Iceland poster uses true statements to lead you to believe a false conclusion

IcelandTL;DR Summary

  • This is a popular type of propaganda poster on social media: the poster features many claims pasted over a photo, allegedly presenting the evidence for a conclusion.
  • The conclusion is false but most of the statements are true.
  • Since the target may recognize some items as true, our quick System 1 thinking engages and assumes the false items are also true because they sound plausible.
  • Of course, this sleight of hand has produced a logical fallacy that is easy to miss.

The main thesis of the poster is that Iceland is a wonderful country without religion, crime or even a military.

  1. Iceland has no army; TRUE, no standing army. They do have some military forces including the small Icelandic Crisis Response Unit but mostly, they have very few defense forces and rely upon NATO countries to defend Iceland.
  2. Iceland jailed their corrupt bankers. MOSTLY TRUE. Many have been convicted.
  3. Economy is booming: According to the US Department of State, “Iceland continues its slow recovery from the 2008 economic collapse.” Not booming but not collapsing.
  4. Violent crime is rare; TRUE even though firearm ownership is high.
  5. One of the lowest crime rates in the world; mostly TRUE. The US Department of State ranks crime in Iceland as “low”.
  6. Atheist majority population; FALSE. 57% of the population considers themselves religious and the Lutheran and Catholic churches are the largest churches in the country.

Note how 1 through 5 are mostly true – yet 6 is false. Most people, after seeing the true statements, will assume the sixth is also true, creating an effective propaganda message. Here, the intended propaganda messaging is that lack of religion is good and the presence of religion is bad.

The above also relies on “What you see is all there is” by cherry picking a set of statements. As with the Denmark is the world’s happiest nation fallacy, we can make any poster we want.

Text for Search Indexing

  • Iceland has no army
  • Jailed their corrupt bankers
  • Economy is booming
  • Violent crime is rare
  • One of the lowest crime rates in the world
  • Atheist majority population.
  • Where is all that evil and depravity the religious talk about?

Note

Thinking Fast and Slow author Kahneman, and creator of the “System 1 and System 2” thinking concept acknowledges that 11 of 12 studies cited in his chapter on “priming” were from weak studies. That chapter implied that “subtle cues in their environment can have strong effects on their behavior outside their awareness“. This does not mean his conclusions are wrong but that the evidence supporting his conclusions may be weak on the subject of “priming”. This acknowledgement is independent of the System 1/System 2 thinking style issues.

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