Argument From Authority

From: Lee Corbin (
Date: Wed Aug 15 2001 - 09:47:09 MDT

With mild sarcasm, I had written

>> Here is an essay written in August concerning reparations.
>> I don't know anything about "The American Enterprise Online"
>> web site, and so don't know if arguments written by people
>> affilitated with it should be dismissed out of hand.

---sarcasm which may have escaped many of the gentle readers of
the extropians list. Naturally, I do *not* believe that arguments
should ever be dismissed out of hand because of who wrote them
or where they are from.

But my sarcasm did not escape Harvey Newstrom, for whom, I'll
confess, it was intended. After chiding me for being lazy
and for "not wanting to know", he goes on to say

> I don't know why you think a source is reliable enough to
> quote if you don't know anything about them.

I will naturally feel free to quote anything that makes sense to
me, regardless of its source. I can hardly believe that this
discussion is necessary on this list.

Content determines everything, of course. What is said is vastly
more important than who says it. Exceptions to this are when one
feels uncertain about the validity of technical information, and
one naturally undertakes to determine whether the factual information
is from a credible source. But it is rather frightening to hear
anyone backing up a claim that in rigorous debate we should pay
attention only to the proper "credentialed" authorities. (I don't
know that Harvey Newstrom actually goes so far; but it's hard to
know what to think when he defends the practice of first determining
who said something, and where they are from, before listening to
what they say.)

A good example of this came up last year on sci.physics.relativity.
I was arguing that the "frozen star" concept makes more sense than
it's commonly credited with, and that we don't really have much of
a physical basis for saying that anything occurs on the other side
of an event horizon; it's possible that the entire star simply
remains frozen. Then, many trillions of years later, it just
gradually evaporates in the process that Hawking has described.
Well, a few of the very good physicists began to debate the
proposition with me, and I was doing quite well when one of
them became exasperated and asked me just who I was and what my
credentials were. I ignored that, and continued the debate. It
died away after a notable European physicist chimed in and wrote
"That the black hole evaporates completely before even forming a
horizon is not crackpot nonsense, but a scenario proposed by
Gerlach, PRD 14(6), 1976." But on the whole, only a *tiny*
reference had been made to the fact that I was not a recognized
physicist---which is exactly the way that it should be.

When we are examining the content of something, it simply should
not matter who said it. Such "argument from authority" has been
discredited, at least in the circles where I hang out, practically


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