Tag Archives: Appeal to Authority

Bald-faced assertions and appeals to credentials

21 Oct

Here comes another opportunity to practice addressing an ‘argument’ encountered in everyday life, courtesy again of my local newspaper.  In a guest column last week “Mr. Very-Credentialed Local Citizen”  shared his views on a current controversy. His ‘sub-title’ or brief bio at the end read, “Mr. X is a Navy veteran, a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School and a retired Washington lawyer.”

Were his credentials meant to impress and thus ward off any criticism of ideas?.

garlic and vampires

What it did, actually, was provide an illustration of feathering a weak argument with some fluffy down.  First lesson to take away is this:

  • Don’t let yourself be intimidated by someone’s educational achievement and experience.  Focus on the argument!!!

So what about his argument?

  •  First of all, there was no argument, just 2 separate assertions and a smokescreen

Let’s begin —

In the first assertion, the writer took on the defense of the use of fetal tissue research in the wake of revelatory videos regarding some of Planned Parenthood’s practices.  Here is what he wrote:

“…….about fetal tissue research.  It has for many years been a vital part of research dealing with a very wide range of diseases, and millions of people are alive today as a result of this research.”

Really? Millions? That is a stunning statement.  He offers no grounding at all for that statement.  And since he has publicized that he is NOT a research scientist or a medical professional, I question his assertion all the more.

So I did a 10-minute search of benefits from such tissue research and found out, for instance, that a study with Parkinson’s disease patients that looked promising did not pan out as hoped. In fact there were no significant reports of advances, just some possible areas of research.  The only and NOT insignificant benefit from the use of fetal tissue cited was the vaccines created 40-50 years ago that HAVE saved lives.  What is noteworthy, though, is that those original fetal cells are still producing new vaccines. An assumption could be advanced that no new fetal tissue is necessary to keep up with the demand to produce inoculations.

Therefore, the claim that millions are alive DUE to fetal tissue research needs to be qualified.  But it SOUNDED impressive.

The next plank in his ‘argument’ was this:

“Reducing funding for fetal tissue research is vigorously protested in, among other places, the pages of the New England Journal of Medicine, which is called by Forbes Magazine, ‘the most important medical periodical in the world’.

So……?  Does Forbes Magazine’s opinion about the New England Journal of Medicine mean that we should accept as ‘gospel’ every word the Journal of Medicine writes?

What could be reasons for researchers to protest a reduction in funding?

Is it possible that the nature of all research is to perpetuate their funding?

Shouldn’t we support research for reasons OTHER than another periodical’s ranking of importance of publications?   How much weight should the opinion of a business-centered organization be given?  Are there not better reasons to support fetal tissue research?  Apparently not.

Finally, on to the smokescreen provided by our esteemed legal expert:

” …when an abortion is performed,….there is no ethical reason not to use the fetal tissue for scientific research.  In fact, it is morally wrong not to use it because of the good that comes from it.” and the writer cites ethicists and a Roman Catholic committee’s conclusions for this statement.

Why does he advance the source of this verdict?  Does he mean to head off the spiritual arguments by offering these credentialed opinions?  Again, let us not be fooled by Appeals to Authority.

And ‘morally wrong’ NOT to use the tissue from a dead baby torn from its mother’s womb?  Give me a break!

The safe and simple way to handle with grace a view contrary to yours is to bypass all the hype and focus on the argument, point by point.  Let us take our time and NOT yield to tactics meant to intimidate.

No one has to be an expert in order to ask the clarifying questions that shift the burden of proof back on the one who advances the argument!

Dodging arguments – Appeals to Authority

17 Dec

I was listening to a radio discussion about correct Bible interpretation.  One of the three men dismissed the entire conversation with this comment:

“There’s something wrong about 3 white guys talking about how to understand the Bible!”

3 men

What struck me was the following thought:  What does the identity of the one(s) advancing the argument have to do with the force of the argument? What about examining the reasons for one’s interpretation of the Bible?   This dodge is simply a reverse of a common fallacy, Appeal to Authority.

Appeals to authority work like this: in lieu of reasoning with care, the advancer of a point of view avoids giving any support for his assertion by informing his audience that So-and-So believes it.  The assumption is:

So-and-So is a well-known authority

Whatever he believes must be right

He shares or has endorsed my point of view

Therefore, my assertion is correct

Back to the three gentlemen discussing the Bible.  The one I quoted tried to weaken the entire discussion by dismissing it before it got off the ground.  In essence he was saying:

  • We can’t possibly come up with a sound and full-orbed understanding of God’s Word due to our gender and race.  Our viewpoint as men is one-sided and incomplete, a priori.

