Friday, 28 September 2012

Scaring the Public

In her recent article on fear appeal arguments in public health reasoning, Louise Cummings examines how the study of threat and fear appeal arguments has given rise to a sizeable literature. Even within a public health context, much is now known about how these arguments work to gain the public’s compliance with health recommendations. Notwithstanding this level of interest in, and examination of, these arguments, there is one aspect of these arguments that still remains unexplored. That aspect concerns the heuristic function of these arguments within our thinking about public health problems. Specifically, it is argued that threat and fear appeal arguments serve as valuable shortcuts in our reasoning, particularly when that reasoning is subject to biases that are likely to diminish the effectiveness of public health messages. To this extent, they are rationally warranted argument forms rather than fallacies, as has been their dominant characterization in logic.


Cummings, L. (2012) ‘Scaring the public: Fear appeal arguments in public health reasoning’, Informal Logic, 32 (1): 25-50.

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