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Daniel

Is presenting the number of academic citations an appeal to authority?

Recently on a discussion about the fires in the Amazon forest, I posted an article where a Brazilian Climatologist on a local Newspaper claimed that a certain event was not a direct effect of the fires in the Amazon forest even if satellite images showed the smoke spread there (thousands of miles apart).

A counter argument was presented as such: Between this local newspaper and Nature Magazine, I choose Nature Magazine A link to an article is provided and another Brazilian scientist is figured. Also, the profiles of both scientists were provided and the guy from Nature Magazine had at least 40 times the number of citations in comparison to the other one.

- Both Scientists had graduation and post graduation in relevant areas
- Both were active in the field
- But one had a lot more citations than the other

Is thus that, if they have conflicting views, mentioning the number of citations of one of them as an argument to the validity or dismissal of his claims an appeal to authority? For this particular case, assume that me and my opponent are not climatologists and both scientists presented scientific arguments we can't validate.
asked on Wednesday, Aug 28, 2019 03:01:00 AM by Daniel

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mchasewalker
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I refer to Dr. Bo’s golden rule:

Be very careful not to confuse "deferring to an authority on the issue" with the appeal to authority fallacy. Remember, a fallacy is an error in reasoning. Dismissing the council of legitimate experts and authorities turns good skepticism into denialism. The appeal to authority is a fallacy in argumentation, but deferring to an authority is a reliable heuristic that we all use virtually every day on issues of relatively little importance. There is always a chance that any authority can be wrong, that’s why the critical thinker accepts facts provisionally. It is not at all unreasonable (or an error in reasoning) to accept information as provisionally true by credible authorities. Of course, the reasonableness is moderated by the claim being made (i.e., how extraordinary, how important) and the authority (how credible, how relevant to the claim).

The appeal to authority is more about claims that require evidence than about facts. For example, if your tour guide told you that Vatican City was founded February 11, 1929, and you accept that information as true, you are not committing a fallacy (because it is not in the context of argumentation) nor are you being unreasonable.
answered on Wednesday, Aug 28, 2019 04:04:19 AM by mchasewalker

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Bill
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Authorities are worth listening to. In the scholarly community, having a lot of citations is one (but only one) indication of a scientist's expertise. Other signs of a good scientist include holding a prestigious position at a research institution, recognition by other scientists, publications in good journals, success of the scientist's students, etc. I'd have some questions in your case:

1. Are the citations recent? A scientist with a lot of old citations and few new ones might be out of date.
2. Are the citations relevant to the Amazon fires? Scientific expertise can be highly specialized; being an expert on one topic might or might not carry over to a different topic.
3. Numbers don't say everything. There can be many reasons that a scientist has a lot of citations, and the quality of the research is only one of them.

I don't see a fallacy here per se, but I do warn against jumping to conclusions, which would be a fallacy indeed!
answered on Wednesday, Aug 28, 2019 01:08:52 PM by Bill

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Jordan Pine
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I like to think about the essence of the fallacies and what the ‘founding fathers of logic’ were thinking when they formed them. In doing so, I find two fallacies that could help us identify the error in reasoning in your example: argumentum ad populum (argument to the people) and argumentum ad numerum (argument to the number). Sometimes these are used interchangeably, but they have slightly different meanings.

What is a citation, after all, but a number of people who have cited a particular paper? And what is that but a measure of its popularity? Thus, using citations as a metric of an arguer’s power can be thought of as an error in reasoning in the same way that using the popularity of an argument is an error.

The ad numerum fallacy also invites us to realize that the size of numbers can lead us astray. Large numbers of discrete facts are meaningful when reasoning, but large numbers of echoes or affirmations of one fact are much less so. Put even more clearly, “more people have repeated my facts than your facts,” the essence of a citation, strikes me as a clear fallacy in reasoning. It seeks to win the argument by intimidation with numbers.

By the way, it's also easy to defeat this argument. Citations are merely a measure of what's popular in science at the moment. As in everything today, the more salacious a finding ("power posing causes huge increases in confidence!"), the more it will be cited. Click-bait doesn't just affect regular people. It affects scientist, too. Scientists have all the other human biases as well, including agendas, egos, confirmation and selection bias, etc. The problem is that many of the most popular findings in science aren't replicating. Indeed, science is undergoing a huge replication crisis right now because, apparently for the first time, scientists overcame their cognitive biases and actually started doing the boring work of attempting to repeat findings (scary, I know, since this is the very essence of the scientific method).

What happened? "According to a 2016 poll of 1,500 scientists reported that 70% of them had failed to reproduce at least one other scientist's experiment (50% had failed to reproduce one of their own experiments)." (Source: Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Replication_crisis<>).

Psychology (Dr Bo's field) is one of the hardest hit. In a look at "the reproducibility of 100 studies in psychological science from three high-ranking psychology journals," it was found "only 36% of the replications yielded significant findings... compared to 97% of the original studies that had significant effects." Oops.

This leads me to the fallacy you raised, the argumentum ad verecundiam. That’s a different intimidation tactic. It literally means "argument to modesty." The Latin root gave us the archaic English word "verecund," meaning "bashful, modest." I infer this connects with the logical fallacy because the victim of an ad verecundiam attack is supposed to submit, feeling bashful, when the implied authority is brought to bear.

