In a discussion at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak there were people with the opinion that everyone was overreacting.

I'm sorry but this is a massive over reaction in my opinion. Pneumonia kills 33.5x more people daily than Covid19. A similar, respiratory illness that knocks off the old and ill far easier than the young and healthy. It historically has put far more strain on the NHS and still is but Covid is getting the headlines.

To which I responded...

Looking at the raw numbers is missing the point.

Yes, a lot fewer people are dying from COVID-19 but that’s because there are orders of magnitude more people with other diseases. It’s not the raw numbers but the percentages and the rate of increase that is worrying.

Unless the rate of increase is put in check it will very quickly overtake other diseases that you mentioned.

Which then got the reply of...

You've convinced me! i'll stock up on toilet roll and anti-bacterial wipes and lock myself in the bathroom now. Every man, women and child for themselves! Shoot! wish i'd not put off building my bomb shelter post Trump inauguration...

I was quite surprised by the response and tried to work out how it would be classified (is that the word?)

Anyway, I came up with the excluded middle fallacy but I don’t know if that’s correct?


  • 2
    Sounds like a straw man fallacy
    – Samuele B.
    Apr 18, 2020 at 22:47
  • 2
    I don't think its really a fallacy, it sounds like they don't have enough information to be convinced. ..You could maybe say their reply of building a bomb shelter is a false dichotomy they are setting up to straw man you
    – Noah
    Apr 19, 2020 at 3:45
  • 1
    The problem that I have found is that people that fail to comprehend the concept of exponential growth rate use their own ignorance as the basis for refutation. This would be a form of the ad ignorantiam fallacy.
    – polcott
    Apr 19, 2020 at 15:21

2 Answers 2


EDIT 2020-04-27

My original line of thinking below is erroneous by my own standards. I have come across two names of fallacies that seem to represent the same essence:

  • Appeal to the Stone which claims something is absurd (whatever that may mean) but offers no justification.
  • Appeal to Ridicule which claims that something is ridiculous and therefore false.

Both are informal fallacies because in informal logic implication is taken into account in semantic interpretation in a way that a formal logic does not. If the subtext is your claim is absurd, and the debater offers neither justification and implies something is false, it would seem to meet the criteria. I'd certainly cite the latter name, and believe it qualifies as a sub-type of appeal to emotion. Sorry for my glitch!

Original answer:

The short answer is that there's no fallacy here. A fallacy is a persuasive, but erroneous argument, which means it must require at least two premises and a conclusion. This is just hyperbolic mockery. Often times, when a person with poor reasoning skills is confronted with a superior argument, they invoke not only fallacy, but essentially quit the argument by attempting to intimidate, mocking, or, my favorite, attempting to move the goalpost repeatedly.

A strawman fallacy would require that an argument would be made against a position you didn't actually make. E.g, if the response had been:

Oh, so you claim that the percentage is more important because SARS-CoV-2 is more infectious and deadly, but the same can be said of ebola, and that kills far fewer people than the flu. Therefore, your attempts to claim COVID-19 which is more contagious obviously is disproven.

Note, you made no claims directly about how contagious the virus is at all, but rather argued that the rate of change in the rate of infection was more concerning arguing attempting to take a position that exponential growth means that a look at numbers over time is more convincing than a direct comparison of deaths at a specific point of time.

For the record, your point about growth is more persuasive but you missed the obvious riposte which is that COVID-19 often leads to pneumonia. To wit from the WP article:

While the majority of cases result in mild symptoms, some progress to viral pneumonia and multi-organ failure.

So, to argue that pneumonia is more deadly than COVID-19 is a poor argument because it actually contributes to death by pneumonia, and therefore one cannot compare them directly because the former is caused by the latter. One could compare deaths by COVID-19 pneumonia versus influenza pneumonia, or deaths by COVID-19 versus deaths by influenza, but to compare one cause of an outcome which contributes to an outcome itself is apples and oranges.

In addition, your position has been borne out. From a CBS News article from March 9 of this year:

The CDC said that so far this season, about 20,000 people have died of the flu, including 136 children.

The CDC's most recent flu report says that as of February 29, hospitalization rates among children aged 4 and under were the highest on record at this point in the season, surpassing rates reported during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.


Meanwhile, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. has surpassed 500. The new COVID-19 disease was blamed for at least 24 deaths in the U.S. as of Monday...

So around the first week of March in the US, only around 500 deaths were attributed to Covid-19 compared to 20,000 people who had the flu. But around five weeks later, we are now at the point where according to worldometers.com, deaths in the US from the latter are at almost 40,000 and are projected by the IHME to exceed 60,000 by August. To look at it another way, in 6 months this SARS virus will kill the same number of people as the very heavy flu season of 2017-2018 in the US in half the time with almost the entire country practicing social distancing!

Of course, there are other factors such as a lack of tests, a lack of vaccines, a new variation of the corona virus, and a different national strategy to mention a few which make this more deadly.

  • 1
    Excellent, thanks for your reply. That makes sense.
    – Fogmeister
    Apr 19, 2020 at 7:56
  • If we generalize the notion of fallacy to mean anything that is not correct reasoning yet still forms a conclusion, then we can have the baseless assertion fallacy.
    – polcott
    Apr 20, 2020 at 15:57
  • @polcott Unless I'm reading it wrong, ipse dixit requires a claim that "that's just how it is and things are immutable (because of authority)". I see no such assertion in the OP's opponent's response. Bare assertion fallacy, ipse dixit.
    – J D
    Apr 21, 2020 at 2:51
  • @JD If there is a conclusion formed and there is nothing at all provided to support that conclusion then it is a baseless assertion. Not the same thing as your cited Bare assertion because citing the authority of the best expert in the field is inductively sound.
    – polcott
    Apr 21, 2020 at 3:39
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    @Fogmeister I've had a change in heart. I revised my answer in light of my obvious mistake.
    – J D
    Apr 27, 2020 at 15:18

A conclusion that is simply asserted without any reasoning is a special case of Non Sequitur in that a conclusion cannot possibly follow from the premises if the premises are missing.

I would generalize the notion of a fallacy to include every case where any conclusion is formed and no justification of the conclusion what-so-ever is provided. I would call this the baseless assertion fallacy.

The sarcastic tone of the reply implies that a rebuttal is intended. Since no justification is provided for this implied rebuttal I would call this an instance of the the baseless assertion fallacy.

provided the conventional name for this exact same fallacy: "Appeal to the stone"

Within inductive inference relying on qualified expert opinion is not an example of the the appeal to authority fallacy. The appeal to authority fallacy only applies to deductive inference.

  • 1
    I'm willing to entertain it. Can you cite a source on this for me to reflect on?
    – J D
    Apr 21, 2020 at 17:02
  • @JD I found this after the fact. The fallacy that I refer to above has only myself as its source. Prior to earning any reputation points half of my "rebuttals" were simply down votes. Here is another very much less descriptive yet conventional name for this same fallacy: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_the_stone
    – polcott
    Apr 23, 2020 at 20:02
  • There isn't much of a difference between the two, but I think it might be better to refer to it as appeal to ridicule.
    – J D
    Apr 27, 2020 at 15:21
  • Also, your 'baseless assertion fallacy' has already been named aptly the irrelevant conclusion.
    – J D
    Apr 27, 2020 at 15:22
  • Thanks for the heads up on the other post!
    – J D
    Apr 27, 2020 at 15:27

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