20 Appeal To Authority Fallacy Examples

Appeal to Authority Fallacy examples and definition, explained below

The appeal to authority or argumentum ad verecundiam is an informal logical fallacy in which a false or misplaced authority is appealed to in order to justify an argument or idea.

Types of Appeal to Authority

There are three ways the authority can be incorrect.

1. Not an Authority at All

The authority could, firsty, not be an authority at all. Therefore, they do not lend any credibility or weight to the conclusion. This is similar to the genetic fallacy.

2. Not an Authority in the Topic

Secondly, the person or institution cited may be an authority but not an authority which is related to the argument being made and so they do not have any credibility in the argument despite the fact that they are a real authority.

For example, a medical doctor giving an opinion on the economic situation in a country could not be considered an authority on the subject. The doctor is an authority in the medical field but this does not translate to economics.

3. Authority is a Contrarian in their Field

Thirdly, the authority appealed to could not be correctly representing their field. For example, there are a very small percentage of climate change scientists who deny global warming from human activities.

They are vastly outnumbered by the rest of climate change scientists who have shown that human activities are causing global warming. Citing the few scientists who deny this aspect of global warming as if they were representing the whole or majority of their field would be incorrect.

Appeal To Authority Fallacy Examples

  1. Relying on your sociology professor for health advice (Not an authority in the field).
  2. Quoting your crazy uncle’s Facebook comments as evidence when having an argument about politics (Not an authority at all).
  3. Insisting your grandma’s five-generation family recipe for getting over a cold is far better than modern medicine (Not an authority at all).
  4. Selectively citing the 1% of climate scientists who disagree with the evidence on human-induced global warming and ignoring the other 99%.
  5. Telling the police officer, who pulled you over for speeding, that it’s okay because your boss gave you permission to speed if you’re running late for work (Not an authority in the field).
  6. Listening to your husband’s advice on what to do when you’re in labor (Not an authority at all).
  7. Your plumber comes around to your house and notices a light switch isn’t working properly so he offers to fix it for you (Not an authority in the field).
  8. Your father tells his friends you’re a computer science expert because you once fixed his HDMI cable. Now, they keep asking you to make an app for them (Not an authority at all).
  9. You tell someone who’s a Scorpio that they’re going to have a great week because Mercury is rising (Not an authority at all).
  10. Your car is rattling so you call a friend who’s an archaeologist and explain the sound. Your friend says “I think that’s an engine block issue” (Not an authority at all).

Detailed Examples

1. Wrong department

Type: Not an authority in the topic.

Stacey saw a government warning from the health department about a storm. She tells her family that they should be careful this weekend. 

In this scenario, Stacey is quoting the health department about a weather event. While a government agency is the definition of an authority, in this case they are not the correct authority. The health department would not have the relevant information to call a storm warning, it would have to be the weather services.

Stacey is committing the appeal to authority by making this claim. The health department is the incorrect department to be appealing to as it has no expertise on weather. 

2. “Trust me, I am a lawyer.”

Type: Not an authority in the topic.

Clarence is a property lawyer and is giving his friend some advice on taxes. He tells his friend to trust him because he is a lawyer. 

Clarence’s friend trusts him and takes his advice on taxes because he thinks to himself that lawyers must know a lot about the law. In this scenario Clarence and his friend are committing the appeal to authority fallacy. 

While being a property lawyer definitely does give a person authority in the field of law and property law this does not translate to being an authority on taxes. Clarence tells his friend to trust his knowledge not for any reason other than the fact that he is a lawyer. He is therefore appealing to his authority as a lawyer, which in this case, is not a credible source for taxes.

3. The teacher is never wrong.

Type: Not an authority in the topic.

Samuel asks his class teacher about the state of politics in his country. His teacher tells him that things are looking bad and he should vote a certain way. When he asks his teacher why things are looking bad, the teacher replies that he is Samuel’s teacher and knows what’s best for him.

In this scenario Samuel’s teacher is committing the appeal to authority fallacy as he is using his authority as a school teacher to make the case that he is an authority on politics. Even though teachers are very knowledgeable about many subjects this does not mean that being a teacher simply makes you an authority on politics. 

4. Grandma always said.

Type: Not an authority in the topic.

Grandma always told me that eating an apple a day keeps the doctor away. That’s why I never go for checkups at the doctor, I always eat one apple a day.

It is true that eating an apple everyday is a healthy activity and probably does contribute to a person’s physical wellbeing. However, this does not make grandma an authority on medical issues. This is therefore an appeal to authority fallacy (it also happens to be a genetic fallacy).

