Appeal to Authority Fallacy – Definition & Examples

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

So, a fallacy in itself means a mistaken belief or a failure in reasoning. The appeal to authority fallacy is a type of logical fallacy that happens when someone’s argument is presented as true because an authority figure or an expert claims it to be true.

But a lot can be said about this topic today, so let’s explore my breakdown. I’ll even include some examples for you.

Appeal to Authority Definition

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It is a form of argumentation in which the speaker attempts to persuade the audience by appealing to the authority or prestige of the person or organization making a claim rather than providing evidence or logical reasoning to support the claim.

Potential Problems to Face

One of the main problems with using an appeal to authority as a form of argumentation is that it’s totally possible for an authority figure to be mistaken, uninformed, or even dishonest; an unqualified authority. I mean, it happens all the time. I remember proving teachers wrong all the time in high school.

Therefore, it is essential to evaluate the authority’s claim critically and determine whether the evidence supports it rather than accepting it simply because someone in a position of authority presents it.

When Is It Used?

The appeal to authority fallacy is often used in advertising and political campaigns, where qualified authorities like a celebrity or other high-profile figure are used to endorse a product or candidate. It is also often used in science, where an argument is presented as true because a prominent researcher or scientific organization supports it.

However, the credibility of the authority or expert is only one aspect to consider when evaluating the argument. The evidence and reasoning provided are more important.

Appeal to Authority Examples

It’s everywhere; you just need to know where to look and how to spot valid authority from false.

  • “The key to healthy soil is organic matter. Every gardening guide says so, so it must be true.”

It may be true that organic matter makes healthy soil, but the fact that gardening guides say so does not make it true. To make a convincing argument, this writer needs to provide at least a little information about what makes the organic matter so beneficial.

In the Medical World

One example of the appeal to authority fallacy is when a pharmaceutical company uses a celebrity doctor in an advertisement to endorse its product. The advertisement may imply that the product is safe and effective because a medical doctor is shown using it. But the doctor’s endorsement may not be based on any scientific evidence or research.

In a case like this, it’d be more appropriate to consider the results of any clinical trials or studies that have been conducted on the product rather than relying solely on the authority and medical advice of the celebrity doctor.

In Politics

Another example of the appeal to authority fallacy is when a political candidate uses endorsements from prominent figures in the community to support their campaign and claims them to be a credible source. The candidate may claim that their policies are the best because a respected leader in the community has endorsed them. 

For example, perhaps they claimed their stance on guns is correct because they have an endorsement from an expert in gun violence. But if that expert also happens to be on the board of the NRA, the support might be a bit biased. A more credible expert would be a police chief or a statistics worker.

However, it would be more appropriate to evaluate the candidate’s policies based on their own merits rather than relying solely on the authority of the endorsing figures.

In Science

In scientific research, an example of the appeal to authority fallacy can be seen when an argument is presented as true because a prestigious scientific journal or organization supports it. For instance, researchers may claim their findings are true because they have been published in a highly regarded journal or expert physicist.

But it’s essential to be aware that not all journals have the same level of quality control. A prestigious journal does not automatically mean that the research and findings are valid, hence the importance of considering the design and methodology of the research, the evidence presented, and the peer review process.

Avoiding the Appeal to Authority Fallacy

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To avoid the appeal to authority fallacy, it’s super important to critically evaluate the evidence and reasoning provided rather than relying solely on the alleged authority or prestige of the person or organization making a claim.

It’s also important to consider the authority figure or expert’s potential biases or conflicts of interest. Additionally, it’s a good idea to seek multiple sources, credible authorities, and perspectives to help form an unbiased and well-rounded opinion.

Legitimate Appeals to Authority

If you want to see actual appeals to authority done correctly, just look at any insight that someone has given within their field but make sure they’re qualified to do so. For example, a real estate lawyer could definitely give advice to homeowners or real estate agents.

Appeal to False Authority Fallacy

Appeal to false authority is a type of logical fallacy that happens when an argument is presented as true because it is attributed to an authority figure or an expert. But that authority figure or expert doesn’t possess the relevant expertise or qualifications to make that claim.

This is a variation of the appeal to authority fallacy, and it involves invoking the authority of someone who is not truly an authority but is pretending to be one.

One example of appeal to false authority can be seen in cases where someone claims to be an expert in a certain field but has no formal education or training in that field. This person might offer advice or make claims about a topic, but their qualifications and expertise in the area are not genuine.

I’m betting you can think of a few examples from today’s society where you’ve seen this happen. It’s simply the world we live in, unfortunately.

It’s essential to check the credentials of the person or so-called authority making a claim and verify their expertise and qualifications to make the statement.

Wrapping It Up

In the end, the appeal to authority fallacy happens when a dispute is presented as true because an expert claims it to be by people saying they’re expert figures. These so-called experts levy their statements based on popularity, not on merit or genuine expertise, and it can be found in various fields, such as advertising, politics, and science.

However, relying solely on the authority of an individual or organization can be problematic because it’s not a guarantee of the argument’s validity. It’s essential to critically evaluate the evidence, reasoning, and potential biases to form an informed and unbiased opinion.