Friday, October 23, 2015

Today's Logical Fallacy is... Appeal to Authority!

(Argument from Authority, type of Ad Hominem)

A type of ad hominem, this fallacy occurs when one believes what an authority figure says just because they are an authority figure. In other words, the claim is true because of the identity of the person advancing the claim, often regardless of their knowledge of field, an established consensus, or any biases. The converse of this fallacy is the credential fallacy: rejecting a claim because the individual suggesting it doesn’t have the right authority or degrees.


Identifying this fallacy isn’t quite as easy as many other fallacies. Authority figures may very well have the experience necessary to validate their claim, and scientific consensus does carry legitimate authority. It is unreasonable to dismiss experts who have shown expertise in the area unless you or another source has equal expertise. However, just because we should not dismiss an expert does not necessarily mean we have to accept everything they say. They should be considered resources for understanding the subject rather than “the” ultimate source. History is full of examples on the frequency of human error, even those in positions of authority.

We often encounter “false authorities” who are set up to persuade us one way or another by tricking us into falling victim to this fallacy. Supermodels who sell personal hygiene products and athletes who sell sportswear are obvious examples of this. We can safely assume that they would be just as beautiful or talented without the products because if they weren’t, they wouldn’t have the “weight” of authority to have been chosen in the first place.

We also find them in many other areas including discussions about the Kennedy assassination, Big Foot, the “faked” Apollo Moon landing, and creationism/evolution. Many authorities in these areas advertise false expertise in an area (for example, Kent Hovind, a young-earth creationist who lectures widely on the subject, is quick to remind you that he is “Dr. Hovind” even though his doctorate is in Christian Education earned through correspondence from an un-accredited Christian Academy, thus misleading those who are listening to him into believing he is an expert in science).

Examples:

UFO proponents have argued that UFO sightings by airline pilots should be given special weight because pilots are trained observers, are reliable characters, and are trained not to panic in emergencies. In essence, they are arguing that we should trust the pilot’s authority as an eye witness.

Not able to defend his position that evolution 'isn't true,' Bob says that he knows a scientist who also questions evolution (and presumably isn't a primate).

“The administration must know where the WMDs are or they wouldn’t have sent American troops into look for them.” (Note, this is also a non sequitur)

"Saddam must have WMD's; the president wouldn't lie to us." (Note, this is also an either/or fallacy; not all incorrect assertions are lies)

“It happens not to be the area where weapons of mass destruction were dispersed. We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.”—Rumsfeld, May 30, 03

Laws against marijuana are plain silly. Why, Thomas Jefferson is known to have raised hemp on his own plantation.

If it's good enough for (insert celebrity's name here), it's good enough for me.