Mel Siff Talks How to Distinguish Facts From Fallacies

Published: 28th June 2009
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Here is a post that EVERYONE should read by the late and great Mel Siff, as found at - which is an extract from his amazing book Facts and Fallacies of Fitness - highlights of which can be found at .

This letter continues with the topic of Critical Thinking which began a short

while ago.

Another book of mine, "Facts and Fallacies of Fitness", is devoted to the

application of critical thinking to several hundred beliefs, myths and

mistakes which all of us come across in the world of fitness, strength,

sports and health. When I started this project, I did not fully realise how

much nonsense and non-sense is polluting the training world. However, when I

started writing down what I saw happening around me in gyms, schools, health

centres, hospitals, universities and educational books, I began to appreciate

the magnitude of this problem. Eventually, I felt that any book on this

topic needed to be supplemented by a system of ongoing analysis and

education, so that is why our Supertraining group had to come into being.

One of the early chapters of "Facts and Fallacies" is meant to teach the

reader how to critically analyse any information. Here are some extracts

from this chapter:


Siff M C "Facts and Fallacies of Fitness" 2000 Ch 3

If you are new to the task of distinguishing fact from fallacy in fitness

training, health or indeed any other facets of human endeavour, the following

section is intended to provide you with some helpful investigative tools.

It identifies some of the more common techniques of persuasion which are

frequently used to sell ideas, beliefs, politics and products to you, and

thus enables you to protect yourself against accepting theories as laws, or

advertising claims as gospel.

The art of persuasion is nothing new. Its history is as old as that of

humankind, though its formalisation became far more refined among the ancient

Greeks. For instance, Aristotle identified the basic persuasive appeals as

ethos (appeal by source credibility), logos (appeal to logic and reason) and

pathos (emotional appeal), while the advent of mass media marketing made

possible by 20th Century technology developed persuasive marketing to a fine

art. The same methods used to control minds politically and ideologically

are now used wittingly or unwittingly to control trends in the lucrative

fitness and sports industries.

In many ways it is an indictment of our educational systems that so many of

the public are nudged by television 'infomercials' and magazine

advertisements into buying outrageous fitness or physique-enhancing schemes

or devices which invariably are discarded within a few months of gradually

diminishing use. Similarly, so many fitness and shape disciples seem to hang

on the words of influential fitness 'gurus' or organisations, whose

credibility depends on exploiting certain scientists, doctors and athletes

whose loyalties can be bought by grants, gifts, sponsorships, power,

endorsement contracts and prestige.

The process whereby we can be so readily manipulated mentally without

recourse to the heinous 'brain-washing' techniques of dictatorial regimes has

been studied by many social scientists and psychologists. One of them,

Abraham Maslow, identified a hierarchy of needs which underlies human

behaviour, namely: physiological, safety, social (the need to like and be

liked), ego-status, and self-actualisation (attaining one's greatest

potential) needs. It is to needs such as these that persuasive techniques

appeal. Pressures from modern advertising and one's peers often tend to make

us confuse want with need, where want is a desire for something that we do

not necessarily need to live a productive and happy life.

In contemporary Western society, appeal to ego-status generally seems to be

the dominant form of mass persuasion. Even a cursory glance at advertising

reveals that being desirable involves not only achieving material and

personal success, but also being seen while doing so.

Thus, it would seem that our society has produced a generation of mentally

fragile personalities whose wants far outweigh their needs and who appear to

have lost the ability or willingness to discriminate fact from fallacy,

quality from trash, sense from nonsense, and even good from bad. Part of

the problem lies in the fact that inadequate educational emphasis is placed

on teaching us how the human mind works and how we are manipulated by others

- unless, of course, we are academically or professionally involved in this

field. Encouragement of this faculty of critical thinking has never been

popular at any time in any country, because it invariably tends to make life

uncomfortable for those in positions of power.

