Last week, professional cyclist and hall-of-fame liar Lance Armstrong surprised no one when he admitted to longstanding doping allegations during an interview with a sleeping Oprah Winfrey. What’s to be gained from all this? Well, aside from a healthy dose of schadenfreude, the whole ordeal highlights some commonly-found LSAT flaws. You may have seen the following arguments bandied about in the last few days…
Lance Armstrong wasn’t very forthcoming; he therefore must have even more to hide.
Alright, let’s be honest – that was one of the most softball interviews in recent memory, and Lance didn’t give out much more than broad, sweeping confessions. Does that make it seem like there’s even more lurid details that he’s trying to gloss over? Sure. But it doesn’t have to be the case. Just because he didn’t give out much information, that doesn’t mean there’s definitely more to come.
Lance Armstrong looked shifty and untrustworthy; he therefore must not actually be sincere in his regrets, and he may be lying about certain aspects, too.
To many viewers, Armstrong seemed to just be putting on an act, his body language seemingly betraying that this was all just a calculated attempt to mitigate damage to his image. His legs were crossed nearly the whole time. His answers seemed rehearsed, and his regret feigned. But we’d be committing a type of ad hominem fallacy to assume that this means he actually isn’t being sincere, or is being untruthful. Perhaps he was just nervous, or not used to this level of criticism, and is actually truly regretful. Perhaps he just doesn’t know how to act like a normal human being. His regret could in fact be sincere. This is far from certain, but it’s at least in the realm of possibility.
If Armstrong actually wants to correct his mistakes, he’ll testify under oath about the full extent of his doping.
That’s almost verbatim what the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has claimed, in the hopes that Armstrong will come forward with more damning details. This might seem reasonable at first – if he truly wanted to right his wrongs, wouldn’t he do this? Well, we can’t say that for certain. It’s possible that he does truly wish to atone for his wrongdoing, but doesn’t believe that testifying under oath is the way to do so. Maybe he thinks it would bring too much negative attention to cycling, or maybe he doesn’t think the USADA is the appropriate authority. Just because he doesn’t want to correct his mistakes in one way doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to correct them at all. That’s an exclusivity fallacy.
So remember, even if certain things seem both likely and obvious (such as Armstrong being a thoughtless liar who’s truly sorry only about being caught), remember that if they’re not fully backed up, you might be looking at a logical fallacy.