The false analogy fallacy is the use of analogies to support a conclusion in a logical argument.
Analogies are the comparisons of two things, events, or ideas. The aim of an analogy is to compare two things to show the similarity of one thing to another. For example, you could say “the moon is like a lightbulb in the sky.”
False analogy is a logical fallacy because it uses analogies to argue for a conclusion instead of providing reasons or evidence.
This is a problem because analogies are very good at providing examples and explaining things, but they are never conclusive or fully representative of a situation. Comparisons will always be imprecise and this is what makes them never conclusive from the standpoint of a logical argument.
Simple False Analogies
- There’s no difference between soccer and tennis. They are both played on a rectangle with balls.
- Plants are green and that’s why they can photosynthesize. If you paint yourself green you will get more energy from the sun.
- Radio waves are invisible but they exist. In the same way, magic is invisible but it still exists.
- Every year more people die in car crashes than in plane crashes. You will be much safer if a plane crashes.
- Computer games have creators who made the virtual game worlds. In the same way, the real world was made by God. This is proof of God.
- People are like lobsters because we mate for life. This also explains why we love swimming in water.
- You can’t give me marriage advice because you had a marriage break down, too! (the problems in the two relationships are not analogous)
- Being a teacher is just like being a doctor. Teachers diagnose problems with children and fix them. (These two professions are obviously very different!)
Detailed False Analogy Fallacy Examples
1. Pass the spork, please.
Scenario: Todd asks Anne to pass him a spoon. Anne instead passes Todd a fork. When Todd complains Anne says: ‘What’s the problem? A fork is basically just a spoon with extra pointy bits’.
In this scenario, Anne draws an analogy between a fork and a spoon in order to justify the fact that she passed Todd a fork instead of a spoon. The comparison being made here is a fork is similar to a spoon, for example, they are both cutlery and of similar shape.
However, in the context of Todd needing a spoon, this is a false analogy. It is true that there are similarities between spoons and forks but there are also significant differences. In this case, the difference is more important than the similarity and thus it is a false analogy.
2. First contact.
Scenario: If we ever find aliens out there they will need oxygen in some form on their planet. We know this because all animals on this planet require oxygen.
The false analogy being made in this scenario is between the properties of life on our planet and the properties of life on other planets. It is true that the vast majority of animal life on our planet requires oxygen. The similarity that is invoked here is that because life will occur on a planet, that planet will have the same properties as Earth.
This is a false analogy because these similarities do not cover all the possibilities of alien life. For example, there are millions of different chemical properties on other planets that do not occur on ours. It is possible that aliens will be different because of these different properties.
3. Think it through.
Scenario: An octopus is incredibly good at problem-solving. What’s interesting is that they don’t have a centralized brain like humans do. If octopuses can solve complex problems without a centralized brain, maybe human brains are not doing all the work we think they are when we problem-solve.
The similarity in this scenario is that both humans and octopuses have complex problem-solving capabilities and therefore the way their brains are structured must also be similar.
This is a false analogy as it is not giving us a reason for why humans should function like octopuses, but rather it is pointing out a similarity in problem-solving capabilities.
4. Be careful what you wish for.
Scenario: Trees need carbon dioxide to survive. We need trees to produce oxygen for us. Therefore we need carbon dioxide. If global warming is caused by an increase in carbon dioxide then that is a good thing because trees will produce more oxygen for us.
The benefit of carbon dioxide to trees is used to claim that in similar situations carbon dioxide is always a good thing. However, just because carbon is good in one situation does not mean it is good in every situation.
The analogy does not give any reason why an increase in carbon dioxide is good for the planet as a whole. It merely gives a reason for why some carbon dioxide is good for trees and draws a comparison between that and global warming which is false.
5. Flying high.
Scenario: Every year more people die in car crashes than in plane crashes. You will be much safer if a plane crashes.
It is true that more people die in car crashes than in plane crashes. However, the analogy between the two types of crashes does not give us a justification for the conclusion.
Just because more people die overall in car crashes does not mean that in the individual instance of a plane crash you will be safer.
6. Bad advice.
Scenario: The old saying that ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger is so true’. Therefore, taking non-lethal doses of poison will be good for your health.
The analogy in this scenario is between an old conventional saying and taking small amounts of poison. The conclusion is that taking small amounts of poison is good for you.
This is a false analogy because the old saying is a metaphor about overcoming and learning from challenges in life. It does not refer to the consequences of damaging your body physically.
