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According to Wikipedia an argument from authority or argumentum ab auctoritate is a fallacy "in which a claimed authority's support is used as evidence for an argument's conclusion".

I just read a comment in which a user dismissed articles from The Hill and the BBC because, and I quote:

Trump is consistently saying that. He has access to classified information, likely analyzed by his senior advisers. Simply google search on Trump would give you.

This is quite obviously an argument from authority and it easily dismisses any other answer based on evidence without providing any verifiable evidence itself. How should such comments and answers relying on such fallacies be handled?

  1. Should such comments be flagged and consequently removed?

  2. Should answers relying solely on such arguments be removed or merely voted down?

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    Is it strange that I knew who the user was just from your quote, without even reading the answer in question? – F1Krazy Jan 24 at 6:40
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    @F1Krazy that's a good thing, right? That means you'd associate such arguments with only a few users. It's the exception rather than the norm. – JJJ Jan 24 at 6:48
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    That particular user is insistant that literally only what the trump administration says is true and everything else is not an official source and therefore opinion. I don't know if you can argue against that other then disengaging. – Magisch Jan 24 at 10:05
  • @Magisch you don't have to argue with anyone who insists that your sources are not "official." No one has to trust your sources. And you don't have to convince anyone to trust them. If someone thinks you are providing sources which cannot be trusted, they can downvote and you can both move on. But the point is that if you do provide a source, that source acts as a reference regardless of whether that's a good reference or not. At that point it's not just an opinion. – grovkin Jan 29 at 21:01
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    When it's reached the point that someone uses an argument from authority to justify arguments from authority, when someone says anything someone says must be reliable unless they're convicted of a crime, when someone argues that any questioning of the unsubstantiated statements of an elected official is "close to treason," I fail to see how that's even participating in good faith for the purposes of this site. – Zach Lipton Jan 31 at 4:24
  • Argument from authority example (3 minute video): youtu.be/WGpcsYr-mOU – Michael_B Feb 6 at 0:25
  • @Michael_B I'm not sure if that qualifies. An argument from authority relies on authority to support a claim. The man in the video disputes mister Shapiro's authority regarding statements he made (in a speech or book?). As for this question, it primarily asks how to respond to such arguments, please write an answer if you have an idea. – JJJ Feb 6 at 12:53
  • The questioner is a student who is saying that Mr. Shapiro is not qualified to comment on matters of sociology or psychology because he doesn't have a Ph.D. in sociology or psychology. That's the argument from authority. In response, Mr. Shapiro says that his comments should stand on their merits. – Michael_B Feb 10 at 16:03
  • He also points to the yarmulke on his head and states that, when he makes his arguments, he never cites to the Bible, despite the fact that he's a very religious person. He doesn't do that, he claims, because that would be an argument from authority. – Michael_B Feb 10 at 16:05
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When it comes to identifying the "argument from authority" fallacy, then there is one thing one needs to pay attention to: Is the author using the authority as a source for a fact or for an opinion?

For example, let's take these two statements:

  1. According to this article from DailyDogMagazine, cats are the worst pets of all.
  2. According to this article from DailyDogMagazine, domestic cats cause an economic damage of several million dollar each year in form of scratched furniture.

The first is an argument form authority. "It's the opinion of a source I believe in, so it must be correct". This is always a fallacious argument. No source has ultimate moral authority, no matter how much you trust it. You have to check what facts they based their conclusions on and if their chain of reasoning is correct. If you want to convince someone that they are right, you need to prove that you did that work.

The second argument is a source providing a fact. Now the question is whether or not we should believe that fact. Is DailyDogMagazine a reputable source? Are they renowned for providing reliable information based on unbiased research? Or were they caught spreading misinformation or cherry-picking in the past? While no source should always be considered 100% reliable, the past reputation of a source is a good indicator for how much weight their information should have.

Now what should we do if we identify an answer which is based on argument form authority or information from untrustworthy sources?

Downvote it. When readers can not rely on the answer being correct, then "the answer is not useful", just as the tooltip of the downvote button says. You might post one comment where you explain that you downvoted the answer because you don't think it does a good job at convincing you that it is correct.

