Tuesday, August 20, 2013

JAQing Off

Today I would like to talk about a special version of the Loaded Question fallacy, one which some commentators have taken to calling JAQing Off. This fallacy was coined by a message board commentator at the JREF forums and is defined as:
1. the act of spouting accusations while cowardly hiding behind the claim of "just asking questions." 2. asking questions and ignoring the answers.
This is a favorite tactic of many political commentators, with Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh being two of the most notorious practitioners. The idea is that one asks a bunch of leading questions, perhaps with a suspicious or conspiratorial tone, all intended to imply that there is something seriously wrong. There is never any positive argument given, just innuendo. Then, when the person is challenged on his assertions, he is able to fall back on the statement, "I'm just asking questions." As is often the case, the fine folks at South Park give us the clearest articulation of this issue:

Now let me be clear, asking questions is one of the best ways to increase one's knowledge and understanding of the world and there is nothing wrong with asking lots of questions (even very nitpicky ones). My classes are most interesting when the students ask lots of questions and challenge the claims I make. The problem with JAQing off is that one isn't asking questions in order to learn more about a topic. Instead, one is asking lots of questions in order to imply that there is something wrong or to make a nasty claim about a person. The key difference is that when one is JAQing off, one doesn't really care about the answer to the questions asked. The person JAQing off is not trying to learn anything about the world, and will likely ignore the answers given. Again, this is because JAQing off isn't about inquiry, it is about satisfying one's own desires to smear and attack others without being held accountable for one's actions.

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