To use an abusive form for emphasis, it would be something like: Are you a climatologist with an expertise in the Amazon rainforest? No? Then you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. STFU.” Meanwhile, that has nothing to do with your argument, which may actually be correct in its facts and reasoning. That doesn't apply to your example (you were debating competing authorities), but you get my point.

For this reason, I reject arguments such as "be careful you don't confuse appeal to authority with deferring to authority.” I reject this as an intimidation tactic. Authority isn't all it's cracked up to be (see above). So many thing authorities told us in the past, which also had the weight of ad populum/numerum reasoning, were dead wrong (e.g. saturated fat is bad, you should replace meat with healthy low-fat foods). It happens so often, my friend came up with an acronym mnemonic: WDKS. We don’t know shit. Take authority with a grain of salt. Too much “authority” turns out to be false authority these days. Reason for yourself from first principles and trust the test of time.

And: Be especially suspicious of “authority” cited during exchanges on discussion forums. That’s just motivated reasoning with citation. ;-)
answered on Sunday, Sep 01, 2019 09:59:39 AM by Jordan Pine

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David Blomstrom
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Citations and "peer reviewed" articles are a red flag.

Common sense and tradition dictate that we should defer not just to "authorities" but to authoritative arenas, chiefly science, with its penchant for precision and facts supported by observations, experiments and peers.

Unfortunately, science has been turned upside down by propagandists. Bogus scientists have long worked for corporations that enlist their skills in dodging environmental restrictions - like the marine mammal biologist working for Exxon I met in Alaska long ago.

But the best example may be in the realm of conspiracy theory, conspiratology or whatever you want to call it. (Conspiracy theory actually ranges from plain old historical inquiry to criminal investigation.)

Although the BS is rather obvious, I only recently began to study it closely. There's a group of "professionals" who write articles in which they claim to debunk conspiracy theories, often using some utterly bizarre logic. The articles include references citing work by their colleagues, which are also bogus. They may even create their own pseudo-scientific journals to publish their crap.

It's almost like an echo chamber where people like Michael Barkun, David Grimes and Sam Harris people like David Icke and Alex Jones - though they may ironically be on the same team. What really stunned me is some of the kooky things a pseodo-philosopher/scientist named Karl Popper said. I'll have a full report when my finish my book on conspiracy science later this year.

But conspiracy theory is just the tip of the iceberg. If you followed the news during the Gulf Coast oil spill, you may be aware of the extraordinary measures the government and corporate entities too to prevent people from gathering evidence. They also worked hard to silence coastal universities.

In the meantime, I've noticed lots of crackpots who post anonymously on political forums trumpeting the virtues of citations and peer-reviewed papers.

In the end, scientific literature has become eerily similar to the "mainstream" media. You have to not just read the articles carefully but scrutinize the authors and their peers. It's no secret that political entities have long manipulated religion - and philosophy as well. Why should science be any different?
answered on Monday, Sep 02, 2019 12:53:11 AM by David Blomstrom

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DrBill
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By your details, both authors have "authority", for whatever that is worth. The argument from authority may actually thereafter pass to "confirmation bias" if one is preferred over another because he agrees with your view. IMO, the argument from authority <i>fallacy</i> arises when there is thought to be only one "authority", opposition to which is ipso facto not authoritative.

If you honestly have no view, ane are seeking to be informed by the two, may I suggest you write to the authors and ask for clarification of the points you see as conflicting. You'd be surprised at how pleased they often are to answer. It has turned out many times that what I saw as black and white was differing perceptions of gray.
answered on Saturday, Sep 07, 2019 12:23:58 PM by DrBill

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Jordan Pine
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answered on Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 07:26:40 AM by Jordan Pine

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jorge
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If there were an article that denies climate change with 40 times the number of citation than the one that supports climate change, would it be valid to accept the former? I think we always need to look at the studies and see how they relate. No easy task but yeah, even if you do not have enough time to read a bunch of studies, choosing an article on that basis would be an appeal to authority and perhaps appeal to cpncensus or something. Or some kind of bandwagon effect.
answered on Friday, Sep 20, 2019 09:23:25 PM by jorge

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Jordan Pine
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Another follow-up courtesy of Rory Sutherland today:

A few years ago, a team led by Pierre Azoulay at MIT set out to test Max Planck’s maxim that ‘science progresses one funeral at a time’. They found 452 elite scientists who had died prematurely between 1975 and 2003 and measured the effect of their death on work in their respective fields. After the death, the number of articles by collaborators of the deceased fell dramatically — by about 40 per cent. But non-collaborators published 8 per cent more. Five years after a death, the extra activity from non-collaborators offset the fall in productivity of collaborators. Moreover ‘these additional contributions are disproportionately likely to be highly cited’, the researchers found, ‘and more likely to be authored by scientists not previously active in the deceased superstar’s field’.



Source: https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2019/09/business-the-only-human-activity-where-youre-paid-to-change-your-mind/<>
answered on Thursday, Sep 26, 2019 11:18:56 AM by Jordan Pine

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