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Welcome! This is the place to ask the community of experts and other fallacyophites (I made up that word) if someone has a committed a fallacy or not. This is a great way to settle a dispute! This is also the home of the "Mastering Logical Fallacies" student support.


Dr. Bo's Criteria for Logical Fallacies:

  1. It must be an error in reasoning not a factual error.
  2. It must be commonly applied to an argument either in the form of the argument or in the interpretation of the argument.
  3. It must be deceptive in that it often fools the average adult.

Therefore, we will define a logical fallacy as a concept within argumentation that commonly leads to an error in reasoning due to the deceptive nature of its presentation. Logical fallacies can comprise fallacious arguments that contain one or more non-factual errors in their form or deceptive arguments that often lead to fallacious reasoning in their evaluation.

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David Blomstrom
Political Activist & Student of Mind Control

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David Blomstrom

Political Activist & Student of Mind Control

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About David Blomstrom

I'm Seattle's only political activist - and, no, that isn't an arrogant statement; it's just the sad truth.
Sun, Sep 22, 2019 - 12:13 AM

10,000 People Can't Keep a Secret = Red Herring?

A corrupt organization does something really sleazy behind the scenes, something that qualifies as a conspiracy. I blow the whistle, but the media won't publish my complaints, and my colleagues just ignore me.

Ten years later, I'm discussing the affair with some people, and someone says, "There was no conspiracy, because 10,000 people can't keep a secret."

Although their statement may not be literally true, it is true in this case - I spilled the beans myself. So we have a case where 9,999 people did keep a secret, but one individual came forward and made that secret public.

So when people say X number of people can't keep a secret, they're ignoring the fact that people who DO reveal secrets are often ignored.

What kind of term would you apply to the statement "10,000 people can't keep a secret" in this situation? Would you call it a red herring, or is there some better term?



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David Blomstrom
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Print Sun, Sep 22, 2019 - 02:44 AM
Good comments. This is a confusing one. As you pointed out, large numbers of people can indeed keep secrets. The catch is that, even if someone breaks the silence, it may not matter, because they'll simply be ignored or ridiculed (or killed).

So the whole "They can't keep a secret" argument sounds like a red herring to me. But, at the same time, it sounds more complex.
Working on a series of books focusing on mind control and conspiracy at www.kpowbooks.com


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JohnWilson

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Print Sun, Sep 22, 2019 - 01:46 AM
David: I actually believe that 10,000 people can keep a secret. It would be more accurate to say they could be coerced into remaining silent. They could coerced by fear to keep silent and therefore keep a secret. The US government is the largest example of this with the people in government and government contractors who work in classified areas. Security clearance levels are used as part of a method to control access to information that should not be freely available to all personnel, and to control and prevent DISCLOSING information. Could 10,000 be convinced to remain silent? Absolutely. How? How about never being able to get a job again - after serving 10 years in Federal prison and being fined by the court too. Yes, how about having your life totally destroyed. That will keep one silent.

You are probably aware the government is using security classifications to cover up unethical actions or worse that they don't want disclosed. I am guessing you are aware of some of these happenings.
Similar in the corporate world. Severe penalties and fines.

A good recent example is Jeffrey Epstein. Recruiting and trafficking underaged women in plain sign for a 15 years or so. Many people knew. No one talked. Not even the victims. He operated with impunity by controlling his victims, and maybe by controlling (blackmail) his clients too.

Harry Weinstein. How many decades did he assault and rape women with no consequences because no one talked, because he was in a position of power.

Then there are overt conspiracies. Flat out conspiracies to commit evil acts. The Iraq War for one - narrative: "WMD". 1 million die. No WMD.

So yes 10,000 people can be coerced to remain silent. This is not the same as just deciding to "keep a secret." The detractors do not want to consider the conspiracy, so they frame their response the way you stated it: "10,000 People Can't Keep a Secret" What this is, is a form of ridicule. So it is partially the "Appeal to ridicule" It is sort of similar to "Appeal to Majority" except this is not a majority, it is a whole group of people being coerced into compliance. This absolutely does happen: Nazi Germany, North Korea, and it is always happening on smaller scales too.

