7 junio, 2024

Ad verecundiam or authority fallacy: what it is, characteristics and examples

We explain what one of the most frequent types of fallacies consists of both in the media and in everyday life; the ad verecundiam fallacy

The ad verecundiam or authority fallacy is that premise that is based on the figure of someone expert to argue that it is true and true. In other words, if someone in authority claims that something is true, it must be true because that person says so.

The problem with this fallacy is that, like all fallacies, it uses a deceptive argument instead of evidence. Something an expert says is not necessarily true, and to demonstrate the premise, evidence will have to be presented.

(Legend: The ad verecundiam fallacy is the one that, to prove its validity, points to an expert in the field. The ancient Greeks used the expression Master Dixit (the teacher said it) as proof enough of something)

For example, saying that gravity exists because Newton said it is an ad verecundiam fallacy, since the argument on which it is based is that Newton said it, not that it is an attraction that all objects with mass experience among themselves.

Note that the fallacy is not in the postulate, but in the argument: gravity exists, but not because Newton said so. That is, the premise is correct but the reasoning is not.

Ad verecundiam means «to respect», to venerate, for this reason a synonym is the saying by the Pythagoreans: magister dixitthat is, the teacher said it (and if the teacher, the expert, the one with authority says it, it must be true).

Characteristics of the ad verecundiam fallacy

The ad verecundiam fallacy has several characteristics:

no evidence

What is obvious right off the bat is that they don’t do tests to show that something is true if it was said by a person of authority. Let’s analyze the classic case of ad verecundiam fallacy:

«The square root of 2 is irrational because Euclid said it was.»

This is an ad verecundiam fallacy because the proof that the square root of 2 is irrational is not that Euclid said it, but because mathematical proofs indicate that it cannot be expressed as the division of two integers.

For those who use this fallacy, the proof is enough to allude to the authority figure, and nothing more.

Authority figure is reason enough

The moral quality of the authority figure displaces the validity of the premise. If we take for granted that the “sky is blue” because Newton said so, and Newton knew what he was talking about because he was a well-known physicist who laid the foundations of physics, then that is reason enough to accept a premise as true.

In other words, the only reason the sky is blue is because Newton said so. There lies the fallacy, that no evidence of any kind is provided and what the authority figure has said on the subject is accepted without discussion.

Validity of the premises

As we have seen in the examples, so far the premises are true, since the fallacy resides in the argument to prove them (the magister dixit which we talked about earlier). The fact that they are true does not mean that the argument is valid.

logical scheme

The ad verecundiam fallacies are structured with the following logical scheme:

X is a recognized physicist.
X says that quantum physics is a hoax.
Therefore, quantum physics is a hoax.

Here we have a case in which the premise is not true, and the reason is based on what «an expert» says. This is especially noticeable when the experts do not all agree on the concepts. In these cases, whoever wields the fallacy will choose the opinion that best suits him to support his own argument.

How to identify an ad verecundiam fallacy?

At first glance, when a person bases his argument on the fact that someone with authority on the subject says so, we are facing an ad verecundiam fallacy. As we have already said, something is not true just because an expert says so, and the argumentation must point to the evidence to prove it.

Although in academic, scientific or technical essays expressions such as «as so-and-so said, we agree to affirm that…» are often used, in these cases the reasons why they agree are usually stated. , and the reference to the expert is just one more endorsement.

How to identify it in advertising

Advertising has made use of several fallacies on its journey to persuasion, and the ad verecundiam fallacy is one more. We can recognize it when there are recognized figures in a field endorsing a product that they do not know in depth about.

Some examples: a soccer player recommending an insurance agency, an actress advising on a specific type of contact lenses for myopia, a well-known academic recommending a car…

Advertising uses this type of person to say that the products it wants to sell are good based on who exposes them. If Messi drinks a Pepsi cola, this drink must be good, because Messi is a great footballer.

The argument is not valid in any of the cases because generally the experts are experts in other fields; If the soccer player were talking about sports shoes or balls or grass for the field, there would be more relationship between his area of ​​expertise and what he recommends.

How to identify it in the press

Something similar to advertising occurs in the press, usually in the field of politics: when prominent figures (presidents, representatives, senators, etc.) base their arguments on something that another, equal to or more representative than them, said.

Or when the same journalists refer to the opinions of well-known figures in support or rejection of certain positions (this is what is known as “spokesman jargon”): “For Trump it is indisputable that there is a global conspiracy against him.”

Examples of ad verecundiam fallacy

Below you can see several examples of cases in which the fallacy of authority or ad verecundiam occurs:

A newspaper or youtuber explains that extraterrestrial life exists because a scientist from Harvard University has said so.
Arguing that traditional medicine is effective because they are supported by certain countries, politicians or doctors.
In the networks, for some time, a kind of fake news: that of Noam Chomsky’s media manipulation techniques. This is a perfect example of an ad verecundiam fallacy, since the true author, the Frenchman Sylvain Timsit, at some point said that he had based himself on the thought of the North American linguist, which was enough for millions of people to transfer the authorship to the latter. It would be an ad verecundiam fallacy, since Chomsky’s prestige and his repeated criticisms and analyzes of the role of the media, and his questioning of the neoliberal system are enough to make people believe that what is said about mass manipulation is true. , and what he said.

«I saw a television program about climate change where they say it’s a lie, and if it’s on TV it must be true.»
«I’m a literature teacher with a postgraduate degree in philology, don’t think you know more than me.»
«The press says so!»
«They sent me a WhatsApp with the news, it’s sure true.»
Arguing that a virus does not exist because a medical graduate has said so.
The innumerable references by Hugo Chávez to Simón Bolívar, the Liberator of Venezuela, to support his «independence» theses of «Yankee and world imperialism» would be an example of an ad verecundiam fallacy in the press (the Venezuelan newspapers and media sympathetic to the government are full of these fallacies, now made by Nicolás Maduro with Chávez).

References

Lopez, K. (1999). Argumentation theory. Taken from academia.edu.
Walton, D., Koszowy, M. (2014). Two kinds of Arguments from authority in the ad verecundiam fallacy. Taken from scholar.uwindsor.ca.
James, F. (2020). Pseudoscience: a manifestation of wrong thinking. Taken from extrapolitica.ssh.org.pe.
Argument ad verecundiam (2021). Taken from es.wikipedia.org.
Examples of ad verecundiam fallacy (2021). Taken from rhetorics.com.

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