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An Appeal to Authority; in defense of Expertise.

 
 
Reply Fri 23 Aug, 2019 07:10 am
There is a story about a physicist (it might be Carl Sagan, I couldn't find the link) who was in front of a crowd of people. He asked them "how many people here believe the Sun revolves around the Earth". No one raised their hand. He then asked them "how many people believe the Earth revolves around the Sun. Most people raised their hand.

Then he asked "How many people can explain how we know? What would be the difference if it were the Sun revolving around the Earth". According to the story, no one raised their hand.

The vast majority of people believe that the Earth revolves around the sun because that's what they have been taught. It's true because scientists say it's true.

I have a Physics background, and I am one of the people who can explain how things would be different if it were the Sun revolving around the Earth and what experiments would detect this. But, that is just one thing.

I believe in evolution... I am certain that it is true. However, I can barely come up with the term RNA to answer a Trivial Pursuit question, I have no idea how it works. I have never looked at fossils and I have no idea what mathematical tests are used to determine whether fossils found at certain depths are statistically significant. I have never read scientific papers on evolution.

I believe in evolution because that is what biologists say is true. If next year, some new revolution or studies upsets biology and the lead biologists say evolution is being challenged, I will have to believe them (or go get a biology degree) because at this point I don't have the expertise to weigh in.

Our society is too complex for anyone to be an expert on everything. We depend on experts in each field.
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Type: Question • Score: 5 • Views: 1,035 • Replies: 67
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maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Fri 23 Aug, 2019 07:13 am
I am writing this because people are making the charge of "appeal to authority" in appropriately. An appeal to an authority is not a logical fallacy in the case where the "authority" is an expert with the relevant knowledge and experience.

The opinion of the experts is valid in those cases where the experts know what they are talking about and you don't. You should absolutely listen to what Neil Degrasse Tyson has to say about quantum mechanics. What Lady Gaga has to say about Palestine is another matter.
neptuneblue
 
  1  
Reply Fri 23 Aug, 2019 07:20 am
@maxdancona,
 https://i0.wp.com/i.imgur.com/OgsFgf6.png?w=215
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Fri 23 Aug, 2019 07:59 am
@neptuneblue,
I know that isn't Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and I am pretty sure you are trolling.... but my curiosity is getting the better or me. Who is that supposed to be?
oralloy
 
  0  
Reply Fri 23 Aug, 2019 09:31 am
@maxdancona,
maxdancona wrote:
An appeal to an authority is not a logical fallacy in the case where the "authority" is an expert with the relevant knowledge and experience.

I sometimes enjoy having appeals to authority thrown at me, because the authority being blindly quoted can be a lot more competent than the person I am arguing with.

This especially happens in arguments over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My opponents' arguments get dramatically better when they stop trying to think for themselves and just blindly cut-n-paste articles at me.

However, appeals to authority are in fact usually logical fallacies. An appeal to authority is acceptable in logic only when all parties have agreed to accept the authority as valid. If your opponent doesn't accept your chosen authority as valid, then your only recourse in logic is to present arguments and let those arguments be judged on their own merits.

Now perhaps your point is that both sides should accept scientists as a valid source. And in many cases yes they should. But the problem with blindly accepting experts as valid is, there are a lot of supposed experts out there who spout near-continuous falsehoods.
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Fri 23 Aug, 2019 11:40 am
@oralloy,
I disagree. Someone's expertise is based on their education and their experience. It has nothing to do with whether you accept it or not.

If you are in sudden need of someone to land the 737 you are flying on, you should look for an expert on flying planes. No matter how much expertise I claim, or how much you believe in me, I am a poor choice to land that plane. I have never been to flight school and have zero experience.

The proper question in this case is "Who here has a jet pilot's license?". Once you find that person, every one else should either follow their instructions or sit down and shut up. That person is the expert.

If you believe that there is some jet pilot's conspiracy to keep dentists and bakers from expressing their opinion on the right way to land a 737, then you have a problem. That dentist that you decide to listen to (rather than the pilot) is going to get you killed.

You get a pilot's license by going to flight school, studying how to fly a plane, and working under people who are experts before you. Does having a jet pilot's license mean that you know more about flying airplanes than other people?

Well... yes it does.

oralloy
 
  0  
Reply Fri 23 Aug, 2019 11:51 am
@maxdancona,
maxdancona wrote:
It has nothing to do with whether you accept it or not.

So if I claim "some homeless person mumbling gibberish" as an expert, it does not matter whether you accept them as an expert, and it does not matter whether you can present a compelling argument against their mumbled gibberish?

My proclamation of the homeless person as an expert means that their mumbled gibberish is now the accepted truth?


maxdancona wrote:
If you believe that there is some jet pilot's conspiracy to keep dentists and bakers from expressing their opinion on the right way to land a 737, then you have a problem. That dentist that you decide to listen to (rather than the pilot) is going to get you killed.

Not if the person with the license is gravely wrong about something, and the dentist actually has a compelling argument showing that he is correct.
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Fri 23 Aug, 2019 01:04 pm
@oralloy,
1. I don't get your point about the homeless person.

2. I want the guy with the pilot's license to be in charge of landing the plane. He is the expert on flying an airplane. I don't care about how "compelling" an argument a dentist makes about how airplanes are flown. What does "compelling" mean anyway, I have no way to judge because I am not a pilot either. If a dentist gives a good speech about flying with fancy words and an explanation about how airplanes work that sounds "correct" to me, do I then put him in the pilots seat?

When it comes to landing an airplane, I trust the guy with the pilot's license to be the expert.
Sturgis
 
  1  
Reply Fri 23 Aug, 2019 01:10 pm
@maxdancona,
Quote:
Who is that supposed to be?


I believe it actually is actor Kurtwood Smith in a still-photo from That 70s Show.