So the detractors conclusion that 10,000 people cannot keep a secret, as you say, is twisting the narrative. But, 10,000 people can be coerced into compliance. The fact that 1 person does not keep the secret is insignificant because that person can ridiculed into insignificance and can just be ignored.

So I see Appeal to Ridicule in twisting the narrative to come to a desired conclusion to discount the "conspiracy"

There may be other fallacies involved. Maybe someone else will point out another fallacy.


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William Harpine, Ph.D.

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William Harpine, Ph.D.


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Print Sun, Sep 22, 2019 - 07:50 AM
Dr. Bo is correct.

I'll add a few thoughts:

1. Powerful companies and government officials often ridicule truth-tellers.

2. There is the ancient myth of Cassandra. The god Apollo cursed her so she would always tell the truth, and no one would ever believe her. Do you feel that way sometimes?

3. Right now, conservative media in the USA and the UK are doing a great job of throwing up smoke screens to divert attention from various official misdeeds. Uncovering a conspiracy so the public will believe it is very difficult. But back to Dr. Bo: if the evidence is good enough, people will tend to believe the truth eventually.


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Roger Hawcroft

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Print Sun, Sep 22, 2019 - 09:44 AM
It seems to me that this is a typical example of an illogical assertion rather than a statement of fact. I very much doubt that the person making the claim could provide evidence that 10,000 people couldn't keep a secret. The reality that, in this instance, one person has not kept that secret is not evidence for the claim unless that claim relates only to this particular set of 10,000 people. I don't know how to work out the potential number of combinations of 10,000 people within a world population of around 7.5 billion people but it must be quite a number. How one could effectively test the probability of 10,000 people not keeping a secret I can't imagine. (Perhaps someone out there is versed in probability theory and can throw light on the matter.).

Another problem I see with this statement is that if something is secret then it isn't known and if it isn't known then it can't exist and therefore there can be no such thing as a secret unless at least one person is aware of it. Once whatever composes that 'secret' is transmitted to another person then it is no longer a secret, unless there is some definition of how many people can know the same thing but beyond which that something can no longer be considered a secret.

A third problem is that if one accepts that, leaving aside how many people know a particular piece of information, a particular knowledge of whatever can be a secret if others do not know it, still doesn't support an argument that 10,000 people can't keep a secret. If secrets actually do exist then, by definition, many people will not know that those secrets exist and that being the case, how can one make the claim that n people can't keep a secret? There may well be a million and one secrets being held by 10,000 or even more people but precisely because whatever is 'secret' the rest of us don't even know that there is a secret, let alone what composes that secret.

Finally, if a secret is the shared knowledge of n people that is not to be shared with any others, how can we know that only that one group sharing that knowledge as a secret are actually the only ones that have that knowledge? Again, the very nature of holding something secret means that there could be many groups of people holding the same knowledge at the same time and regarding it as secret and not to be shared. Would that knowledge then still be 'secret'?

So, there is a paradox. We can't know how many people can possibly know and consciously not share something because they consider it a secret and neither can that group of people know whether others do know what they consider to be a secret and if others do know they won't however know that they know the 'secret' of the other group and may or may not consider what they know to be a secret, themselves. Thus, the whole notion of a 'secret' is without foundation and argument about them futile.


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Bo Bennett, PhD
Author of Logically Fallacious

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Bo Bennett, PhD

Author of Logically Fallacious

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About Bo Bennett, PhD

Bo's personal motto is "Expose an irrational belief, keep a person rational for a day. Expose irrational thinking, keep a person rational for a lifetime."  Much of his charitable work is in the area of education—not teaching people what to think, but how to think.  His projects include his book, The Concept: A Critical and Honest Look at God and Religion, and Logically Fallacious, the most comprehensive collection of logical fallacies.  Bo's personal blog is called Relationship With Reason, where he writes about several topics related to critical thinking.  His secular (humanistic) philosophy is detailed at PositiveHumanism.com.
Bo is currently the producer and host of The Humanist Hour, the official broadcast of the American Humanist Association, where he can be heard weekly discussing a variety of humanistic issued, mostly related to science, psychology, philosophy, and critical thinking.

