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false implication

The fallacy of false implication occurs when a statement, which may be clear and even true, implies that something else is true or false when it isn't. For example, if I write in my 30-day evaluation log of an employee that on May 15th she was on time for work, someone reading the log might infer that this was unusual and that usually the employee did not arrive on time. Perhaps she is always on time but by indicating her promptness just once I can give the false impression that she is usually late for work.

One of the more common places to find examples of false implication is the grocery store. Products are labeled and named in ways that are often misleading.

For example, a package of Carnation Breakfast Bars asserts that the product inside provides 25% of the daily-recommended amount of protein, if taken with a glass of milk. What the package does not tell you is that almost all of the protein is provided by the milk. A package of Healthy Choice lunchmeat says that it is 97% fat-free, which is true if measured by weight, but when 25% of its calories come from fat, isn’t the claim deceptive? Cow’s milk and other dairy products are high in fat and cholesterol, but the dairy industry cleverly expresses fat content as a percentage of weight. Using this system, milk said to have 2% fat is actually 31% fat when fat is measured as a percentage of calories. Whole milk and yogurt are 49% fat, cheese is 60-70% fat. (There is no low fat butter; butter is 100% fat.) (Carroll 2004: 36).

Many products use words in their labeling to falsely imply that they contain fruit. None of the following products have any fruit or fruit juice in them*:

  • Berry Berry Kix
  • Cap'n Crunch with Crunch Berries
  • Dannon Danimals XL (Strawberry Explosion)
  • Froot Loops
  • Fruity Cheerios
  • Juicy Fruit Gum
  • Life Savers (Wild Cherry)
  • Nestle Nesquik milk and drink mix (strawberry)
  • Post Fruity Pebbles
  • Push Pop (cherry)
  • Ring Pop (cherry)
  • Tang
  • Trix cereal
  • Trix yogurt (strawberry kiwi)
  • Yoplait Go-Gurt yogurt (Strawberry Splash)

The critical consumer has to read the ingredient list to find out if those foods that seem to have fruit in them or are touted as being 'natural' or 'organic' are really what they appear to be from the words or pictures on the product.

You might think that a product called Country Time® Lemonade Flavor Drink might have some lemon in it. Not a chance. This Kraft Foods product has no lemon juice, no lemon pulp, not even any lemon peel in it. Here’s a list of the ingredients: Water, high fructose corn syrup and/or sugar, contains less than 2% of natural flavor, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), citric acid, sodium citrate, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate (preserve freshness), ester of wood rosin, and yellow 5. According to the distributor of this drink, “the name is reminiscent of a time when it was easier to get good old-fashioned lemonade.” When asked how Pillsbury could call a product that contains artificial flavorings and BHA (a preservative) “Natural Chocolate Flavored Chocolate Chip Cookies,” a company representative replied that ‘natural’ modifies ‘chocolate flavored’ not ‘cookie.’ Says [William] Lutz, “You’d better brush up on the syntactic structure of modification if you want to be able to read food labels these days” (Lutz 1989: 28). (Carroll 2004: 36)

Many products you might think have fruit in them don't but they have lots of corn syrup, which is not exactly what a mom or dad should be pumping into their kids.

According to the Prevention Institute, General Mills, is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to misleading consumers with labels, pictures, and product names.*

What significance is there to Tetra Pak’s and Combibloc’s claim that their juice boxes are “easily recyclable” when there are few recycling programs that accept juice boxes? What was the point of Mobil Corp.’s claim that its Hefty trash bags are “degradable” when they degrade only if exposed to the ultraviolet light of the sun, but most such bags end up buried in landfills? Being made from recycled materials may not be significant if the percentage of recycled material in the product is negligible. Being compostable may be insignificant if there are not many facilities available to do the composting. Thus, what is the point of Proctor and Gamble, which has roughly half of the $3.8 billion U.S. market for disposable diapers, advertising that it is developing technology that converts disposable diapers into compost? “The fact that they’re running these ads has led to a direct misleading effect,” said John McCaull, general council for Californians Against Waste. “It’s fostering a belief in the public that these facilities and programs actually exist when that’s hardly the case.” It may be made of 75% recyclable material but it’s still 100% garbage. (Carroll 2004: 36)

Berrivale Orchards Limited of Australia sells GlenPark Cherry Berry 100% Fruit Juice. On the one-liter pack the words 'Cherry Berry 100% Fruit juice' appear. There are also graphics of cherries and berries. However, the product only has one percent each of blackcurrant juice and cherry juice. The rest is apple juice.*

The only way to find out that a product that proclaims it is "100% Fresh Orange Juice" contains sugar and preservatives is to read the ingredients list.

Caveat emptor! The life you save may be your child's.

lesson 13: perception deception

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Last updated 12/09/10

This page was designed by Cristian Popa.