Sunday, August 07, 2011

Flubber arguments are almost as bad as slippery-slope arguments

I've spent the last week-plus swimming in Sierra mountain lakes instead of watching the Republican Party leadership play chicken with the economy. In the run-up to it all, though, I heard a rehashed version of a bad debating point that I'm calling the Flubber Argument.

Flubber was the fictional material in the film The Absent Minded Professor that bounces back with more energy and a higher bounce than is in the kinetic energy used by Flubber to hit a surface. I've criticized the slippery slope argument in other venues as an excuse to support a position that has little direct support, so some indirect consequence are therefore invented. The Flubber Argument is similar.

In a To the Point podcast last month (sorry I can't remember which), a pollster described a Tea Party argument that debt default was an acceptable price to pay in order to learn to live within our means, and that the ultimate effect would be positive. The Flubber Argument, in other words. In my day job, I've also heard the Reverse Flubber Argument - if we succeed in doing something good to protect the environment, that will just incentivize open space developers to get organized and make things worse than they would have been.

Like other bad arguments, it's not completely wrong. Sometimes the blowback is stronger than the initial effect. What I usually fail to hear, however, is an analysis proving why that's going to be the case.