Full bio can be found at http://www.bobennett.com
Print Sun, Sep 22, 2019 - 07:04 AM
The statement/claim "10,000 People Can't Keep a Secret" could be best described as hyperbole used to make a point; the point being the more grand the conspiracy, the less likely it is to be true.

So when people say X number of people can't keep a secret, they're ignoring the fact that people who DO reveal secrets are often ignored.

People who present good evidence are rarely ignored. Conspiracies have been and are exposed every day by whistleblowers who come forward to present evidence. It is any journalist's/media outlet's dream to expose such a conspiracy. Similarly, a scientist who presents evidence that leads to a paradigm shift would win a Nobel Prize (e.g., showing that the earth is flat, God created the universe 6000 years ago, evolution is bunk, climate change is a hoax, vaccines cause autism, etc..). The problem is, people often present "theories," personal testimonies, and really bad evidence (i.e., "Of course there are aliens in Area 51. Why else would it be so protected by the government???" or "I was anally probed by an alien so I know they are real.").

Rationality includes making probability calculations and weighing evidence. It is a fact that there is a strong correlation between the number of people who are asked/bribed/threatened to keep a secret, the more likely it is that the secret will be exposed. The testimony of the 80-year-old former NASA employee that "he saw a UFO" has to be weighed against the number of NASA employees who never made such claims. Statistically, we know a portion of the population is crazy, liars, starving for attention, etc. When we someone comes forward claiming to expose a conspiracy, and has no good evidence, the rational thing to do is to not accept their testimony as fact until evidence supports the claims being made is presented.

There is a saying "the plural of 'anecdote' is not 'evidence'," which means that a bunch of people presenting bad evidence doesn't make good evidence. However, in some cases, more corroborating testimonies does make for stronger evidence. An example might be 30 strangers in a park of 200 people reporting simultaneously to the police that some guy ran through the park naked. The idea that 30 strangers made this up out of a population of 200 is far less likely than the fact that some guy really did run naked through a park. Situations and details matter.

A good skeptic must remain skeptical without being cynical, that is, they must not be dismissive yet know how to evaluate evidence, which often requires specific knowledge as well as general knowledge of statistics, sciences, psychology, and more. However, a good skeptic can't also adequately investigate every theory they are presented--it is temporally impossible. This is why the maxim "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" works well.
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DrBill

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Print Tue, Sep 24, 2019 - 10:34 AM
The assertion that many people do not see what you saw is intended to imply that what you saw might not be true. There is no fallacy involved, unless you not only know the infraction, but know that at least some of the 10,000 also know it. If you're a forensic accountant, you may have information no one else has, but then your "whistle blowing" should include a few printouts of the data.

Your opponent in the argument is casting aspersions, perhaps, and you don't need to overcome his disparaging comments. Present the data.


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Jim Tarsi

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Print Wed, Sep 25, 2019 - 09:53 AM
I would say the statement is a non sequitur. Legally, conspiracy requires an agreement between two people to commit a crime and an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy. It's irrelevant how many people knew about the conspiracy.

The suggestion from the statement is that out of the 10,000 people, several of them knew about the conspiracy, and of those that knew, at least one came forward with evidence. Both of those premises are factually questionable.


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David Blomstrom
Sunday, September 22, 2019 - 02:36:47 PM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: Ouch! Thanks for the answer, but I do not agree with this at all:

People who present good evidence are rarely ignored. Conspiracies have been and are exposed every day by whistleblowers who come forward to present evidence. It is any journalist's/media outlet's dream to expose such a conspiracy.

I speak from vast experience. When I worked as a teacher for the Seattle School District, I exposed many scandals and conspiracies, backed by abundant evidence. I was routinely ignored. The irony is that the media were sometimes FORCED to acknowledge a conspiracy when it blew up in their face. When a teacher committed suicide, for example, or when it was discovered that a school employee who raped a student had been convicted of kidnapping and murder BEFORE his brother-in-law hired him to work for the school district.

