The reverse fallacy of impartiality

The use of impartiality when one attempts to argue his position is nothing more than an implied ad-hominem.

Today I went through this article which basically attempts to prove that the sole reason for the degradation/change of PC gaming is Piracy and it made some quite compelling arguments for his case, based on the heavy use of facts and the neutrality of the autor. The article was well written and made some strong points against piracy and I found it via a link on Reddit by someone off-handedly pointing to it as the explanation of the Death of PC Gaming, (which, much like Linux conquering the desktop, is perpetually just around the corner it seems) showing how effectual this article can be as an argumentation hammer.

As a supporter of file-sharing the article hit a nerve. While it was sufficiently well written, I did find quite a lot of objectionable claims inside which should be challenged in order to show the cracks of the general argument against file-sharing. To this end I’ve decided to start a small series to analyze the bad aspects of piracy, whether it is indeed destroying the PC game industry and hopefully provide a stronghold in case this 30.000 words monstrosity is thrown at you as a counter-piracy nuke.

And I’m going to start from one of the first things the author attempts to prove. His impartiality.

This is something that I very commonly see used as a way to grant more credence to what one writes but then abused in order to hide the very real biases which lead to uncharitable interpretations and simply negative light on the way one presents the facts. In this case, the author begins by pointing out how disconnected he is from the game industry or from the file-sharing networks.

Before going further, I must explain some relevant facts about myself. At 37 years of age, I’ve been gaming for over 20 years now on a variety of platforms including the Atari 2600, Amiga 500, Nintendo 64, and of course, the PC. I currently game exclusively on the PC and do not own any consoles. I’ve written over 40 different detailed tweak guides covering a wide range of PC games and various versions of Windows over the past seven years. I am not sponsored by any hardware or software manufacturer of any kind. I am not involved with The Scene, nor do I receive any income from any piracy-related websites. I was not paid or sponsored in any way to write this article. In short, I have little incentive to write a biased article. I feel I’m as qualified as anyone could be to give a balanced view on this topic, free from any commercial interests in either side of the piracy debate.

And all of this is irrelevant. It is a distraction which attempts to give more weight to what he’s going to say later on and diminish the opinions of those who do not meet his standards of “impartiality”. It seems like what I’ll call a “Reverse fallacy”. The explicit notice he’s giving to his impartiality serves no other purpose other than to imply that what those who are related to the gaming industry or the file-sharing networks say is somehow less valid. That would normally be called out as a pure Ad hominem, as the connections one has do not in the least diminish the arguments they make. In fact that actual case may be that the connections one has, are because of the opinions they have on the matter as you wouldn’t really expect a strict anti-piracy pundit to be connecting with The Scene, nor is it likely that a file sharer would be leading an anti-piracy initiative (although of course, there are humorous exceptions)

However the author of the article, by simply pointing out his own impartiality deftly avoids any accusations of ad hominems while still implying just the same kind of fallacious reasoning to dismiss the antilogue. And the unfortunate fact of the matter is that this tactic works very well. In fact, it’s the favorite trick by which lawyers stack the deck against file-sharers which have geen sued by the Content mafia. When such people request a trial by jury, the lawyers methodically filter out any jurors who have any knowledge at all of file-sharing programs and culture, which naturally leaves only the most computer illiterate or those who have consciously avoided file-sharing in the first place. The audience is conveniently stacked towards those who are less likely to understand the complexities of file-sharing (eg. that a link to a link is not the same as distributing copied CDs) or already sufficiently swayed to one side of the argument.

You see, on some matters there is just no perfectly middle ground. While there is of course variation in the intensity one supports one camp or the other, they still support one side. The debates on Piracy are like that. You either support it, or you oppose it. You either consider it wrong, or you don’t. Even the ones who could validly say that they belong in either camp because they actually don’t know enough about it to express an opinion in the first place, end up practically¬† supporting the side which is in power. In our case, someone who does not know what piracy even is, is simply going to go with whatever the law says, i.e. whatever the corporate lobbyists say.

But the point is that whichever side of the argument one belongs to is irrelevant. My arguments are not going to diminish when I announce what I think from the start. On the contrary, their purpose is to provide the basis for my ideas.

In the case of the article at hand, the author can’t avoid but show his very strong pro-copyright, anti-piracy bias almost from the very start. In fact, as long as I saw the copyright notice on the footer of his site, I immediately knew where his support was going to lie (I mean, a vanilla copyright notice on a website? Seriously?). And his bias was showing quite a lot, no matter his announced impartiality. The way he pointed to torrent sites was in an amazingly negative light designed to create the emotional reaction one has to leeches. His dismissal of the possible motives of file-sharers and his boiling it down to “flexible morals” was halfway insulting. While it was true that he did avoid some of the classic emotional fallacies copyright-purists like to make (eg “Piracy is theft”), he couldn’t avoid marginalizing ((example: When discussing The Pirate bay, he put huge weight in the sources estimating the profits of TPB while providing one sentence showing the TPB’s side. Then he used on whole parahraph to doubt it and triumphantly posted addendums which he thinks support his cause, such as the loss of the first TPB trial and the selling cost of it to the Game Factory. No mention of the scandal of the biased judges or the general fact that any site in the top100 internet sites would sell for similar amounts.)) if not ignoring all the positive elements of piracy and grossly highlighting all the negative ((Take for example how he pointed out how he mentioned the large piracy rate of World of Goo while not mentioning at all the huge increase in sales during their “pay what you like experiment, or when dishing GNU/Linux users how he failed to mention that they were the highest paying during the World of Goo experiment. Hell, just the TPB logo with the dollar sign is a huge subconscious signal.)).

This is not impartiality. This is a classic example of having one opinion and then being selective with the facts so that your opinion has more basis. I have an opinion too, and a biased one at that. I’m pro file-sharing in the sense that I do not consider it does any harm and that in fact it helps. The difference is that I do not hide behind neutrality as this only annoys. Rather I declare it proudly and then I explain why reality is such that my opinion is warranted. I see how things work and then form an opinion about the ethical rules we should have to optimize the good aspects. The author on the other hand seems to have an opinion already ((It seems to be: “PC gaming was better in the last few decades and should remain as it was”)) and this drives a selective bias in his interpretation of the facts and reality.

By pointing out his reverse ad hominem and his lack of impartiality, we thus begin on our journey to deconstruct the lengthy anti-piracy article, or any article for that matter, while keeping in mind that a lot of information has been negatively represented or simply omitted.