PE 2011 fact-checking website commits false equivalence fallacy
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.