This is the appeal to false authority. While it is perfectly in order to cite as a supporting witness someone who has specialized knowledge of the field concerned, it is a fallacy to suppose that an expert in one field can lend support in another. Unless he has special expertise, he is a false authority.
Hundreds of leading scientists reject evolution. (Close examination shows few, if any, whose expertise is in evolutionary biology.)
Knowledge is specialized, and we have to accept the view of authorities to some extent. There is a general reluctance to challenge the view of someone who appears much more quali-fied than ordinary people. When support for a position is urged on account of the opinion of someone who appears to be more qualified but is not, the fallacy of argumentum ad verecundiam is committed.
The fallacy lies in the introduction of material that has no bearing on the matter under discussion. We have no reason to suppose that the opinion of a qualified person is worth any more than our own. The attempt to make our own opinions yield before such spurious authority is trading on our respect for position and achievement, and trying to use this instead of argument and evidence.
The cologne of the stars.
(Since few of us are lucky enough actually to smell our heroes and heroines, their opinions on this subject are probably less interesting than those of ordinary people closer at hand.)
The argumentum ad verecundiam dominates the world of advertising. Those who are thought worthy of admiration and esteem because of their achievements frequently descend to our level to give advice on more humdrum matters. Those whose excellence is in acting are only too ready to share with us their vast experience of instant coffee and dog-food. The winning of an Oscar for excellence in motion pictures is widely recognized as a qualification to speak on such matters as world poverty and American foreign policy.
One can admit the current young hopeful some authority on tennis rackets after a Wimbledon success; but razor blades? (One is surprised to find that he shaves.) In a similar way we see famous faces eating yoghurt or buying life assurance. Those who have proved their worth as presenters of radio or television programmes readily share with us their detailed expertise on enzyme-action washing powders or the virtues of a margarine which is high in polyunsaturates.
A variant of the argumentum ad verecundiam has the appeal to unidentified authorities, albeit those in the right field. In this world we are confronted by the opinions of ‘leading scientists’, ‘top dog-breeders’ and ‘choosy mums’. Since we do not know who they are, all we can do is to accept the apparent authority they have. We never hear from the mediocre scientists, the average-to-poor dog-breeders or the indifferent mothers.
There is also the visual ad verecundiam, instanced by the sports team wearing the sponsor’s name or slogan, even if unconnected with the sport.
Winning the world slalom championships gives me a real thirst. That's why…
(And the logic is as frothy as the stuff he's selling.)
Your own use of the ad verecundiam is made easier by the desire of many eminent people to be thought of as compassio-nate people with wide-ranging concerns. No matter how dotty the cause, you will always be able to assemble a panel of dis-tinguished names to act as honorary patrons to it. The fact that they have achieved eminence as actors, writers and singing stars will in no ways diminish their authority to lend weight to your campaign.
In demanding a ban on Spanish imports until bullfighting is outlawed, I am joined by distinguished international scientists, top scholars and leading figures from the worlds of communication and the arts.
(They should know. After all, they are also experts on wars, whales and windmills.)