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WebRanger

Analyzing the Appeal to Consensus

I'm exploring the appeal to consensus and would like to make a list of fallacies it incorporates or is related to. This is my preliminary list:

1. An appeal to consensus could be nothing more than a bald-faced lie.

2.  It could also be an example of cherry-picking; some power broker just hand-picked a group of scientists to query.

3. The "scientists" who were queried aren't real scientists. (What kind of fallacy would that be?)

4. The scientists were paid to take  part in a survey.

5. It could be an example of ambiguity;  exactly  what does a person mean by "consensus"? Are they talking about a poll?

It seems like a person invoking a consensus could play any number of statistical games. Can anyone suggest other fallacies or pseudo-fallacies that might relate to the appeal to consensus?

Thanks.

P.S. In Logically Fallacious , argument from consensus is listed as a synonym of appeal to common belief. I'm talking about a more specific appeal to consensus, like the claim that there's a consensus among scientists that genetically modified food is safe for consumption.

asked on Sunday, Apr 25, 2021 07:38:54 AM by WebRanger

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Bill writes:

I think you're speculating on a broad range of unrelated issues.

Scientists (and other experts) judge evidence by the standards of their specialties. However, people who don't understand the complexities of a science need to rely on the opinions held by the largest number of the most qualified scientists or experts. That's imperfect, but it's not a fallacy. 

Yes, scientists can sometimes be corrupted or misinterpreted. That's why I use Google Scholar and look up the actual reports that the scientists themselves have written. That way I can avoid filters. I also look at their funding sources, which are reported in the scientific journal articles. 

Science is always open to revision as new evidence becomes known. 

It's good to be careful, but not good to be cynical. Have a great day. 

posted on Monday, Apr 26, 2021 08:48:27 AM
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WebRanger writes:

[To Bill]

I'm not speculating on anything.

When I type fallacy + "appeal to consensus" into Google, I get 250,000 hits. That tells me there really is a fallacy called appeal to consensus.

If this is an authentic fallacy, then there must be authentic examples of this fallacy. I would like to know how some of those authentic examples are classified.

"Yes, scientists can sometimes be corrupted or misinterpreted."

BINGO. You're getting warm. However, my question isn't limited to scientists. Phony marketing surveys can be falsely advertised as consensuses as well.

It's better to be cynical than to put your trust in Google Scholar. Have a great day.

[ login to reply ] posted on Monday, Apr 26, 2021 08:55:18 AM
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Bill writes:
[To WebRanger]

250,000 hits? At first blush, that sounds like the fallacy of appeal to popularity, doesn't it? 

Seriously, although there is a valid point buried in your analysis, remember that logic depends on precise definitions of terms. Would you like to work on that? 

Note that people do lie about expert consensus. That's not a fallacy of consensus; it's just lying. For example, a news show might say that there is a scientific consensus about some topic, when, in fact, there is no such consensus. That's not a logical error; it's just lying. 

[ login to reply ] posted on Monday, Apr 26, 2021 11:33:45 AM
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WebRanger writes:
[To Bill]

"250,000 hits? At first blush, that sounds like the fallacy of appeal to popularity, doesn't it?"

No, that's not a fallacy at all. That's a simple statement. Anyone can type those same search terms into Google and get the same results (though the results will presumably vary somewhat from time to time). 

"Seriously, although there is a valid point buried in your analysis, remember that logic depends on precise definitions of terms. Would you like to work on that?"

I'd prefer that you work on your comprehension skills.

"Note that people do lie about expert consensus. That's not a fallacy of consensus; it's just lying. For example, a news show might say that there is a scientific consensus about some topic, when, in fact, there is no such consensus. That's not a logical error; it's just lying."

I'm not interested in lies. I'm interested in actual fallacies, specifically involving the appeal to consensus.

Since you apparently don't have a clue about fallacy or logic, it would probably be best if you just get lost and let people who do have a clue reply to my question, assuming there's any interest. And if there's no interest, then one has to wonder what kind of forum this is.

[ login to reply ] posted on Monday, Apr 26, 2021 11:38:53 AM
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Bill writes:
[To WebRanger]

1. Please refrain from the ad hominem attacks. Thank you.

2. I've published research articles about fallacies, so I probably know at least something.

3. For the rest, you might want to re-read your original post. Have you missed your own point? Thanks! 

[ login to reply ] posted on Monday, Apr 26, 2021 12:39:58 PM
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WebRanger writes:
[To Bill]

"1. Please refrain from the ad hominem attacks. Thank you."

Tu Quoque . You need to refrain from spewing BS (and rather obvious insults). You've posted three or four times and haven't contributed anything to this dicussion.

"2. I've published research articles about fallacies, so I probably know at least something."

Really? Please share your last name and some links to your "research articles." I'm afraid I don't trust people who pose as experts on the Internet but only call themselves "Bill."

