RE: Argument From Authority

From: Harvey Newstrom (
Date: Fri Aug 17 2001 - 08:01:49 MDT

Lee Corbin wrote,

> 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.

And I will naturally feel free to point out crank science, mysticism, and
religiosity, regardless of its source. I can hardly believe that this
statement 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.

Exactly. This was my concern with some recent sources that used
prayerfully-guided revelations from God as the basis for their scientific
"facts". I did feel uncertain about the validity of their "technical"

> 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.)

I don't know how to make this any clearer to you. I never said this. I
never endorsed this. I never saw anybody on this list claim this. I
disputed the Christian group's conclusions, not because they were
Christians, but because their methods of prayer and divine guidance were not
reviewable, provable, falsifiable, objective or reproducible. The same was
true for the white supremacist group. I never said they were wrong because
of who they are. I said their facts were wrong because of the faulty way in
which they were derived.

> 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
> forever.

Agreed. But the "facts" presented cannot be mere summary statements. We
must have the background methodology to determine how these facts were
derived. If the background reveals that the methods come from unreliable
sources, then the facts are suspect. Unreliable sources are deemed
unreliable because of their faulty methods, not because of who they are.

You seem to be confusing an "Appeal to Science" as an "Appeal to Authority".
It is NOT appeal to authority to prefer scientific results over unscientific
results. It is NOT an appeal to authority to choose scientist's opinions
over nonscientist's opinions based on the methodology. When the methodology
is not presented in a paper, it is not an appeal to authority to do
background research to determine what methodologies were used by the author
to reach the paper's conclusions.

It may appear to be an "Appeal to Authority" to prefer one person's research
over another's based on the former being a scientist and the latter being a
mystic. But this is not due to their "authority". It is due to their
methods. Methods that are reviewable, provable, falsifiable, objective and
reproducible are valid for appeal. Those that are not are invalid.
"Authority" has nothing to do with it.

Harvey Newstrom <> <>

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