackboards made prior to the 1950’s were made of single sheets of black slate, usually bound on the edges with oak, or maple, sometimes beech. Blackboards were used for generations before new blackboards were needed. New blackboards are particle board with black surfaces applied. Expecting a decade of service from one is highly optimistic.

The fallacy is in trying to apply these particular observations as some sort of general case, or rule.


(Bolding mine.) And if high schools could teach correct use of it’s vs. its I for one would be so happy…not meaning to be snarky (and I know you know the difference since you used it right once); but misuse seems to be getting a lot more common on this board lately and that is to me a very bad thing.

But anyone who knows anything about marketing will tell you that planned obsolescence is a real phenomenon, and very much impacts quality discrepancies between old vs. new. Not saying it’s alway true that old equals better, but it’s not an imaginary issue.



Of all the unimportant grammatical issues one might be concerned about, why this one? Why would it be so bad if we started using “it’s” for both words?


But why would a modern school want to use a chalkboard at all? When I was in junior high in the mid-1980s, chalkboards were already coming into question in certain applications because of dust concerns. This is when I saw a whiteboard for the first time, and it was installed in the computer lab.

If I were putting together a school, the dust issues and the problems they cause for cleaning costs, students with respiratory problems and electronic equipment would bias me against installing a chalkboard anywhere in the building.

Newer isn’t always better, but older isn’t always better either.

Telephones are what come to mind when I think of something that has become less reliable over time. From some perspectives, this is a case of **Shagnasty’s ** point of overbuilding in the early days. But those old phones from back in the day you rented them from the phone company were so reliable. The rental arrangement provided an incentive for the phone company to overbuild, because if it broke they repaired it. Now, if it breaks you buy a new one.

If all you want to do is pick up the phone and make or take a call with a clear signal, the old phones are perfect. From a marketing angle, maybe the useful life of a phone ends when they come up with new features to program in, or no longer match this year’s interior design trend, but not always from the user’s perspective. Every phone I’ve ever bought, including some expensive ones, has been less reliable than the old ones. Smaller, cuter, more features, probably cheaper, but less reliable.

The question was reliable, and durable. I chose two examples.

Regarding your comment about “always”, please read my post more slowly, perhaps with both your eyes, and mind engaged in the process.


Hello, printers. Also, it’s not precisely fair to say that an early-to-mid 20th century Parker fountain pen is “better constructed” than a modern ballpoint, as the modern ballpoint is generally made to be disposable whereas the fountain pen is not. I can’t think of anything that was disposable in the past but is made to last now except for men’s shirt collars.

Whiteboards are better in almost every conceivable way. Writing with a marker is much easier on the fingers (not trying to hold a piece of chalk firmly enough to grind it off on rock), much faster, lends itself to neater handwriting, much easier to clean off, and markers are just generally better for writing. Markers make sketching trivial – try drawing a map with a piece of chalk!