The Shill Gambit is a type of faulty reasoning in which a person’s argument is dismissed by proclaiming that the person is on the payroll of some agency. Such an argument definitely is fallacious. It is a form of ad hominem abusive fallacy in which the person is attacked instead of their argument. Simply because a person presents an argument that favors some agency, this does not prove that the person is in any way associated with that agency.
The Shill Gambit accusation can be abused though. The abuse occurs when claiming that the shill gambit fallacy was employed when a person merely suggests that another may be a shill for a particular agency because they are supporting a position that favors that agency. There is nothing wrong with this. If a person was a shill for an agency, they would support positions that favor that agency. Pointing out this possibility is simply stating a logical fact. Those that then accuse the person of using the Shill Gambit are themselves committing a fallacy. They are falsely accusing a person of committing a fallacy when they are not. This is our old friend the false fallacy fallacy, a form of straw man.
In a straw man argument, the person’s argument is distorted and then this distorted argument is attacked instead of the person’s actual argument. Suppose for example that there is an online discussion about whether or not Eric Harris wreaked havoc at Columbine High School either because he was a psychopath or because he was taking SSRI prescription drugs. I might state that the companies that produced the drugs that Harris was taking would prefer people to believe that Harris was a violent psychopath instead of suffering from the effects of antidepressant discontinuation syndrome (ADS). These companies would want to draw attention away from the possibility of antidepressant discontinuation syndrome being in some way responsible for the killings. This attention would be unwanted because it would affect the companies’ profits if too many people knew about ADS and how dangerous it could be. I might further state that those presenting such arguments, like Dave Cullen, may be shills for those companies. I am not committing any fallacy. Cullen’s behavior is consistent with the type of behavior we have seen in pharmaceutical companies attempting to manipulate people away from bad press.
When mainstream “skeptics” dismiss an argument based on it’s source, that’s a genetic fallacy. Where an argument originates from has nothing to do with the validity of the argument. It is OK and quite rational however, to suspect a claim based on its origin. Because, for example, “news” sources like Infowars and Fox News have produced much shoddy journalism, it’s perfectly rational to heap more suspicion on the news they present.
Similarly, when we see a line of argument that would be used by a corporate shill, it is perfectly rational to suspect that person of being a shill. To accuse the person of definitely being a shill without strong evidence is wrong and commits the shill gambit fallacy. To proclaim that the person who merely suspects another of being a shill commits the shill gambit fallacy actually commits a fallacy themselves, the shill gambit gambit.
If you act like a shill, you could be a shill and you’re doing the same kind of damage a shill would do. If there’s more evidence that you’re a shill than not, you’re probably a shill. No fallacy here. When someone makes such an argument and you counter by falsely claiming that they are committing a fallacy, you are actually committing one, a straw man.
1. Cullen, Dave (2004-04-20). “The Depressive and the Psychopath”. Slate.
2. Ben Goldacre (25 January 2012). “Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients”. Fourth Estate. ISBN 978-0-00-735074-2.
Michael Fullerton is a software designer based in Vernon BC Canada. His writing explores and exposes pathological skepticism and the corporate pseudo-science it tends to serve. He also has an intense interest in organizational psychopathy, or how psychopaths rise up in organizational structures of all kinds. As a pantheist he strives to be part of the movement to unify spirituality and science.