9 Examples of an Appeal To Authority

        posted by John Spacey, May 22, 2020


An appeal to authority is an argument that something is true because an authoritative institution or individual says its true. This is a common source of propaganda, fallacy and cognitive bias. The following are illustrative examples.

Authoritarian Personality

An authoritarian personality is a pattern of behavior whereby an individual sides with an authority in a zealous and unquestioning manner and uses this position to establish social dominance over others.

In Japan, neighbors are often required to put their garbage out in a shared centralized location. This involves a variety of rules for sorting and packaging the garbage correctly. In order to facilitate this process, a volunteer is selected for each neighborhood to enforce the rules. There are many stories in Japanese modern folklore of this person becoming a bully who is constantly shaming everyone in the neighborhood for putting out their garbage too late, too early or for not binding their paper recycling tight enough. In Japanese culture, this is often used as the classic example of the authoritarian personality whereby a set of rules or norms are used to establish a sense of superiority over others.

Weasel Words

Supporting an argument by referencing an anonymous authority who supposedly agrees with everything you say.

Experts say …

Doctors believe …

Scientists now know …

Listen to the experts ….

Ad Hominem

Ad hominem is the process of attacking the person instead of their argument. This often takes the form of claiming a person has no right to an opinion because they aren’t an “expert.”

Are you a doctor?

Did you go to Harvard?

Are you the CEO?

I didn’t know you’re an economics professor now.

I think we should listen to the experts instead of making guesses.

You’re too young to have experienced …

Are you the garbage captain? (see above)

False Consensus

Pretending that all experts in a domain have come to a universal consensus that perfectly aligns to your opinion when in fact their may be considerable difference of opinion amongst experts.

All economists will tell you …

The experts say …

Media Pundits

Media outlets commonly feature “experts” often without any reference to their specific qualifications and reputation. The opinion of these experts is then presented as authoritative and factual information. This opinion may differ greatly from the opinion of other domain experts with equal or greater knowledge of the topic.

Name Dropping

Mentioning the name of an authority with which you have only a loose association in order to boost your own authority.

I was at a conference at Harvard last week ….

I met **famous person** …

Ethos

Ethos is a classic mode of persuasion whereby you use your authority or the words of an authority to convince.

At Harvard they taught us …

Harvard researchers say ….

A guy I met, who is a professor at Harvard, said …

Credentialism

Credentialism is the practice of seeking validation from educational institutions, standards organizations and training providers with degrees, certificates, certifications and other proof that you have passed or conformed to a test designed by an authority. This tends to be attractive to mediocre firms and professionals who are insecure and want paper proof of their competence.

Authority Bias

Authority bias is a tendency to place too much weight in the authoritative status of an information source. In the worst case, this involves suspension of critical thought for fear of challenging an authority. For example, placing 100% belief in the opinion of a Harvard economics professor without considering that equally accomplished individuals from other universities disagree with this view.

Overview: Appeal To Authority
TypeWeasel Words
DefinitionAn argument that something is true because an authoritative institution or individual says its true.
Related ConceptsWeasel Words » Authority » Propaganda » What is a Fallacy? » Cognitive Bias » Authoritarian Personality »

Appeal To Authority

This is the complete list of articles we have written about appeal to authority .

 
Ad HominemAuthorityCognitive Bias
Critical ThoughtEthosFallacy
MediocrityName DroppingNorms
PropagandaWeasel Words