Stay up to date on everything mediation!

Subscribe to our free newsletter,
"This Week in Mediation"

Sign Up Now

Already subscribed No subscription today
<xTITLE>Fallacious Argument Of The Month</xTITLE>

Fallacious Argument Of The Month

by Diane J. Levin
December 2009

From Mediation Channel

Diane J. Levin
Welcome to December’s installment of my ongoing series, Fallacious Argument of the Month.

Driving in my car on my way to a meeting on Friday, I happened to catch a popular NPR news analysis program, On Point. Host Tom Ashbrook was talking with political commentator and Yale University computer science professor David Gelernter on his newly published book, Judaism: A Way of Being.

Gelernter, a proponent of Zionism, provoked strong responses from some callers who disputed his conclusions and offered spirited counterarguments. Toward the end of the program, one Jewish caller criticized Israel for its treatment of Palestinians, pointing to her experiences traveling in Israel and the gulf she perceived there between biblical values and practice. Instead of responding to the issues she raised, Gelernter dismissed her with the epithet invoked all too often in debates over Israel. He condemned her as a self-loathing Jew, sneering that “the most vicious haters of the Jewish community are Jews themselves”.

In this on-air interview Gelernter committed perhaps one of the most common of fallacies: the argumentum ad hominem, which is an attack on the speaker, rather than on the substance of the speaker’s statements, for the purpose of discrediting the speaker and undermining the speaker’s arguments. The ad hominem takes many forms; in this case Gelernter used the technique known as “poisoning the well“. To poison the well, you present negative information about your opponent to damage his credibility in the eyes of your audience. (Incidentally, earning Fallacious Argument bonus points, Gelernter also utilized the false analogy, comparing the caller’s criticisms of Israel to blood libel and Nazism.)

Highly explosive, the ad hominem inflames passions and prejudices. When it detonates, it leaves a scarred chasm that cannot be bridged, making speakers and audience members into bitter partisans, with discourse and civility collateral damage. When the shouting at last dies down, all that’s left to smolder in the rubble is ill will.


Diane Levin, J.D., is a mediator, dispute resolution trainer, negotiation coach, writer, and lawyer based in Marblehead, Massachusetts, who has instructed people from around the world in the art of talking it out. Since 1995 she has helped clients resolve disputes involving tort, employment, business, estate, family, and real property issues, and serves on numerous mediation panels, including the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Training and coaching are an enduring passion -- she has taught thousands of people to resolve conflict, negotiate better, or become mediators -- from Croatian judges to Fortune 500 executives.


A geek at heart, Levin consults on web design and social media to professionals.  She blogs about ADR at the intersection of law, science, and popular culture at the award-winning, regarded as one of the world's top ADR blogs.  She also tracks and catalogues ADR blogs world-wide at, where she has created a community for bloggers writing about constructive ways to resolve disputes.


web site:

Email Author

Additional articles by Diane J. Levin