Monday, March 19, 2012

false implication

What do each of the following products have in common?

    Berry Berry Kix
    Country Time® Lemonade Flavor Drink
    Cap'n Crunch with Crunch Berries
    Dannon Danimals XL (Strawberry Explosion)
    Froot Loops
    Fruity Cheerios
    Juicy Fruit Gum
    Life Savers (Wild Cherry)
    Nestle Nesquik milk and drink mix (strawberry)
    Post Fruity Pebbles
    Push Pop (cherry)
    Ring Pop (cherry)
    Trix cereal
    Trix yogurt (strawberry kiwi)
    Yoplait Go-Gurt yogurt (Strawberry Splash)
      They contain no fruit. But the labels and ads used to attract consumers to these products falsely imply that fruit is one of their ingredients.

      What does "no cholesterol" mean when printed on a bag of carrots or on a soft-drink can? (You might get some cholesterol with your carrot if it's fried in animal fat and your soda might contain cholesterol if it's made with pork rinds.) "No cholesterol" printed on a bag of potato chips may falsely imply that the fat used to fry the potatoes won't be turned into cholesterol when you eat the chips. For some people, I suppose, the words might even falsely imply that potato chips are a healthy food.

      A package of Healthy Choice lunch meat says that it is 97% fat-free, which is true if measured by weight, but 25% of its calories come from fat. That right, a product that implies it is very low in fat actually provides a healthy amount of fat with each serving. The dairy industry also cleverly expresses fat content as a percentage of weight rather than percentage of calories. Otherwise, it would tell you that the milk it now calls 2% is actually 31%.

      Advertisers and those who market commercial products aren't the only ones who try to use false implications to their advantage. When Sandra Fluke, a third-year law student at Georgetown University, spoke out in favor of the Obama administration's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, especially the requirement that insurers cover preventive care services, including contraception, she was attacked by popular conservative radio entertainer Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh said: "If we’re going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch."

      Besides expressing himself in his familiar vulgar way, Limbaugh falsely implied that Fluke wanted the taxpayer to pay for her birth control. This implication was false on two counts. The issue had nothing to do with taxpayers covering the cost of anything. It was about what insurers would be required to cover by the government. And, more important, Fluke spoke in support of contraception as basic health care for several reasons and not one of those reasons involved her desire to have sex and not get pregnant. She said:

      Last month, students from several Catholic universities gathered to send a message to the nation that contraception is basic health care. I was among them, and I was proud to share the stories of my friends at Georgetown Law who have suffered dire medical consequences because our student insurance does not cover contraception for the purpose of preventing pregnancy.

      I joined these students in speaking at a media event because I believe that stories of how real women are affected are the most powerful argument for access to affordable, quality reproductive health care services....

      They are women with polycystic ovarian syndrome, who need contraception to prevent cysts from growing on their ovaries, which if unaddressed can lead to infertility and deadly ovarian cancer. They are sexual assault victims, who need contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

      They are Catholic women, who see no conflict between their social justice -based faith and family planning. They are new moms whose doctors fear that another pregnancy too soon could jeopardize the mother's health and the potential child's health too. They are mothers and grandmothers who remember all too well what it was like to be called names decades ago, when they were fighting for a job, for health care benefits, for equality.

      They are husbands, partners, boyfriends and male friends who know that without access to contraception, the women they care about can face unfair obstacles to participating in public life. And yes, they are young women of all income levels, races, classes and ethnicities who need access to contraception to control their reproduction, pursue their education and career goals and prevent unintended pregnancy. And they will not be silenced.
      Another person who won't be silenced is Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum. On the ABC program "This Week," Santorum said “62 percent of kids who enter college with some sort of faith commitment leave without it.” He admitted that he might not have the exact statistic. “I suspect it may even be worse,” he said. One implication of his claim seems to be that had these kids not gone to college, they'd still be religious, which is false. PBS earlier this month tracked down the study Santorum refers to, but it actually suggests that people who have not enrolled in college are even less religious than those who do. “64 percent of those currently enrolled in a traditional four-year institution have curbed their attendance habits,” said the study, published in the journal Social Forces. “Yet, 76 percent of those who never enrolled in college report a decline in religious service attendance.”
      Another study, published last year in the Review of Religious Research, found that for each year of education after 7th grade, seemingly contradictory trends emerge: people become more likely to attend religious services and to believe in a “higher power” but at the same time they are less likely to say the Bible is the “actual word of [a] god” and become more open to believing there is truth in more than one religion.

      Anti-vaxxers and abortion

      One argument presented by some anti-vaxxers is that vaccines contain cells from aborted fetuses. A charitable interpretation of this claim is that it is a false implication based on the fact that:
      The rubella vaccine virus that is included in the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) shot is cultured using human cell lines. Some of these cell lines were started from fetal tissue that was obtained in the 1960s from legal abortions.*
      However, the anti-vaxxers, such as Joe Mercola, fail to mention that no new fetal issue is required to generate rubella vaccine.

      Libel by omission

      The law recognizes that reporters, politicians, and anyone with an axe to grind can libel another person by omitting facts that would negate or mitigate otherwise defamatory statements. For example, a television reporter who lets her audience know that there have been some serious allegations of abuse and neglect at a daycare center and that a mother has taken her children out of the center because her son was abused and the daycare center has abused her trust would be guilty of libel by omission if she also failed to report that the alleged abuse involved one four-year-old boy touching another four-year-old-boy inappropriately. Commenting on just such a case, an appeals court judge wrote:
      A reasonable jury could find that this statement was defamatory, inasmuch as there is material difference between a daycare worker actually abusing a child in his or her care, and a daycare worker negligently supervising a child such that he or she is ultimately responsible for one child’s assault of another child.

      Libel by false implication could be a confusing and troublesome area for reporters, who might believe that they've done their job well if they report only the truth or the facts as they know them. But it is obviously true that a reporter can get all the facts right but imply something that is totally false by not reporting all the facts. It might be true that Dr. Stanley stuck a knife into Richardson's belly and that Richardson died soon thereafter, but you might be led to falsely conclude that Stanley murdered Richardson if I didn't also tell you that Richardson had been brought to the emergency room and had suffered multiple gunshot wounds when Dr. Richardson tried to save his life by cutting into his abdomen. Or, to use a real-life case, it might be true that a mentally disabled man, his friends, family, and defense attorney depict him as persecuted by a store owner, but if this is a false impression that leads people to boycott the store, the reporter who presented just one side of the story in a distorted way might find himself and his television station in court for defamation.

      Some questions to ponder

      I'll leave you with a few questions to think about. Does "based on a true story" falsely imply that the story told is true? When television news programs show dramatizations that are not labeled as such do they falsely imply their cameras are telling the truth about what happened? Do reporters falsely imply there is a controversy over an issue when they introduce an outlier for pseudosymmetry? Does a peer-reviewed scientific journal falsely imply that the articles it publishes were conducted as the authors say they were conducted? Does a PBS reporter falsely imply that the information he presents is factual? Is it possible to report on any complex social or political issue, or on any signficant person or event, without omitting something that will leave a false impression with many readers, viewers, or listeners?


      1. Oklahoma state senator Ralph Shortey introduced a bill banning the use of human fetuses in food, falsely implying that human fetuses are being used in food products. The real intent of the bill is part of an anti-abortion campaign. The LA Times has the story:

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