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PE 2011 fact-checking website commits false equivalence fallacy

with 13 comments

This will be a short post. I’m currently working on other posts which are much longer.

I happen to chance upon a blog named pe2011facts, which claims to research rumours on the 2011 Singapore Presidential Election. In this entry, the blog remarks that the relationship between Dr Tony Tan and Lee Kuan Yew is really no different between those genealogical ties between President Barack Obama and his predecessor and Dick Cheney:

A website (Veritas Lux) has alleged that Tony Tan’s uncle, the late Tan Chin Tuan, was brother-in-law of Kwa Siew Tee, father of Kwa Geok Choo. It claims to have old archive photos and old news clippings as evidence.

We have heard other rumours as well – that Tan Cheng Bock is related to Tan Jee Say, which may explain why Cheng Bock helped Jee Say during the GE 2011.

What does this all mean? It means you can’t choose your relatives.

Did you know that Barack Obama is a distant cousin of Dick Cheney, former US Vice-President? Obama is also a distant cousin of George W. Bush. Observers might wonder if there was a secret conspiracy by the Republicans to install a Bush/Cheney family member in the White House — i.e. Barack Obama.

Update: A commenter pointed out that for a fact-checking website, the blog apparently didn’t bother verifying the claim at all. Not to mention the fact that the blog linked to the wrong post. This is the correct one it should have linked.

It takes little effort to check out the degree of relations between Obama, Cheney and Bush. Obama, it turns out is an eighth cousin of Cheney and a tenth cousin of Bush. Now, if you’re like me you must be scratching your head wondering what those terms mean. So I pulled up this page from Google which explains.

As you can see, being related by a degree of eighth cousins is a really, really distant genealogical relationship. The individual ancestors share a common ancestor from a record ten generations back. I can imagine for tenth cousins (the degree of relatedness between Obama and Bush) this would mean the common ancestor would date from twelve generations ago.

So how is this comparable to Dr Tony Tan’s relationship with LKY? According to the Veritas blog, Dr Tony Tan happens to be the nephew of LKY’s uncle-in-law. Now assuming this is accurate (because I didn’t bother to verify this nor do I know how to, for that matter), it’s something of a joke that the pe2011facts blogger chose to put the two cases side by side. It’s a straight-forward case of false equivalence. The two situations are simply not comparable because one is so much more closely related than the other. You don’t need to go back ten generations to find the common link.


Written by defennder

August 1, 2011 at 6:10 PM

Posted in Singapore affairs

13 Responses

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  1. I saw that blog, same thoughts here. Not only has the author not clarify the rumor, he added another irrelevant rumor here. LOL- Fancy calling itself a fact-finding site. Such sloppy work, clearly from someone out to troll.


    August 2, 2011 at 12:37 AM

  2. […] Presidential Election – FOOD fuels me to talk…: Which President Tan will open Parliament on… – Thoughts of a Singapore Statistician: Will Dr Tony Tan withdraw from the Presidential Elections? – Singapore Actually: Nicole Seah Endorses Tan Jee Say for President – Thoughts of a Cynical Investor : “little disappointment”: Tony Tan to TOC – Furry Brown Dog: PE 2011 fact-checking website commits false equivalence fallacy […]

  3. FBD

    Actually, there is no false equivalence since Tony Tan is related by marriage not by blood.
    Frankly, the main point was you do not get to choose your relatives or in laws.



    August 2, 2011 at 12:30 PM

  4. Angela

    Thanks for your comments. I’ve noted it as above.


    Well actually you’ve just proven my point in another way. TT is related by marriage, while Obama is related by blood. So that effectively means that it’s a false equivalence fallacy to compare TT’s relationship with LKY with Obama’s relationship with Bush and Cheney, which is precisely what the blog did.

    Not to mention the fact that one is more closely related than the other. And also I think the point you and the blog raised is quite a trivial one; it’s true you don’t get to choose people who’s not related to you at all. But at the same time that doesn’t mean one can falsely equate blood relations with legal ones, given that one is distantly related (not a matter of choice) while the other is more closely related through marriage (which is a matter of choice).