"3. For the rest, you might want to re-read your original post. Have you missed your own point? Thanks!"

Let's start with the first sentence...

I'm exploring the appeal to consensus and would like to make a list of fallacies it incorporates or is related to.

The words "the appeal to consensus" tell us which fallacy I'm interested in. Can you guess which one it is?

The words "list of fallacies" are a pretty good clue that I'm interested in the fallacious use of this particular fallacy.

If all of that goes over your head, I then mention "cherry picking" and "ambiguity" in the examples. Those are very popular fallacies. If you've actually published research papers, they should be familiar to you.

If all of this is too difficult for your mind to grasp, or if you simply have no interest in my question, that's perfectly fine. If you're just bored, may I suggest going for a walk or searching for fallacies on Facebook?

Have a nice day.

[ login to reply ] posted on Monday, Apr 26, 2021 06:35:40 PM
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Citizen Irrelevant writes:

[To Bill]

You note that logic depends upon precise terminology, and then write:

 a news show might say that there is a scientific consensus about some topic, when, in fact, there is no such consensus. That's not a logical error; it's just lying. 

How about "misinformation", or even "disinformation"?

[ login to reply ] posted on Monday, Apr 26, 2021 11:51:13 AM
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Bo Bennett, PhD writes:

I am not sure what you are asking and judging by the other responses I don't think others are either. Are you asking how some people use the "appeal to consensus" fallacy erroneously? That is, they claim fallacy when it is really not?

One thing to keep in mind is that there is a legitimate appeal to consensus and a fallacious one. Perhaps you are asking in which ways is appealing to a consensus legitimate and in which ways it is fallacious? This would actually be a good reference to make.

posted on Monday, Apr 26, 2021 09:27:13 AM
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WebRanger writes:
[To Bo Bennett, PhD]

Sorry, I thought the examples I listed made it clear that I'm focusing on the FALLACIOUS use of the appeal to consensus.

I was struck by the fact that a fallacious appeal to consensus can overlap with a really wide variety of fallacies, and I thought it would be interesting to try and make a list of them.

[ login to reply ] posted on Monday, Apr 26, 2021 09:29:43 AM
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Bill writes:
[To Bo Bennett, PhD]

Right on!

[ login to reply ] posted on Monday, Apr 26, 2021 10:54:00 AM
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Bill writes:

Let's try again:

Let me suggest some tentative ways to evaluate an appeal to expert consensus:

1. The consensus must be held by recognized experts/specialists in the field.

2. The experts must have specialized training and experience before they can join in an expert consensus. 

3. The consensus must be widely shared among qualified experts. Perhaps we could insist that 90% of recognized experts must share the opinion before we can call it a consensus. 

4. Always be aware that new evidence can appear that could discredit the old consensus, presumably leading to a new consensus. 

Note that it is possible to have a consensus of people who aren't experts. That can be interesting, but I wouldn't want to use it as an argument premise. That just evolves into appeal to popular belief. For example, most people believe that lie detectors are reliable and accurate. So, there is a consensus among the public. However, psychologists have studied lie detection in literally thousands of studies and concluded scientifically that lie detection is woefully inaccurate. 

Interesting twist: many law enforcement officials think that lie detectors are accurate. Aren't they also qualified experts? So we could have two conflicting consensuses between two different groups. Tricky.  

In the news media, the most common error is to violate #2. On Fox News, for example, I have noticed that it is common to hear views from people who are woefully unqualified. A consensus of Fox News pundits would not impress me unless the pundits have independently verified credentials. 

Also, elsewhere in fallacy books (including Dr. Bo's), one can find ways to evaluate experts and authorities. See his chapter on the Appeal to False Authority. 

posted on Monday, Apr 26, 2021 07:37:41 PM
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WebRanger writes:
[To Bill]

Let me try again: Can you give us some links to the "research articles" you claim you've written?

[ login to reply ] posted on Monday, Apr 26, 2021 07:39:48 PM
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Bill writes:

I posted them a few minutes ago. Here we are again. http://harpine.blogspot.com/p/william-d-harpines-publications.html

Or you can search William Harpine Fallacy on https://scholar.google.com

 

 

posted on Monday, Apr 26, 2021 07:58:06 PM
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WebRanger writes:
[To Bill]

Thanks. That's very revealing.

[ login to reply ] posted on Monday, Apr 26, 2021 08:00:29 PM

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Answers

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Rationalissimo
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1. An appeal to consensus could be nothing more than a bald-faced lie.

Then this is just lying; misinformation. There's no fallacy involved because we are dealing with factual claims.

It could also be an example of cherry-picking; some power broker just hand-picked a group of scientists to query.

Cherry picking. This has less to do with appealing to consensus and more to do with presenting a misleading view of what this 'consensus' looks like. If it's cherry-picked, it's not consensus.

The "scientists" who were queried aren't real scientists. (What kind of fallacy would that be?)

Would fall under lying, but would also be an example of appeal to false authority.