The situation is not much different in the world of fitness, health and

sport, since the nurturing of large numbers of critical minds could easily

threaten fitness empires, the lucrative athletic equipment and clothing

markets, flourishing fitness personalities, huge pharmaceutical companies and

academic reputations.

So, now that you know what the situation is, what can you do about it? Well,

the following section summarises many of the methods which are used to help

you part with your money and your good sense. Become familiar with them and

use them to analyse anything and everything that is being offered in the

fitness world. This book will guide you through many of the fitness myths

that we encounter in this world largely on a basis of logical analysis, but

you are encouraged to become your own expert by constantly questioning 'all

things' by routinely applying the following guidelines.


Some of the most common methods of persuasion are itemised below. Search for

their presence all around you and always question the use of:

1. Emotive language, visually stimulating images and exciting messages

2. Statements in which all is implied but only some is true

3. Proofs based on selected examples

4. Anecdotal or hearsay evidence which is not supported by serious research

5. Proofs which suppress any opposing or damaging arguments

6. Impressive-sounding or pseudo-scientific jargon

7. Repeated affirmation to convince an audience

8. Confident, authoritative posturing or presentation

9. False, trivial, worthless or irrelevant credentials or degrees

10. A mixture of facts and fallacies to overcome resistance to a

questionable idea or product

11. Testimonials and endorsements by well-known individuals to add authority

or credibility

12. Appeal based on prestige, fame or position of individuals or institutions

13. Apparently logical, but misleading analogies

14. Extrapolations based on limited or small group studies or experiences

15. Claims by any individual or group to possess the only truth

16. Appeals to one's egotism, vanity, background or personal prejudices

17. Promises of dramatic, rapid or unique results to improve your existing

status quo

18. Expensive, visually exciting mass media and advertisements

19. Research which has not produced consistent physical results

20. Claims which state, but do not prove, that opposing ideas are dangerous

or useless

21. Claims by promoters of anything that it is unquestionably 'the best'

22. Arguments based largely on claims that science cannot prove everything

23. Appeal to authority or fear

24. Distraction by diversions to side-issues or irrelevant information

25. Arguments that attribute motives or prejudices to any opponents

26. Promotion of any position because it appears to be the mean between two


27. Proofs based on loosely or minimally related findings

28. Assumptions that all experimental subjects or items are similar in a

given sample

29. Assumptions that science and scientists are always objective

30. Speculative argument

31. Tradition to support a certain viewpoint or method

32. Extrapolation to humans of results based entirely on animal studies or


33. Results skewed by the presence or prejudices of the researcher

34. Acceptance or rejection of ideas simply on the basis of the personality

of the presenter

35. General application of results obtained under varying situational


36. Assumption that the majority view is always right or desirable

37. Assumption that ideas from other cultures and nations are inferior to


38. Research which may not identify and analyse unknown variables

39. Research which may neglect the effects of time and subject dynamics

40. Overreliance on averages, which disguises the effects of possibly

critical minority values

41. Research or products which may be influenced by vested commercial or

academic interests

42. Loosely connected facts to deduce a biased result

43. Graphic devices to distort by artistic licence or change of scale

44. Results which do not state range of measurement or computational error

45. Proposition or theory as if it were fact or law

46. The 'faith factor' or placebo effect, consciously or unconsciously, to

enhance a certain outcome

47. Illegitimate or inaccurate use of definition

48. Extension of the scope of opposing arguments to misrepresent or distort


49. Results applied out of their original context

50. Promoting or condemning something because of its consequences to the


Now that we have examined the fundamental issues about facts, fallacies,

logic, sense, nonsense, myths, mistakes, science, non-science and persuasive

techniques, we should be in a much stronger position to analyse the weird

and wonderful claims made about exercise, fitness, sports training and

rehabilitation. This we will do in the chapters which follow..........


Dr Mel C Siff

Dr Mel Siff

Author of Supertraining + Facts and Fallacies of Fitness

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