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Logical fallacy 101 – Lesson 1

I’m starting a new series on finding and identifying logical fallacies.

Appeal to anonymous authority

In many cases, an appeal to authority (citing someone with special expertise on a topic) is a valid form of argument. An example of this is “this Picasso painting is real because the curator of the Museum of Modern Art said so.” However, an appeal to authority relies on the verifiable credentials in the area of expertise of the one giving evidence. When the authority is anonymous, their credentials cannot be verified, as in “this Picasso painting is real because experts say it is.”

A birther example

Deep Birther sent me a link to a good example of this today. It’s one of those neo-birther conspiracy theories that begins:

As an IRS tax examiner,one of many former federal jobs, I have seen what it appears Barry Soetoro has done, mostly by illegal aliens attempting to acquire a new identity in the U.S and/or criminals looking to acquire a new ID.

I don’t begin to take seriously something that claims to be written by a anonymous expert and I only had to read a few lines before I came across the first outright lie: “Barry, AKA Obama, was lawfully adopted by a foreign national, Lolo Soetoro, and Barry’s name was legally changed to “Barry Soetoro”. (Barry’s own admission).” If that wasn’t crazy enough, how about “The Saudi family has admitted to paying for Obama to attend Harvard….”

I commend this article as one of the craziest (and most impossible) fancies the birthers have come up with to date. If this guy ever was an IRS examiner, it’s obvious why he lost his job.

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9 Responses to Logical fallacy 101 – Lesson 1

  1. avatar
    Sean April 15, 2011 at 9:47 pm #

    Here’s a great video on logical fallacies:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXMKPvWqgYk

    enjoy!

  2. avatar
    Steve April 16, 2011 at 12:47 am #

    That’s the same article Garland copied and pasted on the Amazon.com board.

  3. avatar
    Slartibartfast April 16, 2011 at 2:33 am #

    Wow. Just… wow. That’s some hard-core birtherin’.

  4. avatar
    The Magic M April 16, 2011 at 6:11 am #

    > In many cases, an appeal to authority (citing someone with special expertise on a topic) is a valid form of argument.

    It depends. A single expert may be wrong or may be biased (a typical example would be a lawyer who portraits his client’s case in light of the case law most favourable to his cause while not citing case law undermining his case).

    Appeal to authority is also often a logical fallacy when either

    (a) the expert’s statement is essentially an opinion because it is proffered without supporting argument (“Obama is not an NBC because Harvard Constitutional Law professor Dr. Dr. Dr. John Dabbleblabb says so”), especially if only a single expert is cited; or

    (b) the expert is making a statement on an issue that requires no special expertise (“it is true that it rained yesterday in Michigan because internationally reknowned weather expert Prof. Dr. Sam Sunshine was a personal witness to the rainfall”), or

    (c) the expert is mixing his expertise with alleged facts that he has no personal knowledge of (compare “Obama was born in Kenya, therefore…” to “if Obama were born in Kenya, he would…”), trying to pass off allegations as expertise.

  5. avatar
    Loren April 16, 2011 at 7:04 am #

    The “IRS Examiner” appears to be an anonymous Facebook member who uses the name ‘Atom Ant.’ A few places around the web provide this now-invalid link as the source of the text:

    https://www.facebook.com/notes/atom-ant/trump-is-right-barry-soetoro-aka-obama-is-hiding-what-appears-to-be-a-criminal-p/10150141940532496

    And ‘Atom Ant’ shows up in this thread to claim credit for writing it:

    http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=191988927504318

  6. avatar
    DaveH April 16, 2011 at 8:26 am #

    This will be something that will soon be attached as ‘evidence’ to one of Orly Taitz’ law suits.

    It also explains why birthers are GULL E BULLS.

  7. avatar
    GeorgetownJD April 16, 2011 at 12:01 pm #

    There numerous clues that the so-called “IRS tax examiner” is someone who never worked for the IRS and never examined tax returns. His terminology gives it away. A real examining agent (official title: Tax Compliance Officer) would not be so sloppy with language and would correctly describe what the IRS does to match up taxpayers and their SSNs. Examining agents have a degree in accounting and many are CPAs as well.

    The other dead giveaway is this fictional examiner’s proclaimed “expertise” about passports, but he inappropriately interjects tax terminlogy. A child traveling on a mother’s family passport had nothing to do with being a “dependent.”

  8. avatar
    J. Edward Tremlett April 17, 2011 at 9:28 pm #

    Hooray! Strongbad!

  9. avatar
    Daniel April 17, 2011 at 9:35 pm #

    Another case of fallacy of appeal to authority is when an actual recognized authority is cited in an area which is outside his area of expertise. Examples of this include citing a retired army general on constitutional law, or citing an elections clerk on the existence of birth documentation of a candidate.