When you feel that the answer has absolutely no merit because everything in the answer is based on unsourced arguments from authority, you can consider to flag the answer as "very low quality" to put it into the review queue and let the community decide whether to delete it or not. But content deletion should be the ultima ratio. The preferred way to handle bad answers should always be to give the author the opportunity to fix their answer. Deletion should only be considered when an answer contains absolutely no useful content and is definitely unsalvageable.

Regarding comments which try to defend a bad answer by using arguments form authority: It is best to just ignore them. Politics Stack Exchange is not a discussion forum. When someone is convinced of their views, then it is not your job to convert them. It is their job to convince you that their answer is correct. If they fail to convince you, just keep your downvote and move on. Arguing just takes everyone's time and nerves and often leads nowhere:

someone is wrong on the internet

image source: xkcd

  • So you're saying outside of downvoting every time they make this fallacious claim, there is nothing we can do? I reckon seeing an answer or comment like that, regardless if downvoted or not, is likely to reflect extremely poorly on stack exchange for being allowed to remain. If you look back at the hot water IPS got into with question titles, I think if anyone starts a feud about one of these answers, it'll be a lot worse. – Magisch Jan 24 at 10:08
  • Nice answer, but you don't mention voting to delete such answers. Should we merely down vote or should we also vote to delete such answer? – JJJ Jan 24 at 10:11
  • @JJJ from the current trajectory at some point the automated answer ban will kick in – Magisch Jan 24 at 10:14
  • @Magisch sure, but I'm not asking about this user specifically. Other users sometimes do the same. Once you have 1000 rep you can look through the low-quality queue. It's not that uncommon at all. – JJJ Jan 24 at 10:19
  • @JJJ I've only really personally seen this behavior in the extreme from a couple users on the site. One is currently suspended, and another probably 1-2 more posts away from a permanent answer ban. So eh. – Magisch Jan 24 at 10:20
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    @Magisch that means the system's working, over 1300 posts were deleted last year. ;) – JJJ Jan 24 at 11:38
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    @JJJ I added another paragraph regarding deletion – Philipp Jan 24 at 12:40
  • +1. This is 99% awesome. My only concern is about cases where a person's expertise is valuable as opinion. For example, I pay my doctor a lot of money for their opinion about how to improve my health. Their authority doesn't make their claims true in a formal logical sense, but their experience and expertise do mean that their opinion is likely better than my own. – indigochild Jan 28 at 16:30
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Disclaimer: I was involved in the quoted discussion, this particular comment was addressed to me.

I agree with Philipp's answer: such answers/comments should be downvoted. I would like to add that I think it's useful to expose the contradictions that such fallacies entail, in order to make it clear that it's not the opinion which is downvoted, it's the flawed reasoning. This is important not to somehow convince the author (this would be pointless obviously), but because this way future readers can understand why the answer or comment is unhelpful.

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    Note that comments cannot be downvoted, which is one of the reasons that "answers as comments" are strongly discouraged, and also a reason that "highly upvoted comment" isn't really a significant statement of quality. – Kamil Drakari Jan 24 at 16:24
  • Oh right I forgot. – Erwan Jan 25 at 0:45
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I think people here are overreacting. There was no rule here disallowing me from using the official White House sources as a reference. I don't think this site is meant only for Democrats, so people shouldn't have downvoted me just because I was not a supporter.

Please remember the US economy under Trump is the most successful in the world; highest GDP, growing employment rate, strong US dollars, terrorism defeated, good stock market performance. Trump did all of that, they are facts you can't deny them. If you don't believe the US government, who else would you believe? Venezuela? Russia? China?

Everything people talk negatively about Trump in the press are rumour. Russian link? Has Trump been impeached? In the US, everybody including the Trump are given benefit of the doubt. Unless Trump has proven guilty legally, we must assume he is a great president and therefore his words are reliable.

Do you believe your doctor? If your doctor informs you that your are physically fine. Would you dismiss your doctor because "without providing any verifiable evidence itself"???

Would you reject your lawyer because your lawyer was not able to provide "verifiable evidence itself"?

While we appreciate freedom of speech in the US, the President is always the authority of our country.

