10 Genetic Fallacy Examples

man pointing at forehead

The genetic fallacy is an informal fallacy that is caused by basing the truth value of an argument only on where or who that argument came from rather than the argument’s internal logic. It is similar to the appeal to authority fallacy.

In the genetic fallacy, people care about the origin of the argument when determining whether we should believe it or not. This is a fallacy because the truth value of a conclusion should be based on the validity of the premises and not the origin of the premises.

In other words, the place where an argument comes from and how correct that argument is are two separate things.

Often, the origin of the argument can have some validity such as citing a scientific expert as the basis for why your argument is correct. However, this is not always the case and we need to be able to distinguish when the origin of an argument lends validity and when it does not.

Genetic Fallacy Examples

  1. Using an 1850s medical book as evidence: Old medical books don’t have true authority these days because their information is outdated. We’re committing the genetic fallacy if we rely on them to prove our arguments.
  2. My Uncle Said It: If the only basis for your argument is that you heard it from your uncle then you haven’t formulated a logical point. You’ve used a genetic fallacy.
  3. Relying on a Photo of a Ghost: While photo evidence is often compelling, there are many grainy photos of so-called ghosts. It’s not enough to form solid evidence. If it’s an old grainy photo that you’re relying on then it might be a genetic fallacy.
  4. Plato Said It: Plato said that Atlantis exists. He’s a respected historical figure. So we should trust him, right?
  5. I Dreamed it Up: A man has an excellent business idea with a solid business plan. But people dismiss it as soon as he tells people he first came up with it in a dream. Here, they’re falling prey to the false cause fallacy. They’re dismissing a logical idea simply because of its origin.
  6. Old Wives Tales: If you believe something is true because it’s been passed down by your parents then this is the genetic fallacy. You need a logical argument rather than reliance on authority.
  7. Trusting a Banker: If you rely on a banker for advice on whether you can take out a loan then you’re not using logic. You’re falling back on the genetic fallacy. In fact, the banker might not have your interests at heart. Therefore, their advice isn’t reliable.
  8. Trusting Newspapers: Newspapers could be reliable but also could not! If you dismiss (or accept) information in a newspaper just because it’s from the newspaper then you’re relying too much on the origin of the information rather than the validity of its premises.
  9. Dismissing something because the President Proposed it: If you don’t like the president then you might be inclined to dismiss everything he says. But sometimes he might have good ideas. Focus on the ideas (not the person) to avoid the genetic fallacy.
  10. Submarines Mustn’t be Safe: Submarines were first thought up in a science fiction novel. If you said you didn’t think they were a good idea because they come from science fiction then you’re not engaging with the merits of the concept. You’re too concerned with the origins and not enough with the logical validity. This is a classic genetic fallacy.

Some Examples in Detail

1. Read between the lines.

James is telling his friend that he read a very interesting medical fact in the encyclopedia Britannica from 1850. He read that sickness can actually be caused by an imbalance of our humor – which according to the 1850 edition – are the vital forces in our body.

His friend informs him that just because he read it in a book – and an outdated one at that – it does not mean that it is true. There is no such thing as humors and sickness is generally caused by either bacteria or a virus.

James is committing the genetic fallacy by using the origin of his claim as the reason for why it would be true. His medical fact originated from an encyclopedia and, therefore, he thinks it must be true. Even when dealing with usually reliable sources like an encyclopedia we still need to look at other factors to determine the validity of an argument. In this case, it would be when the encyclopedia was released.

2. Family know-how.

My uncle always told me that the only way to fix a car was with a beverage in your hand and a spanner in the other. I never take my car to the mechanic.

The proposition in this scenario is that the only way to fix a car is to do it yourself while drinking a beverage.

The only reason given for why we should accept this as true is because it came from my uncle. It is the origin (and the origin alone) which is given as the reason for why we should accept the truth value of the conclusion.

For this reason, the proposition in this scenario commits the genetic fallacy.

3. A picture is worth a thousand words.

I believe that ghosts are real. I would never have believed it until I saw it in a photo. There is no way it could have been faked. I know for a fact that there was no digital tampering.

In this scenario, the origin of why we should believe that ghosts are real is because of the photo. We are given no other reasons for why ghosts might be real. While it is true that photos can be reliable evidence, they can also be tampered with and faked in many different ways.

