Daily Archives: Thursday, 19:50, December 1, 2011
Steven Pinker argues that we are, despite the seemingly graphic violence around us, living in the most peaceful time in our history.
One of the most common ways for arguments to go astray is to make an appeal to irrelevant reasons to support the main claim of an argument, or for complex arguments, the resolution of a case.
Many variations of such appeals are similar to but subtly different from arguments from authority, in that the authority is not necessarily a person or a direct statement made by same, in or out of context, but a quality attached to an idea, a product, alleged service, protocol, or treatment.
There are several such appeals to evidence which isn’t.
A few are shown below:
- The appeal to tradition/antiquity — This fallacy lies in inferring that something is true, good, healthy, or works, because it has been in use for a long time, when it’s longevity could simply be the result of social or psychological inertia, or just plain stupidity, and not any real truth, virtues, efficacy, safety, or usefulness of the claim itself. — “But we’ve always held human sacrifices to He Who Nibbles Annoyingly at this time of year to help the crops grow…Why stop now?”
- The appeal to the new/exotic — Speciously inferring that a thing is good, useful, effective, or to be believed because of some perceived unusual or novel quality, regardless of the actual truth of the claims made for it or other relevant quality of the thing. — “This sweater costs a king’s ransom, but is well worth it, for it was knitted from the wool of Alpine mountain goats fed on imported lichens and flora harvested from a boiling subterranean Antarctic lake by trained eunuchs.”
- The appeal to sympathy — This is inferring that a claim is to be believed because those making it are deserving of our pity, sympathy, mercy, or unjustly treated, when such an inference has no relation to the claim being offered — “Hey, this guy’s gotten short shrift in business for years, so let’s consult him on all of our important foreign policy decisions.”
- The appeal to popularity — This fallacy lies in asserting that something is to be believed because it is widely accepted, when it is easily the case that 50 million of anybody can indeed be wrong. Indeed, everyone in the universe could believe Azathoth and the Other Gods to be real when that simply would not be the case. — This fallacy, along with appeals to celebrity, is one of the most common used in modern advertising. It is often coupled with the appeal to tradition in some arguments, but is pure poison no matter how it’s used.
- Appeal to unconventionality/antiauthority — A variation of the argument from authority or perhaps a positive ad hominem, in which the claimant’s virtue is perceived to come from opposition to a tyrannical and dogmatic establishment. Indeed, it’s the claimant’s lack of expertise and allegedly revolutionary mindset that is ironically their main claim to authority. — But those matters requiring real expertise are what they are — revolutionary sentiment and bold words do not make a science.
Those using these fallacies to promote their claims still must bear the burden of proof if they wish to be taken seriously by those doing genuine research work, or not. And if they wish to do so, the first thing to be done is to use evidence for their claims that actually bear on the issues they raise, to avoid these crimes of relevance, for science answers to a higher authority than any one researcher — reality — and while you can fool individual scientists, reality is not so easily fooled, and the truth will come out no matter how facile the argument against it.