    August 2, 2011 at 12:39 PM

  5. Angela

    Just a common sense question, do you get to choose which in laws you like thru marriage other than your immediate spouse and siblings or parents.
    So does this mean automatically, you will assist all your in laws based on your reply.

    Sheesh, if you want to argue, that my reply to yours is trivial, likewise i find yours.



    August 2, 2011 at 1:14 PM

  6. ajohor

    I’m not exactly sure what you are disputing. You previously claimed this wasn’t a case of false equivalence which is obviously wrong as pointed out above. Then you say the main point is that you don’t get to choose who is related by law or by blood.

    As said above, this is a trivial point. Whether you get to choose or not is something so irrelevant I didn’t bother pointing out explicitly what’s wrong with it. Instead I made clear that the blog committed a false equivalence fallacy. But let me just address this more directly since you seem to not understand why I consider it trivial.

    Did Dr Patrick Tan, Li Hongyi, and various other white horses in national service get to choose who their parents are? Of course not. But the question was never about whether they chose to be related or not but how closely related they are and whether of course they were favoured because of those links.


    August 2, 2011 at 1:29 PM

  7. Don’t know why bloggers r making such a big deal about blood relationships of Dr Tony Tan. If any of them had bothered to read the late Tan Chin Tuan’s several biographies available at bookshops, they would find it spelt out that Dr Tony Tan is the son of Tan Chin Tuan’s half brother. In fact, in discussing Dr TT’s upcoming appointment as the new OCBC chairman, Tan Chin Tuan had shared with his biographer his delight at such a development. After all, he himself had been OCBC chairman immediately be4 Yong Pung How, who later became chief justice. And as it’s common knowledge that Tan Chin Tuan married one of Wee Thiam Siew’s daughters (another was married to Kwa Siew Tee who was Mrs Lee Kuan Yew’s mum), it stands to reason there would be family connections, no? 🙄


    August 2, 2011 at 4:01 PM

  8. I mean between Dr TT and Mr LKY!


    August 2, 2011 at 4:02 PM

  9. auntielucia

    Well that’s something I didn’t know. Not everyone, and certainly not myself, has read Mr Tan Chin Tuan’s biography. So it did come as a surprise.

    EDIT: And I guess that proves that the Veritas blog was factually accurate on this matter.


    August 2, 2011 at 4:04 PM

  10. There are many things in heaven n on earth we don’t know, but our ignorance shldn’t be used to beat other pple’s repuation. Hope u will agree? Bests!


    August 2, 2011 at 8:12 PM

  11. auntielucia

    Well I wasn’t trying to “beat” anyone’s reputation. If you read the post carefully I only took issue with the way the supposed fact-checking blog embraced a false equivalence. I’ve not actually speculated that Dr Tony Tan’s links with the Lee family had anything to do with his stature. Pray tell, where in the post do you see me trying to “beat” his reputation?


    August 2, 2011 at 9:02 PM

  12. Uncle Defender, unless the cap fits, don’t wear it! 😛 I didn’t imply/infer u were beating anyone’s reputation. I talked abt bloggers in general making a big deal abt Dr TT’s family links. That “beating” thingie referred to them, not u! Incidentally, if u r in the mood to look for books that give more info abt those links, read The Quiet Achiever by Mike Macbeth; Building Building, Carving Niches by Dr Grace Something and Rock Solid by Lee Su Yin. Enjoy!


    August 3, 2011 at 2:29 PM

  13. Has everyone forgotten how small the Peranakan community was in those days? Goh Keng Swee introduced his neighbour Kwa Geok Choo to Lee Kuan Yew… It would be pretty darned amazing if people weren’t related. Go look at the family tree in ‘Goh Keng Swee: A Portrait’. GKS is Dick Lee’s uncle; his grandfather Tan Keong Keng was Dick Lee’s greatgrandfather Tan Keong Ann’s brother.


    August 4, 2011 at 12:49 AM

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