( never seen the show myself, just oddly recognize cast members)
Sturgis
 
  1  
Reply Fri 23 Aug, 2019 01:14 pm
@oralloy,
An expert on what?

Gibberish?
The history of botanical gardens?
Mummification?

The mere fact that the person is homeles, does not in itself diminish or nullify their intelligence.
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Fri 23 Aug, 2019 01:50 pm
@Sturgis,
Quote:
I believe it actually is actor Kurtwood Smith in a still-photo from That 70s Show.


Is there any connection between the actor or the show to the topic? That was a rather random post.
0 Replies
 
oralloy
 
  1  
Reply Fri 23 Aug, 2019 06:55 pm
@maxdancona,
maxdancona wrote:
1. I don't get your point about the homeless person.

The homeless guy says that Einstein is stupid and Relativity is a fraud.

Since I've declared him an expert, I guess now you have to accept what he says as true.


maxdancona wrote:
2. I want the guy with the pilot's license to be in charge of landing the plane. He is the expert on flying an airplane. I don't care about how "compelling" an argument a dentist makes about how airplanes are flown.

And when you subsequently go nose-first into the ground at 300 miles per hour because of your misplaced faith in someone who was wrong?
oralloy
 
  0  
Reply Fri 23 Aug, 2019 06:56 pm
@Sturgis,
Sturgis wrote:
An expert on what?

On whatever I declare him to be an expert on.


Sturgis wrote:
The mere fact that the person is homeles, does not in itself diminish or nullify their intelligence.

True. That's why I specified that he was mumbling gibberish.

Let's stipulate that this homeless person says that Einstein is stupid and Relativity is a fraud.

I declare him to be an expert on physics. Now according to Max's proposed rules of logic, we have to go by what the "expert" says.
0 Replies
 
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Fri 23 Aug, 2019 07:05 pm
@oralloy,
You arent making sense today

1. I am saying that expertise comes from education and experience. When it comes to science I trust scientists with PhDs working professionally in their field. I dont know what this has to do with your hypothetical homeless guy.

2. If it turns out that dentists can land a 737 better than licesened pilots... then sure, trusting a licensed pilot to land the plane would be a mistake.

My principle is simple. The person with the education and experience in a field is the expert. The will know far more than someone with no education.

If you think dentists are qualified to fly jet planes, should I find a licensed jet pilot to do my next root canal?
oralloy
 
  0  
Reply Fri 23 Aug, 2019 07:18 pm
@maxdancona,
maxdancona wrote:
You arent making sense today

I'm demonstrating that you are wrong to accept appeals to authority as valid arguments.

They are referred to as logical fallacies for a good reason.


maxdancona wrote:
1. I am saying that expertise comes from education and experience. I trust scientists with PhDs working professionally in their field.

I say the homeless guy is an expert. I trust his deranged mumbling.


maxdancona wrote:
I dont know what this has to do with your hypothetical homeless guy.

My declaration of the homeless guy's expertise is just as logically valid as your declaration of someone's expertise.
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Fri 23 Aug, 2019 07:39 pm
@oralloy,
You aren't demonstrating anything. I don't know how to make this any simpler.

1. A licensed jet pilot is an "authority" on flying and landing jet planes. He is a expert on flying planes because he has had the education and the experience under the tutelage of earlier experts.

2. This licensed pilot is an expert on landing planes. Whether you think he is an expert or not is irrelevant.

3. Your homeless guy (assuming that he has never been to flight school) has absolutely nothing to do with it.

In truth, the licensed pilot is an expert on flying and landing planes. They are the guy you want to listen to if you happen to be in an airplane that needs to be landed. You might think that a homeless guy with no training might be an expert... but you would be wrong.


oralloy
 
  0  
Reply Fri 23 Aug, 2019 07:43 pm
@maxdancona,
maxdancona wrote:
You aren't demonstrating anything.

I've demonstrated the folly of accepting appeals to authority as valid.


maxdancona wrote:
You might think that a homeless guy with no training might be an expert... but you would be wrong.

I have as much authority to declare someone an expert as you do.
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Fri 23 Aug, 2019 07:50 pm
@oralloy,
This is getting silly...

We are arguing about whether a licensed pilot is more of an authority on landing a 737 as a hypothetical homeless man with no flight training.

Quote:
I have as much authority to declare someone an expert as you do.


I suppose you do... but I still want the guy in the pilot's seat to have gone to flight school Wink . I want the person landing the 737 I am on to be a licensed pilot. I don't believe that this is a logical fallacy.


oralloy
 
  0  
Reply Fri 23 Aug, 2019 08:10 pm
@maxdancona,
maxdancona wrote:
We are arguing about whether a licensed pilot is more of an authority on landing a 737 as a hypothetical homeless man with no flight training.

No. The homeless guy is not on the plane. That was the dentist. The homeless guy merely says that Einstein was stupid and Relativity is a fraud.

And the plane has crashed now because you ignored what the dentist was trying to tell you. The fact that someone isn't a recognized expert does not mean that they are automatically wrong. The fact that someone is a recognized expert does not mean that they are automatically right.

I've corrected countless recognized experts over the course of my life. I can tell you from first-hand experience that experts do get things wrong.
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Fri 23 Aug, 2019 09:34 pm
@oralloy,
How many times when you have gotten into arguments with experts (the assumption is that the argument is about something in which the expert has specific expertise) where the expert has been right?

(Hint: the answer to this question says more about you than it does about the experts.)

Would you insist on landing the 737?

 

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