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    2018 was pretty bad for stocks, actually. I'd point out more inaccuracies but I have been advised not to. – JJJ Jan 30 at 6:58
  • @JJJ the market was strong overall. Look at Apple. – SmallChess Jan 30 at 7:20
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    the President is always the authority of our country So you accepted everything Obama said when he was the President? – Martin Tournoij Jan 30 at 8:16
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    "Would you reject your lawyer because your lawyer was not able to provide verifiable evidence itself?" Yes, because if he tells me X is legal but refuses to show me the relevant clauses that make it legal, he's either guessing or outright lying. Either way, it's very sketchy and I can't risk trusting him. As for doctors, they will always run tests on you before declaring whether you're "fine" or not - that's the evidence. – F1Krazy Jan 30 at 19:48
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    "Unless Trump has proven guilty legally, we must assume he is a great president and therefore his words are reliable." - LOL - That's not how that works. Obama hasn't been convicted of any crimes yet either. Does that make him a great President and his statements reliable? – reirab Jan 30 at 22:56
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    @JJJ Well, sort of. As of today's close, the DJIA is up 39.8% and S&P 500 is up 28.6% from election day 2016. The loss of 2018 specifically was due to mostly two factors: 1) the gains of the 15 months from Nov 2016 through Jan 2018 were absurd and the market corrected to more reasonable levels and 2) a short-lived panic in Dec '18 due to Fed rate rise, changing Congress, and gov't shut down that has already completely reversed. This is not to say the extreme gains of late '16-early '18 were Trump's doing, though. They were more a reaction to Clinton losing than anything else. – reirab Jan 30 at 23:01
  • @F1Krazy To play devil's advocate, there often aren't any relevant clauses to say that something is legal. It's usually more the absence of relevant clauses making it illegal that makes it legal. – reirab Jan 30 at 23:07
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    @SmallChess "The stock market is doing well" does not lead to the conclusion "the President's statements are reliable." That's a non-sequitur. Also, the USD is actually down a bit from where it was over the couple of years prior to Trump's election (though not by a lot.) – reirab Jan 30 at 23:10
  • "Trump did all of that, they are facts you can't deny them." Yes I can, quite easily actually. He can't have, he doesn't have the power (3 branches of government for starters, remember?). Also, many of those things have actually show reduced growth since he took power. Also, terrorism hasn't been "defeated" (a nonsense statement when you think about it), from recent US intelligence agencies statements, and alt-right domestic terrorism seems to be on the rise (remember those bombs sent through the mail). – CrackpotCrocodile Feb 1 at 21:42
  • "If you don't believe the US government, who else would you believe? Venezuela? Russia? China?" No, no, and no. What a silly selection of options. Why do I have to believe any government? Why can't I believe facts and evidence instead? – CrackpotCrocodile Feb 1 at 21:43
  • @CrackpotCrocodile The US government lead by Trump gave you offical views on facts and evidence, but you don’t believe them but only yourself? – SmallChess Feb 2 at 0:49
  • @CrackpotCrocodile Obama economy was struggling, house price was down, credit crisis, financial crisis, Wall Street had problems. Facts. Trump solved the problem. The economy is much stronger than before. Facts. Trump doesn’t have to help the financial sector. Please think for facts. – SmallChess Feb 2 at 1:05
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    @SmallChess ... and there it is. You can't think a fact into existence. Facts come from research and evidence. Also, you are describing Bush's economy. There is a significant delay factor on president's actions impact on the economy, and the financial crisis started in 2007 (definitely Bush). Obama's economy continued strong into the next administration, where the grown declined or reversed in many areas. – CrackpotCrocodile Feb 2 at 5:00
  • @SmallChess No, Obama solved the economic problems started under Bush years before Trump ever even ran for office. – CrackpotCrocodile Feb 2 at 5:02
  • @CrackpotCrocodile I'm not sure what economic indicators you were looking at, but the U.S. stock market was almost completely flat for the two years preceding Trump's election. In the 15 months following election day, the DJIA shot up 49% and the S&P500 by 38%. The economy is indeed doing significantly better since Obama left office, though that's more due to not being impaired as much by government policy than to actually being helped by any particular government policy. The dramatic increases in the markets in those 15 months had nothing to do with Obama's policies, aside from their ending. – reirab Feb 2 at 8:57

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