127. Logic: Back to the Basics with Heath Stanfield

Have you ever wondered how to help customers navigate information in an age of so many people making so many claims? On today’s show Heath Stanfield, Manager of the McAlester Public Library in Oklahoma, takes us back to basics to examine classical models of logical fallacies that can help us help our customers find high-quality information.


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Adriane Herrick Juarez:

This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. You’re listening to Library Leadership Podcast, where we talk about libraries, and leadership, and speak with guests who share their ideas, innovations, and strategic insights in the profession.

Have you ever wondered how to help customers navigate information in an age of so many people making so many claims? On today’s show, Heath Stanfield, Manager of the McAlester Public Library in Oklahoma, takes us back to the basics to examine classical models of logical fallacies that can help us help our customers find high-quality information.  Enjoy the show!

Heath, welcome to the show.

Heath Stanfield:

Thank you for having me, I’m really excited.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #1: I’m excited to have you here. Today we are talking about logic—back to the basics. I’m interested in this because it takes classical models of logic fallacies and applies them in new ways to help library customers. As we start, what are logical fallacies, and where do these concepts originate?  01:27 

Heath Stanfield:  

Logical fallacies are an error in reasoning. These can be intentional or unintentional, but they really matter to the message that we’re trying to get to. They really go back all the way to our ancient philosophers, particularly Aristotle who was the first to formalize a list of these fallacies. They are errors in reasoning that we want to watch out for. 

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #2: We are all looking for ways to help customers and provide good resources in a complex information environment. How does knowing about logical fallacies do this for us as librarians?  02:12 

Heath Stanfield: 

I guess because they’re everywhere. You would think just because Aristotle came up with this list of fallacies thousands of years ago that we’d be well beyond it, but we’re really not. Every day you can look at the news headlines and it’s just one logical fallacy after another, it seems, sometimes. 

Librarians play a critical role in filtering out high-quality, and low-quality information. The people in our communities trust us to be a reliable source of information. Whether somebody is wanting books on any given topic, it is up to librarians to be able to help our customers find that information. Sometimes we are asked to speak on behalf of our organizations. We really want to make sure the statements we make when we speak, or in writing are free of these fallacies, because we want to cast our organizations and libraries in a positive light.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #3: Definitely. So, let’s jump in. Can you share some of the most common logical fallacies?  03:19 

Heath Stanfield: 

Absolutely, there are a lot of logical fallacies, but we’re just going to talk about a few of the most common ones, and ones that you will be able to easily recognize. Some of them have really funny names, and that does go back to the original Latin, or Greek. But, we’ll talk about the names and what you might recognize them as.

There’s ad hominem. That’s when you make fun of the person, or you belittle the person instead of the actual message that they’re bringing. I call that one killing the messenger. We don’t want to kill the messenger, we want to focus on the message itself.

Then there’s the straw man fallacy. That’s when someone makes a claim on behalf of someone else, and typically they make a weak claim so they can destroy that straw man argument. We don’t want to do that. We want to quote people accurately and not take them out of context.

There’s also the false dilemma, also called false dichotomy. That’s when someone presents you with a this, or that. It’s not always that way. Sometimes things are much more complicated. 

There’s red herring. A red herring is when someone tries to distract from the actual question, or the actual topic, by going off on trails. That one actually has a pretty cool history of how it ended up with that name. 

Maybe a lot of us are familiar with the fallacy bandwagon, or appeal to popularity. In Latin it’s ad populum, but it’s basically the concept that something isn’t right just because a bunch of people say so.

There’s two that seem really similar. They’re different. There’s appeal to authority, and appeal to false authority. Nine out of ten doctors recommend this kind of cigarette. Well, that’s an appeal to an authority. It doesn’t make them right just because they’re a doctor.

There’s correlation versus causation. The fancy way you say it in Latin is post hoc ergo proctor hoc. That’s a fancy way of saying just because this happened before this, doesn’t mean this caused that. That’s a fallacy in thinking. 

There’s also card stacking. That’s a fallacy of mission, or cherry-picking. That’s when folks give you—they pick a piece of data that makes their point without showing you the holistic view of information.

Then my favorite one that I want to talk about today is a tu quoque. It’s fun to say but what it means is you also.  A lot of times it’s called the fallacy of hypocrisy. That one’s really interesting in that it doesn’t work like a lot of folks think. It actually means that just because someone’s a hypocrite doesn’t mean that their message is wrong. Kind of like, do as I say, not as I do. 

There’s a lot of other logical fallacies out there but I wanted to tell you about some of the most common ones because you really will hear these pretty frequently and you’ll see them in print a lot too.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #4:  There are lot of important concepts here. And as librarians we want to be understood clearly, and understand our customers clearly. Can you go a little deeper into a couple of these concepts, and give us some examples of how this can help us in patron interactions?  06:15  

Heath Stanfield: 

Absolutely, I would really like to. I know we went through them kind of quickly, but we really just don’t have a lot of time to do a deep dive. I want to talk to you about just a few of them. So ad hominem, that’s the one where you belittle the person giving the message. A lot of times this can be prejudices, bigotry, or just belittling the person that’s giving the message. We really want to avoid that. We want to focus on the things that are being said, or the things that are being written, and focus on the actual claims that are being made, and not the person that’s making them.

