“I read somewhere…”
“I’ve heard from reputable sources…”
“They say that…”
Ahhh… the “Appeal to Anonymous Authority.”
This is a logical fallacy (definition: a flaw in the structure or line of reasoning in an argument that renders it invalid). It’s probably the one I see most commonly on social media…where all the “experts” (wink*wink) are.
People on the internet always have opinions, don’t they? But, see, most people are using that word wrong. An opinion, in its truest sense, is an idea based on an appraisal of available circumstances or data. I mean, anyone can have an opinion in the sense that they can have likes, dislikes, faith, beliefs, or interests. But if you want to be in an ARGUMENT, an “opinion” is different and you just gotta have some sources, proof, evidence…ya know…stuff that isn’t just randomness from your own head.
Here’s what to do when faced with someone whose argument is invalid because of the use of the “Appeal to Anonymous Authority” fallacy:
1. You fight facts with facts. You fight “opinions” with…facts.
To have a quality, reasonable, logical argument, you need to have evidence or data to support your claim(s). Data/evidence can exist in several forms including, but not limited to:
—numbers,charts, graphs, and figures from recognized experts in the field most relevant to the issue at hand
—conclusions, studies, and opinions (in the true sense of the word) from experts in the field (even better is when you can find the same conclusions drawn by multiple experts).
—quotes from reputable news organizations and written by reputable writers (click on the name of a journalist on any article – you’ll be taken to their credentials. If there’s no writer listed, run away. If there are no credentials listed, run away.)
—scientific studies that are peer-reviewed
2. Comment reasonably and intelligently on your data.
Don’t merely provide a list of facts. Explain simply and clearly HOW those facts support your claim. This is actually tougher than it sounds. I consider myself lucky if I can get 75% of my students (who avidly study and practice this) to write good commentary. But, really, if you don’t connect the dots, clarifying what you suggest the data you’ve presented shows about the claim you’ve made, you’re just listing facts. Lists don’t persuade. They bore.
3. Evaluate the potential holes in or objections to your argument. How would a good arguer respond to my words?
If you can think objectively about defense, you can build a stronger offense. This, in turn, can shorten the duration of the argument as a whole and can make it clear that you just may be the only one who came truly ready to play. However, upon presenting a well-researched, supported point of view that’s pretty failsafe, you might be met with an attack on your intelligence, looks, age, etc. That’s another logical fallacy: the ad hominem attack that I covered in an earlier post. Sometimes people just feel the need to have the last word and, “bite me, donkey face” can feel better to them than letting your claims rest without retort.
So, come to an argument armed with facts, science, expert opinions, news sources, and support. And, most importantly, stay calm, stay on-topic, and keep it classy.
You’ve become so much smarter already from my Masterclass, haven’t you?
Next time: “No, Becky, ‘The Onion’ is not a Reputable News Source,” or, “How to Bring Good Data to the Argument”