The scientists were paid to take  part in a survey.

This may actually be a fallacy on your part, since you dismiss the results based on the fact the scientists were paid. This does not actually mean the results were false; it means they are suspect. Careful not to fall into ad hominem (circumstantial).

It could be an example of ambiguity;  exactly  what does a person mean by "consensus"? Are they talking about a poll?

Ambiguity fallacy

Alternatively, it could be a matter of what inferences were made based on consensus. We could have a case of fact-to-fiction fallacy, a new one Dr Bo added for the COVID-19 debate. You quote science (facts, or consensus opinion) then infer something from that science which isn't supported by it. Then, when people object, claim they are "anti-science".

answered on Monday, Apr 26, 2021 06:12:24 PM by Rationalissimo

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mchasewalker
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It sounds like you're getting tripped up with the application of the word "consensus". For one, it's not a popularity contest. It simply means "the sheer weight of the compelling evidence has narrowed the avenues of research to areas that continue to make sense".

Similar to the use of the word  "theory" it means something very different to the scientific community than it does to the general populace. ( Argumentum ad populum).

Perhaps you might enjoy this different approach? Rather than trying to discredit all scientific consensus as fallacious reasoning, let's compare your analysis to Real Clear Science's handy guide for denying scientific consensus in the first place. 

Tip #1: Claim a conspiracy. Feel like the whole world is against you? Well that's because it is! Scientists, politicians, journalists: they're all in collusion! Take climate change, for example. It's obvious why all those scientists "agree." They've been paid off by Big Solar and Big Wind, and are probably throwing lavish parties, complete with dancers that jump out of giant cakes shaped like beakers.

Tip #2: Use fake experts. The other side has their experts, so you need to get some, too. Finding somebody with respected credentials will be difficult, so to make up for it, just dress whoever you select in a white lab coat. If you can recruit a celebrity, do it! The public already trusts them. (Note: The more attractive the celebrity, the greater is his or her credibility.) To the anti-vaxxers out there, I recommend Jenny McCarthy.

Tip #3: Cherry-pick scientific data. Every once in a while, a scientific study will be published that supports your claims. When this happens, latch on and don't let go (despite it's obvious errors)! After all, the key to convincing others is simply to repeat your message more often than your opponents repeat theirs. If you're opposed to genetic modification, allow me to recommend a 2012 study by Gilles-Éric Séralini which found that genetically modified corn causes cancer in lab rats. Never mind that it's been universally denounced and recently retracted. The public doesn't need to know that.

Tip #4: Create unrealistic expectations of the evidence. Science is inherently uncertain; even scientists admit that! What can they ever really prove? Nothing! Climate change deniers, take Pascal Diethelm and Martin McKee's advice and "point to the absence of accurate temperature records from before the invention of the thermometer."

Tip #5: Employ logical fallacies. Straw men, red herrings, false analogies: all of these are your friends. Misrepresent the opposition! Change the subject! And here's a foolproof false analogy for evolution deniers: "As the universe and a watch are both extremely complex, the universe must have been created by the equivalent of a watchmaker." Deep, isn't it?

answered on Sunday, Apr 25, 2021 12:51:48 PM by mchasewalker

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WebRanger writes:

"Rather than trying to discredit all scientific consensus as fallacious reasoning..."

I'm not trying to discredit all scientific consensus. I'm interested in the FALLACIOUS use of the term. I have a degree in science myself.

"Take climate change, for example."

Sorry, that's a bad example. Climate change is real, and there's presumably an authentic scientific consensus to support it.

"Tip #2: Use fake experts."

Bingo. Like all the corporate operatives who work as lobbyists or are given political posts. That's exactly what I'm looking for.

"Tip #3: Cherry-pick scientific data."

I think I already mentioned cherry picking in my opening question. It's easy to cherry pick experts or conduct polls that only target particular demographic sectors.

"Tip #4: Create unrealistic expectations of the evidence."

Sorry, you're going off on a tangent here.

"Tip #5: Employ logical fallacies."

Actually, I'm interested in knowing how propagandists employ logical fallacies. More precisely, I'm interested in knowing which fallacies intersect with the appeal to consensus. There is a lot of overlap between various fallacies.

"Straw men, red herrings, false analogies: all of these are your friends."

Actually, your entire post looks like one big red herring. Not surprising, since I think I recall you as the guy who said you're a big fan of Michael Shermer.

I'm interested in hearing from more rational people who actually understand my question and don't feel compelled to embark on a wacko anti-conspiracy rant.

posted on Sunday, Apr 25, 2021 01:04:35 PM
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Bill
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Certainly. Thanks for asking. Here's a publication list. There are links to most of them. (If not available full-text, your public library can probably get them for you on their databases). 

http://harpine.blogspot.com/p/william-d-harpines-publications.html 

answered on Monday, Apr 26, 2021 07:48:25 PM by Bill

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