What is this fallacy called ("Selective Suggestion Dichotomy?")

Suppose a media network runs a population-representative survey of 10,000 respondents (sample is also carefully selected in order to be statistically representative of America’s population): * "Yes or No: Would you like to see Barack Obama juggle several tennis balls while balancing himself atop a giant beach ball and holding a purple teddy bear? "*

40% of those surveyed say “Yes,” just for giggles, and the network promptly publishes the headlines: ** "40 percent of Americans want to see Barack Obama juggle several tennis balls while balancing himself atop a giant beach ball and holding a purple teddy bear. "

What is this fallacy exactly? Manipulated false dichotomy?

It isn’t a fallacy, it’s just a stupid question.

It certainly isn’t a false dichotomy: Obama can indeed either do the trick or not. There’s no relevant third option which the question is ignoring.

The statement is “technically true.” Stupid people think that statements that are technically true have merit. They don’t. They are lies constructed to obscure reality by stripping it from context and presenting instead an edited version that implies something different.

Every fallacy is a lie, but not every lie is a fallacy. “Technically true” is just a species of lying.

OK, but it’s misleading - giving the impression that this is something Americans came up with on their own, or think of frequently.

So? These statements exist for the sole purpose of being misleading. If they mislead you, then they’re working. What point are you trying to make? I don’t understand the “but” in that sentence.

No. Statements like that are about persuasion, or cultivating outrage, or just being interesting enough to gather an audience. That does no mean they inherently must be misleading.

Now of course, in a lot of cases they are misleading, but nevertheless Velocity’s distinction is valid.

I have to disagree. They may have a variety of end uses, but the common thread among them is that they are intentionally misleading.

The statement is accurate, it is the practice that is misleading. The news media presents itself as the provider of important information, but that would not be the case here. They may as well say the Sun will not rise tomorrow, technically true, but not all pertinent to anyone in the context presented.

Maybe we’re talking past each other.
You said that this kind of statement is technically true.
Then Velocity said, basically, sure but misleading.
Then you said all these kinds of statement are misleading.

So i interpreted your “all” as meaning all statistics put out by media groups. Because if you just meant statements like in the OP, then your “clarification” would just be repeating back to Velocity what he just said.

This is really just an absurd, exaggerated version of a real phenomenon called “push polling.” That means asking yes/no questions in a manner designed to get the majority of people to say what the pollster wants.

Leftist pollster Lou Harris was notorious for “surveys” like this. He was forever posting stories saying things like, “Americans want a $1 billion increase in support for the arts.” If you dug a little further, you’d find he’d asked something like, “If it would only cost you $1.00 a year to support the arts, and it would only cost millionaires $10 a year to support the arts, would you agree to boosting spending on the arts?”

Phrase it that way, and most people figure, “Well, I guess a dollar ain’t much, and I don’t want this stranger on the phone to think I’m a skinflint, so… sure.”

Thanks. I don’t know what everyone else was looking for, but this is precisely the phenomenon that I thought was being presented, although maybe it wasn’t an archetypal example, because it was preposterous rather than agenda-driven.

I’m glad to have learned that there is a word for this practice.

I have realized that you always have to follow through from poll “summaries” to look at what exact questions were asked, and in what context. Even reputable pollsters who are not obviously agenda-driven seem poor at designing questions neutrally; and the “summaries” are almost always misleading to some degree.

I don’t think that’s the issue. Push polling is one thing. Logical fallacies are another. But what the OP is really concerned with is the language pragmatics of the newspaper headline, which is yet again a third and distinct issue.

In particular, the subfield of pragmatics which addresses the nature of this headline (40 percent of Americans want to see Barack Obama juggle several tennis balls while balancing himself atop a giant beach ball and holding a purple teddy bear) is called implicature (or implication).

Maybe then I misunderstand the scope of the term “push polling”. I inferred that it encompassed precisely the exploitation of context to make technically true but misleading claims, as described in your links.

For example, I saw a poll that appeared to indicated that ~75% of Americans believe that Jesus was literally born to a virgin. Upon reading the questions, it was far from clear that, in context, the respondents knew they were actually being asked a question about their belief in the literal truth of this part of the bible; they may have misunderstood, and thought they were answering a question about their knowledge of the content of the biblical story.

Is that not push polling? (Assuming hypothetically that it was deliberately misleading; in the actual case it probably was not.)

Yes, but a push poll is meant to influence the views of the people being polled. That is, the process of the poll itself is a kind of campaign directed at the respondents (who are presumed to be likely voters).

A newspaper headline–whether it refers to a push poll or a legitimate poll–is designed to get attention. So, for example, you get tabloid headlines like this:

Do cell phone signals cause birth defects?

that are technically questions, and so which therefore propositionally make no claim, but which nevertheless–by the pragmatics of implicature–tease readers with an implied assertion.

Got it, thanks. I was misinterpreting it as pushing the poll results in a desired direction; pushing entailed views at the respondents to influence them makes much more sense.

Example of push polling:

Push polls don’t have to have any truth at all to them.


Although we’re taking about headlines, from print media, the real masters of the language of implicature are TV news producers–you know, with teasers that play throughout a movie or sports broadcast. They’ll say something like,

“Criminals are stealing your flower pots! News at 11:00.”

They use the impersonal you possessive, the progressive aspect, etc., to get attention, by personalizing it. Then you watch the actual report, and it turns out that what happened is two people in one neighborhood had their flower pots taken, and no one knows why.

Yes, certain grammatical structures, syntax and even lexicon lend themselves to implicature, because they are presuppositional, rather than propositional.

In this case, a noun clause as object of certain verbs (like know, understand, etc.), combined with counterfactual conditionalif you knew (that) he had…(Which I suppose was to make it less susceptible to charges of libel.)

It doesn’t have to be so complicated, for example:
I forgot that he’s a vampirehas the presupposition that the person in question actually is a vampire.

Basic open-ended questions can by their pragmatic nature be pre-suppositional. In this famous example, it’s combined with a gerund preceded by a kind of verb, plus a particular noun phrase, that all become presuppositional on several levels:*When did you stop beating your wife?*The implication is that: 1) the person was beating someone; 2) the person stopped the beating; and 3) the person is married. If you walk up to a strange, six-year-old girl on the street and ask her this question, she will assume you’re crazy, not because it’s incomprehensible or grammatically flawed, but because of the pragmatics.