While individuals may wish to have the honor of exposing a conspiracy, the people who own the newspapers keep a very tight lid on things. The crap we read in the newspapers here in Seattle bears little resemblance to reality.

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Bo Bennett, PhD
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Sunday, September 22, 2019 - 02:47:29 PM
I cannot speak for every situation. Clearly, some situations are different from others. Trying to expose a scandal in a school... to the school, can be difficult (clearly they would want to keep things quiet). Think about interests. This is why I mention journalist who would kill for the media frenzy a good exposed conspiracy would produce.

When I worked as a teacher for the Seattle School District, I exposed many scandals and conspiracies, backed by abundant evidence.

Assuming you were bringing this evidence to parties aligned with your goals (such as the media), consider the possibility that what you consider "abundant evidence" may not meet the standards of others. Not making an accusation, but do consider this possibility.

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David Blomstrom
Sunday, September 22, 2019 - 03:24:50 PM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: The Seattle media have never been aligned with my goals. The Seattle media are absolutely corrupt. Consider Dick Lilly, who was the Seattle Times' chief education reporter when I was a teacher. The stuff he wrote was crap. And I talked to parents who told me that when he visited their schools, they'd talk to him, voicing their complaints, and he'd just shrug his shoulders and ignore them. Or consider the Seattle P-I reporter who wrote an article about the problems she was having registering her child for school. She said "Stay tuned for Part II." When I ran for school board and was interviewed by the P-I's editorial board, I asked them what happened to Part II. They told me that reporter found a new job - working as the Seattle Schools' spokesperson! I could go on and on and on. I've studied the media - not just in Seattle but nationally - from an education perspective and, later, from a broader perspective. (My degree is actually in ecology, and I've long been an environmentalist.) It's the same story everywhere. The term "media whores" exists for a reason.

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JohnWilson
Wednesday, September 25, 2019 - 03:17:50 PM
@David Blomstrom: David: yes, I agree that there is no longer any journalistic reporting of the truth. They only report the truth when there remains no "plausible deniability" to deny the facts and the story is approved by the editor. Journalists going out and digging for the truth no matter where it points? Not anymore. That would be job suicide. They would get squashed by their manager/editor and be put on notice very fast.

There is freedom of speech as long as you don't say too much.

To anyone who wants to know if this is correct just get a hold of a copy of the book, Into the Buzzsaw, Leading Journalists Expose the Myth of a Free Press, Edited by Kristina Borjesson. 2002 Prometheus Books.

The "Buzzsaw is a powerful system of censorship in this country that is revealed to those reporting on extremely sensitive stories usually having to do with high-level government and or corporate malfeasance."

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David Blomstrom
Wednesday, September 25, 2019 - 05:18:47 PM
@JohnWilson: Thanks for the book tip; I'll check it out.

A funny(?) anecdote. There was a crooked cop here in Seattle who hung out in a strip club and became the prime suspect in the murder of two strippers. I mean the evidence was frankly overwhelming. However, the case was finally closed...until evidence from the crime scene turned up in his partner's apartment!

So the guy's on trial again. The punch line? The guy was my supervisor at work! We knew he was an ex-cop, but we didn't know about the murders. The original murders were a BIG story in the Seattle media, and the re-trial was also huge. But when I talked to one of the prosecutors, he told me in very matter of fact terms that the Seattle Times wasn't going to cover the trial. He said "The Times is no longer a newspaper." In fact, there are ZERO "newspapers" in Seattle.

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Rodney Paris
Wednesday, September 25, 2019 - 01:29:00 PM
@JohnWilson: I agree with you and will add that large numbers of people will also be able to keep secrets if they are zealous or properly compartmentalized... simply consider the Manhatten Project as the perfect case...

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Daniel C Lagerman
Monday, September 23, 2019 - 12:59:27 PM
@Roger Hawcroft: you are correct about the lack of evidence for 10000 can’t remain silent. That statement is simply not true and in any case would not prove or disprove a conspiracy.

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