That’s absurd!  That’s akin to claiming that women are incapable of researching and writing with any degree of accuracy about war or likewise men have nothing credible to say about rape.  Dismissing one’s ideas due to one’s identity is faulty!

This reverse of the Fallacy of the Appeal to Authority can sometimes be an example of the Genetic Fallacy.

Genetic Fallacy - red fish This red fish announces that since he is red, he is irrelevant.  The implication is that nothing he might advance has merit because of what he is.

I often hear people marginalize a point of view by this derisory comment:

  • You only say that because you’re a _________!

My experience has been that many of us resort to fallacies when we don’t have a watertight argument OR worse, we have NO facts or evidence for what we believe.   Yet, we desperately want to discredit the other guy’s argument.  So the fight instinct kicks in and we clobber our opponent with a sound byte and then fall back on fallacies because we are bereft of reasons.

What’s the solution?

My advice to this logical gal (me!) is

  • don’t articulate an opinion until I have done a bit of research
  • and when asked my views, resist the temptation to respond by instead asking some clarifying questions  IN ORDER to gain some information

Easier said than done!

 

 

 

 

Logical Gal challenges ‘experts’

25 Apr

More and more we are being subjected to a one-line argument called ‘settled science’ as announced by those advocating drastic counter-measures in view of what they perceive as ‘human-induced’ climate harm.

Settled Science & Al Gore

 

This way of arguing is actually a fallacy.  It’s the opposite of the Ad Hominem attack.  That particular fallacy bypasses  all the reasons supporting a claim to attack the nature  or character of the one advancing the argument.

In contrast, the fallacy I want to address today is the tactic whereby one skips reasons and plays on the credentials of the proponents.  This fallacy is called the Argument from Authority.  We see this often in commercials for toothpaste (‘Brand X is the one favored by more dentists in America’) or for peanut butter (‘Choosy moms choose Jif!’)

Choosy moms choose Jif

As you probably have noticed, this appeal to an authority takes the place of an appeal to REASON!

So, too, with the climate change issue.  Those who clamor for countries to DO SOMETHING have demonized those who push back and ask for supporting evidence.  Appealing to the authority and intelligence of a group of scientists does not satisfy for 2 reasons:

  • Scientists are known to have been wrong in the past  (think of the Flat Earth view or the Earth as the center of the solar system)
  • If the case for anthropogenic climate change (brought on by humans) is so strong, scientists or policy-makers should not  be afraid to provide the evidence APART from computer models of what MIGHT happen

Finally, here is a caveat to those who by nature are skeptical and question authority (nothing wrong with that!), don’t yourselves either appeal to or attack the character of the one making the argument.   Be considerate and calm when you push back gently, requesting proof, evidence and reasons.

Remember, the burden of proof is on those who advance a position.  All YOU have to do is ask the WHY questions. But do so with gentleness and respect!

Kind rather than Right

Question:  Where do you encounter these Appeals to Authority?

 

Logical Gal falls prey to Appeal to Authority Fallacy

30 Oct

The other day I entered into discussion with an acquaintance about a controversial topic.  I couldn’t really think on my feet to offer a substantive reason why I disagreed with him.  Automatically, without consciously making a decision, I found myself falling back on a fallacy!  I appealed to a respected and well-known pastor who shares my belief.  “You know that So-and-so believes the way I do.  And he’s a biblically-minded Christian!”   (” So there! ”  I almost added)

Whether the authority we appeal to is respected in the field or just famous (Oprah is an expert talk show host – she holds no PhD in nutrition), we weaken our position when we  bypass reasoned discourse.  Citing someone who shares our views is NO substitute for argumentation.  This practice does not advance our point of view.  We give the appearance of  having no reasons for our assertion.  Our opponent should push back gently and retort, ” So what if Nobel Prize winner Professor John Doe of Ivy League reputation agrees with you.  Why do YOU think that X is better than Y?????”

Plenty of companies earmark advertising funds to pay celebrities for promoting their products.  Name recognition undoubtedly  helps build consumer confidence.  After all, if a football player uses this cologne, or a big name relies on a particular cell phone service, then these items must be okay, after all.

Short of the cachet or approval that comes from celebrity transfer, how can we promote a product or our point of view?

The old-fashioned way  – with reason.