Arguing that ghosts are real from one photo is committing the genetic fallacy. It is basing the entire argument on the origin of your claim without any other evidence.

4.  Plato’s Atlantis.

Plato wrote that Solon, an Athenian born over a hundred years before him, traveled to Egypt and was told that the ancient city and civilization of Atlantis was real.

Plato believed him to be a trustworthy source and we believe Plato about many fundamental ideas of philosophy and society.

For this reason, we should believe Plato when he says that the lost city of Atlantis is not a myth at all and that it was a real place.

In this scenario, we are only told to believe that Atlantis existed because Solon said so. He and Plato may seem like trustworthy sources but that is not enough evidence for such a grand claim. Proper evidence would be archeological and scientific. Therefore, the argument in this scenario is committing the genetic fallacy.

5.  Dream catcher.

John has an excellent business idea. He is telling his friends about it to see if they want to invest. They are very excited about it until they hear that the business idea came to him in a dream.

John’s friends lose interest in the business idea solely because of where it came from. They are committing the genetic fallacy as they are not assessing the idea for its real merit.

6. The good old days.

Life was so simple and peaceful in the good old days. People really had time to stop and think. That’s why all the great philosophers come from ancient times.

The above argument about why there were great philosophers in the good old days is false.

To accept any idea just because it came from a certain period of human history is the definition of the genetic fallacy. The fact that an idea originates in a certain place does not make it a good idea.

7. It’s nothing personal. It’s just business.

The assistant at the bank told Clarissa to get a loan and that she would definitely be able to pay it back despite the high interest rate. When Clarissa was discussing this with her parents she told them that surely the bank knows best.

Clarissa is committing the genetic fallacy by believing the banker’s advice just because it came from the bank.

In fact, bankers have their own interests (they want you to take out the loan) so they’re not as reliable as you’d think!

8.  Storm warning.

Fred gets stuck in a violent storm. When he gets home his family asks him “didn’t you see all the warnings all over the place.” Fred had ignored the warning he saw because it happened to be on a tabloid newspaper he passed on a newsstand.

Fred explains to his family that he dismissed the warning because of where he saw it. He just doesn’t trust the tabloids for any news.

Fred committed the genetic fallacy because he dismissed a message because of its origin.

9. Green is better

At a paper industry expo, a guest speaker is talking about how they want to plant more trees because it is good for the environment (especially in this time of global warming).

Some people at the talk don’t believe the speaker. They thought that all he wanted to do was plant more trees to make more money for the paper industry.

While the speaker may have ulterior motives to make money for the paper industry, this does note mean that he is wrong about more trees being good for the environment. The sceptical people at the talk are committing the genetic fallacy.

They are committing the genetic fallacy because they are dismissing the truth value of the claim that trees are good for the environment because of the origin of that claim.

In this scenario, the origin of the claim is the paper industry who have a financial incentive to plant trees for profit regardless of the environment.

10. Submarines aren’t reliable.

Sam and Tim are talking about submarines. Sam is trying to explain to Tim why he would never ever go in a submarine.

Sam finishes off his point by saying “Anyway, did you know that the submarine was first inspired by science fiction. I would never trust anything that comes from Hollywood.”

In this scenario, Sam is committing the genetic fallacy in his argument for why he would never go in a submarine.

His reason for why we should accept his point of view ends up being that submarines were first thought of for science fiction and, therefore, can’t be trusted in the real world. He is arguing against the origin of submarines as a whole, which has nothing to do with the safety of submarines today.


The genetic fallacy is an important fallacy to understand. Often, the origin of an idea or argument holds value for how we may perceive that thing. As we have seen in these examples, though, the origin of an idea or argument is not enough to guarantee the truth or falsity of that idea or argument.

As we hold the origin of ideas or arguments in high value, we need to take extra care to not let that cloud our judgment of the truth of the ideas or arguments.

The origin of something is worth consideration and can add credibility to an idea or argument. However, alone, it does not determine if something is true or not.

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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.

2 thoughts on “10 Genetic Fallacy Examples”

  1. Please fix all the comma splices. Drove me crazy. Made me want to dismiss all of the information, even though it was valid…which would be a logical fallacy.

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