5. Sick as a dog.

Type: Not an authority in the topic.

A doctor is giving a patient advice in a consultation. As the patient is leaving, she asks the doctor about her dog who is also sick.

The doctor advises that she should treat the dog with human medication. When she gets home she tells her partner about the treatment for the dog and reassures them that she got the advice from a doctor.

In this scenario the patient is committing the appeal to authority fallacy as she is using the authority of a medical doctor when she really needs the advice of a veterinarian.

Both a doctor and a veterinarian work in the medical profession, however, there is a difference in treating animals and humans.

6. Just use your eyes

Type: Authority is a contrarian in the field

Jeremy and Fatima are standing by the edge of the ocean. Jeremy says: “Can’t you see how flat it is, how could the earth possibly be round? I even watched this video where a scientist was talking about how he did the measurements with lasers and everything.” 

Fatima feels doubt and is swayed by the mention of a scientist, as she trusts Jeremy and knows he would not lie to her. Even though Jeremy is telling the truth and he did watch a video with a real scientist explaining the flat earth theory this does not mean that he is correct.

Jeremy is committing the appeal to authority fallacy, not because he is being dishonest, but because one scientist advocating for the flat earth theory is not enough. The reason for this is that the overwhelming majority of scientists disagree with the flat earth theory. Therefore, Jeremy’s scientist cannot be said to be an authority on the matter of flat earth theory. 

7. In for a shock!

Type: Not an authority in the topic.

A plumber is fixing some leaky taps in the house. While he is at work he notices that the lights are not working. He tells the owner of the house that he can fix them without any problem. He has been doing plumbing in houses for 20 years.

The plumber is committing the appeal to authority fallacy. Yes, it is true that he has a lot of experience and he may even be good at fixing lights. However, he committed the fallacy because he cited his experience as a plumber as the reason for why he could fix the lights in the house.

Being a good plumber does not mean one has the expertise to do electrical work, and implying that this is so is committing the appeal to authority fallacy.

8. Relying on Astrology

Type: Not an authority at all.

For thousands of years some of the most noble and wise kings and queens used the stars and astrology to guide them. These great rulers governed over empires with millions of people in them. They knew what they were doing when they looked up at the stars.

The argument for astrology given above relies on the fact that kings and queens were very good rulers and therefore when they believed in astrology they were correct in doing so. This is an appeal to authority fallacy as being a good ruler has no relation to understanding what is happening in the stars and how it affects people.

9. Panic mechanic.

Type: Not an authority in the topic.

Gordon was telling his mechanic all about his marital problems. The mechanic, Steve, tells him that he should leave his marriage before it gets too messy. Gordon feels like this is extreme advice, and it sounds risky.

When discussing it with his family later, he justifies listening to Steve because he is just so good at what he does. He really seems like he has it all figured out. Steve is the best mechanic in the country.

Gordon is appealing to Steve’s authority as a successful person and businessman to justify taking Steve’s marital advice. This is an appeal to authority fallacy, as while Steve really is very successful, he is not an authority on marriages and relationships. 

10. Master of the arts

Type: Not an authority in the topic.

A famous painter comes out and critiques a popular film. Kevin and Rashid are debating what film to see and Kevin says that should probably not see this new popular film because of the famous painter that critiqued it.

Kevin is committing the appeal to authority fallacy. The famous painter may have a great artistic sense and film is an art just like painting. However, the two are not exactly the same and thus Kevin is appealing to the wrong type of authority.

Conclusion

The appeal to authority fallacy is common in everyday life, advertising and politics. The key idea is to always analyse the subject being spoken about and to see if that matches up with the authority being cited to back up the idea or argument.

However, even then it is possible to be citing a false authority or an authority who is not in agreement with the majority of their specialist field. Thinking about and noticing the appeal to authority fallacy is a great tool to aid with critical thinking. It teaches us to separate the subject matter of an argument from the source and its – supposed – legitimacy. z

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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

1 thought on “20 Appeal To Authority Fallacy Examples”

  1. Another fallacy is that only experts or qualified people are always correct, and people that are not officially qualified are always wrong. Two officially qualified experts can disagree. In this case, one of them is wrong.
    No expert is 100 percent correct about everything they believe. No human that has ever lived is 100 percent correct about everything.
    If all experts agreed, and their conclusions were always correct, then you could officially say experts are the only people that are correct, but this is not the case in the real world…

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