7. Lucky lightning.
Scenario: You have as much chance of getting struck by lightning as you do winning the lottery. Therefore, if you ever get struck by lightning you should buy a lottery ticket because you will probably win.
While there is some general truth that both winning the lottery and getting struck by lightning are extremely unlikely. It does not mean that if one happens so will the other. Therefore, this is an argument by false analogy.
8. Slow down!
Scenario: James has just started running for exercise. His friend tells him that addiction causes death and suffering every year, so he should be careful that he doesn’t develop a running addiction.
The analogy drawn here is between a running addiction and other harmful addictions such as drugs and alcohol. The conclusion is that if alcohol addiction causes suffering then so will a running addiction.
This is a false analogy because while both can be an addiction, not all addictions are the same, either in causes or effects.
9. Try it!
Scenario: If you like bungee jumping you will love sky diving, they are basically the same thing!
Both bungee jumping and sky diving are extreme sports that involve a sense of free fall before being safely caught by a rope or parachute. However, the conclusion that a person will love one because they love the other is an argument by false analogy.
Despite the strong similarities, a logical argument requires good reasons, evidence, or facts. No specific reasons were given in this scenario other than a general appeal to similarity in the form of ‘they are basically the same thing’.
10. More than meets the eye.
Scenario: We can’t see radiation and yet we know it exists. Similarly, we can’t see magic but just like radiation, this does not mean it is not real.
Magic, as it is described in stories and movies is that it happens via some sort of invisible force. An analogy is drawn from this property of invisibility to the fact that we cannot see radiation with the naked eye.
The conclusion from this is that if we cannot see radiation and yet believe in it we should also believe in magic as it is also invisible.
This is a false analogy because the other important aspects of the scenario were not taken into account, such as we have no proof that magic exists. On the other hand, we have lots of proof that radiation exists.
11. Friend wanted.
Scenario: Jane really wants a best friend but she is home schooled and finds it hard to make friends. Her father says she should just get a dog because they are a human’s best friend.
The conclusion of this scenario is that a dog will give Jane the same companionship as a human best friend would. The reason given for this is an analogy between the friendship of a dog and the friendship of a human best friend. While both are considered valuable the differences are substantial and in this case, Jane is looking for a human best friend.
12. That’s mine!
Scenario: If someone takes something from you that you own then that’s stealing. You work hard for your paycheck, how come the government can just take it from you? That sounds like stealing to me.
An analogy between theft and taxation is made here to make the argument that taxation is stealing. The part where tax is paid to the government is compared to the act of stealing.
However, this is a false analogy because it does not take into account other relevant parts of taxation that make it unlike theft. For example, the use of taxes to improve public infrastructure.
13. Just add water.
Scenario: Plants are green and that’s why they can photosynthesize. If you paint yourself green you will get more energy from the sun.
In this scenario, the idea that plants are green and therefore photosynthesize is compared to being painted green. The key similarity which this focuses on is that if you paint yourself green you will be green like a plant and therefore able to photosynthesize.
This is a false analogy because just being green does not allow something to photosynthesize. Photosynthesis is a very complex process and the argument in this scenario does not take that into account.
14. Read the fine print.
Scenario: Reading makes you smarter, that’s why it’s always a good idea to read the labels on products you buy.
Reading makes a person smart when the reading material is educational or informative. An analogy is made between reading in this way and reading the details of a consumer product.
In both situations, a person is reading. However, the educational properties of one type of reading are assumed to be a part of reading consumer product labels because of this similarity. This is a false analogy as one similarity does not mean that they are similar in other relevant respects.
15. Play by the rules.
Scenario: There’s no difference between soccer and tennis. They are both played on a rectangle with balls.
The similarities in the shape of the court or pitch and ball used are compared in this scenario. The conclusion from the comparison is that there is no difference between the two games.
This is a false analogy because the conclusion drawn from the comparison is wrong. There are some similarities between the two sports but there are also significant differences.
Other Types of Fallacies
- False Dilemma Fallacy
- Appeal to Emotion
- ad hominem Fallacy
- Begging the Question Fallacy
- Appeal to Tradition Fallacy
As humans we naturally compare things for their differences and similarities, it is one of the ways we learn. As it comes naturally to us it is easy for us to take this sort of comparison as a valid form of logical argument.
However, pointing out some similarities is not a proper form of logical argument. Similarities do not constitute the necessary facts or reasons it takes to support a conclusion. The above examples show us how using an analogy to come to a conclusion often leaves out important details which really impact a conclusion.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]