The ‘Appeal to Authority’ Fallacy

An appeal to an authority is commonly used fallacy that you see around running related articles, forums and blogs, especially in the comments section of blogs. It is an argument that attempts to establish its conclusion by referencing someone who a perceived authority or expert who claims that something is true.

The appeal to authority as an argument is a well established fallacy; no matter how famous, well-known or well-respected someone is, just because they say that something is true does not prove that it is actually true. It may or not be true, but to use this fallacy to claim it is, does not stack up to scrutiny.

The worst type of an appeal to authority, is when the person who is the alleged authority is not even an expert on the matter at hand.

An example in the context of this blog is the appeal to authority of the 180 running cadence being the best. This is based on statements made by a well known and well respected coach. The claim may be may not be true, but to use the argument that this coach said it, does not mean that it is automatically correct. Another example is that in the barefoot running community is that they often defer to some expert researchers who are also barefoot runners as being right in everything they say. They may or may not be right but it shows the almost cult of personality that develops around them and the good old fashioned guru worship that goes on in these types of communities.

The book, Born to Run, by Chris McDougal is littered with ‘appeals to authority’. Most recently, the author is quoted as saying:

When you look at how the intellectual manpower is dividing up, the doctors and Ph.D.’s are on the side of minimalism. They’re the greatest minds in the business.

Can you see the classic appeal to authority in that statement? (ironically, I could point out that its not even true as most of those with Phd’s in biomechanics are NOT on the side of minimalism!, but I won’t as then I would be just as guilty of using this argumentative fallacy).

The more these argumentative fallacies are resorted to, then you could assume that there is less evidence to back up the claims, so that is why they need to resort to them. Skeptics are quick to recognize the tactic and see through it.

As always, I go where the evidence takes me until convinced otherwise and don’t use the appeal to authority, rather I defer to the actual evidence.

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