With straw man—we want to be honest. We want to quote people accurately in the context of the situation, or the full context of what they’re actually trying to say, and not cherry-pick a tiny piece of something they said. These are really important.

Another important thing about these logical fallacies that I wanted to tell everyone about is that someone can use a logical fallacy and still be correct. But, they’re not correct because of the error in reasoning that they used. So, we want to cast ourselves in a positive light. We want to cast our organization in a positive light. To a trained ear, these logical fallacies actually undermine the things that we’re trying to say. So, when we’re trying to help customers find good information, or we’re speaking on behalf of our library we want to try to omit these from our speech and writing whenever possible.

Like red herring—I want to tell you about the history of the red herring just a little bit. How did they come up with these crazy names? A red herring is when they would go on fox hunts. Someone would actually take a fish and use it to try to divert the dogs off of the scent of the fox. So they could win the fox hunting contest. So, it’s actually a distraction. Anytime anybody says, Oh, what about this? Usually that’s a red-herring. They’re trying to distract you from the topic at hand. You can always go back to that original question and say, Are we addressing that original question? That can be a really helpful tool.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #5:  Is there anything else you’d like to share?  08:44 

Heath Stanfield: 

I guess one of the biggest things about logical fallacies is coming at any question, or situation, with honest intent. I joke, but it’s true. I want to teach people about these errors in reasoning, but I don’t want them to weaponize them, as it were. 

Use the knowledge of logical fallacies for good and not evil. We want to help our customers, and we want to speak accurately to any given subject. That can mean just being able to recognize these. What we’re after is trying to help our customers find more accurate information and trying to filter out that low-quality information.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #6: Do you have any favorite management, or leadership books, or resources, and why?  09:27 

Heath Stanfield: 

I’m currently reading Radical Candor, by Kim Scott. It’s really good, and it touches on the topic we’re dealing with—being able to confront these difficult situations. A lot of times our customers come to us with difficult questions. They’re looking for resources. We need to be able to address that. 

Another one I really recommend is Thank you for Arguing. That’s by Jay Heindrichs. What I like about that is that it really dances around the topic of argument and debate. I’ve spent a lot of time debating in my life and in my school career, but it doesn’t have to have a negative connotation. Debate doesn’t have to have a negative connotation. Argument doesn’t have to have a negative connotation. We can disagree with each other without being disagreeable. 

As librarians our role is to be an enthusiast for our customers. A lot of times that means we have to take our own personal feelings and put them to the side so that we can help the customer that’s in front of us. 

Another cool book that I’m reading, and I recommend for this topic—is Mastering Logical Fallacies. That’s by Michael Withey. There’s a fun one that’s filled with lots of pictures that can help with this topic—An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments, and The Art of Thinking Clearly. These are both really good ones that can be helpful with the topic of logical fallacies and making sure that we’re freeing our claims from these errors in logic.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #7: Thank you, those sound helpful. Heath, in closing, what do libraries mean to you, personally?  10:55 

Heath Stanfield:  

Well, I work at the Southeastern Oklahoma Library System. I actually have the pleasure of working at my childhood library, which is a really cool opportunity for me. The people in this organization really care about our communities. I personally view libraries as fundamental to a healthy democracy. Democracy depends on an educated populace. For that to thrive we need access to information. We need opportunities for education, and learning about these logical fallacies is a tool that librarians can put in their toolbox to further help our customers, and support our communities.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #8:  Thank you so much for being here with me on the show. Librarians are trusted professionals helping our communities navigate the world of information. If we know about these concepts that go way back to Aristotle, we can use them today to help our customers find and evaluate information to be clearly informed. So, I appreciate you being with me here today.   11:40 

Heath Stanfield: 

Thanks. You know we barely touched the surface. I really recommend anybody having an interest in logical fallacies, or these errors in reasoning to dig a little deeper because there’s really a lot of information out there. We think, Oh, Aristotle, that was a long time ago, but we’re honestly dealing with the same problems and the same questions today.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #9: Absolutely. This has been so valuable. Thank you for being here.  12:22 

Heath Stanfield: 

Thanks for having me.

You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. For more episodes tune in to LibraryLeadershipPodcast.com where you can now subscribe to get episodes delivered right into your email inbox. Our producer is Nathan Sinclair Vineyard. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.

We would like to thank the Park City Library for their dedicated support of this show. The opinions expressed on this show are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the views of Library Leadership Podcast, or our sponsors.


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1 Comment

  1. Heath

    Thanks for the opportunity. It was a lot of fun to work with Adriane and I hope other librarians find it helpful.

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