False equivalence

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False equivalence
They both have mustaches, but that does not make them the same

False equivalence is a logical fallacy in which an equivalence is drawn between two subjects based on flawed or false reasoning. This fallacy is categorized as a fallacy of inconsistency.[1] Colloquially, a false equivalence is often called "comparing apples and oranges."


This fallacy is committed when one shared trait between two subjects is assumed to show equivalence, especially in order of magnitude, when equivalence is not necessarily the logical result.[2] False equivalence is a common result when an anecdotal similarity is pointed out as equal, but the claim of equivalence does not bear scrutiny because the similarity is based on oversimplification or ignorance of additional factors. The pattern of the fallacy is often as such: "If A is the set of c and d, and B is the set of d and e, then since they both contain d, A and B are equal". d is not required to exist in both sets; only a passing similarity is required to cause this fallacy to be used.

False equivalence arguments are often used in journalism[3][4] and in politics, where flaws of one politician may be compared to flaws of a wholly different nature of another.[5]


The following statements are examples of false equivalence:[6]

The comparison is between things differing by many orders of magnitude: Deepwater Horizon spilled 210 million US gal (790 million L) of oil; one's neighbor might spill perhaps 1 US pt (0.47 L).
  • "They're both living animals that metabolize chemical energy. Therefore there's little difference between having a pet cat and a pet jaguar."
The "equivalence" is in factors that are not relevant to the animals' suitability as pets.

Negative causes[edit]

Thomas Patterson of the Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University wrote about the false equivalency used by the media during the 2016 United States presidential election:

[F]alse equivalencies are developing on a grand scale as a result of relentlessly negative news. If everything and everyone is portrayed negatively, there’s a leveling effect that opens the door to charlatans. The press historically has helped citizens recognize the difference between the earnest politician and the pretender. Today’s news coverage blurs the distinction.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Phillips, Harry; Bostian, Patricia (2014). The Purposeful Argument: A Practical Guide, Brief Edition (Second ed.). Cengage Learning. p. 129. ISBN 9781285982847.
  2. ^ "False Equivalence". Truly Fallacious. 2013-08-16. Archived from the original on 2019-05-14. Retrieved 2017-02-17.
  3. ^ Krugman, Paul (September 26, 2016). "The Falsity of False Equivalence". The New York Times. Retrieved February 17, 2017.
  4. ^ Phillips, Ari (2016-08-26). "Welcome to the maddening world of false equivalence journalism". Fusion. Retrieved 2017-02-17.
  5. ^ Buchanan, Neil H. (June 22, 2016). "The False Equivalence of Clinton and Trump's Negatives". Newsweek. Retrieved February 17, 2017.
  6. ^ Bennett, Robert "Bo". "False Equivalence". logically fallacious. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  7. ^ Thomas E. Patterson (December 7, 2016). "News Coverage of the 2016 General Election: How the Press Failed the Voters". Shorenstein Center.