The authority-can-be-wrong fallacy

An ‘argument from authority’ or ‘appeal to authority‘ fallacy is when an authority figure is used to support a claim and that person is not a true authority on the subject.


  • Warren Buffett thinks we should raise tax rates on the wealthy!
  • Being a good business man does not automatically qualify one as authority on tax policy.

Appealing to authority is considered valid when the person is a legitimate authority on the subject.

I find this unsatisfying.

If we find two legitimate authorities who disagree with each other, where does the argument go?

Not far. You believe your authority, I’ll believe mine. No progress has been made on either side.

We all know of cases where authorities were wrong. There’s an example in the previous post where it appears what diet authorities recommended decades ago may be wrong.

I have innate lack of trust in authorities — even those I agree with.

When I agree with them, I still want to know their basis and reasoning to see if it strengthens or weakens my view.

Many times I’ve researched an authority I agreed with to learn their reasoning and was disappointed to not find it convincing.

For me, even appealing to a legitimate authority is a fallacy (or, at least, not convincing).

I propose a new fallacy: the authority-can-be-wrong fallacy.

That doesn’t mean we should automatically disbelieve everything authorities tell us. Many times they do know a lot about a subject.

But, just remember, they are human and fallible. I think it’s better that we learn from them and try to understand their reasoning, instead of just parroting whatever they say.


The clipper

Just random clippings on things I’d like to save reference to.

Voc-tech v college track education. I liked this comment from Robert D: “As someone who never had the option of a shop class in school, I’ve always wondered if I would have been happier working a trade rather than siting in a cubicle.”

Don’t trust “the experts.” I came of age in the low-fat diet era. Turns out fat seems okay. I wonder how many people have died early and have health problems trying to follow what the experts told us 20-30 years ago?

I enjoyed Mark Perry’s editing of several news reports of tariffs to make them more accurate. I find it puzzling how some things will never be portrayed accurately in the media.


What award shows look like to me

Mostly, the top 1% seeking pats on the back, while they market their projects, troll for more work and make money for the producers of the award show.

Next week is the Super Bowl.

‘Premier’ inflation in youth soccer

I just came across this article about Defective Labels in soccer in the U.S. on twitter as I had been working on a similar post, which is below.


My city has a large soccer league with about 1,300 teams. Most age brackets have 6-10 divisions of ‘Premier’ soccer and 2-3 divisions of “Rec”. Each division has 8-10 teams.

This Thomas Sowell (an economist) quote came up on Thomas Sowell’s unofficial Twitter recently:

When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.

Why does this soccer league have so many ‘Premier’ divisions?

One reason may be that it’s too much effort to change the division names in the computer systems to keep up with fast growth the league has experienced the last 20 years.

Though, I don’t buy that. Surely that doesn’t take nearly as much effort as building several multi-million dollar soccer complexes.

Another reason may be supplied by Sowell’s quote from above.

Parents want to think their kids play ‘premier’ soccer, so the league tells them what they want to hear. Maybe that’s one reason the league has grown so much.

A typical age bracket in the league has 10 divisions (80-100 teams, 1,300-1,500 players). As with most things in life, there is a distribution of skill across these divisions and players and they are not all ‘Premier’.

If division names were maintained to appropriately reflect the level of play (similar to belt colors in the martial arts), the top two divisions would be ‘Premier’ (A & B).

The next two would be ‘Intermediate’.

The remaining divisions should be called Development.

This might help parents and players better understand where they truly stand.

I see too many beginning players who are complacent to improve because they assume that ‘making the team’ in a ‘premier’ soccer division is proof enough that they are good soccer players.

Calling all soccer divisions Premier makes as much sense as calling 2nd grade math “algebra.”

Sorry state of discourse

I came across this interesting discussion today.

It’s gone viral. It’s long. But, it’s worth a watch.

A theme of this blog is how productive discourse is tough to come by. This is a good example of why. It reminds me of conversations I’ve tried to have with folks.

Cathy Newman asks Jordan Peterson a question.

He answers.

She tries to restate what he just said in a way that makes his answer sound divisive, explosive or dumb — but is also inaccurate.

It’s a good example of straw man fallacy.

Straw man fallacy is used to obstruct discourse. Instead of talking about the merits or demerits of an issue, it diverts the energy of the discussion to clarifying what is actually being said.

It’s also meant to frustrate folks and get them lose their cool. For many, the person who loses their cool, loses the exchange. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

The topic might be the sum of 1 + 1. Jordan Peterson says it’s 2. Newman asks, “Are you saying that people who think it’s 3 are idiots? That’s divisive.”

If Peterson loses his cool, in many people’s eyes he loses, even though 1+1 is actually 2.

From a young age, I noticed I was different than other folks in this regard.

I never cared much whether someone lost their cool or not. I cared what they actually had to say and the reasoning they used. I cared about their points.

I’ve seen people lose their cool, but still make points that I thought were worth considering. For me it’s been, It’s not how you say it, it’s what you say. 

I never understood what I had to gain from pretending that 1+1=3 simply because someone lost their cool trying to explain that it doesn’t.

For some, I think it’s the identifying with others. If believing 1+1=3 gets them affiliation with folks they want to be affiliated with, then it’s 3 all day long.

For others, it’s simply that they don’t have skin in the game. If it doesn’t really hurt them to believe that, then why spend too much time thinking about it?

Near the 25 minute mark, Newman uses a combo fallacy — red herring/ad hominem. See if you can spot it.

I’ve read comments from those on the right about the above exchange. They think Jordan did a masterful job of handling himself against the barrage of straw men and came out ahead.

I’d be interested to know what folks on the left thought. I’m guessing many might think Newman came out ahead and may feel like Peterson evaded her questioning (er…false accusations) rather than answered them.

I thought so

Two-day shipping has helped double warehouse land prices.

I wrote about it here. Well, not doubling warehouse land prices, but causing the shift to online retail.

The first article mentions that old retail space will start to be converted to last-stop warehouse for extra fast deliveries. Sound good.

Why not raise (or eliminate) the limit on immigration?

One of the key reasons we have illegal immigration in the U.S. is the limit on the number of people let in legally.

I believe that limit is about 700,000 per year, set by the Immigration Act of 1990.

If you restrict the supply of something (in this case, legal immigration) that is in high demand, an underground market will emerge to meet the unserved demand.

This is why it’s difficult to win the war on drugs or to raise minimum wage.

If you make drugs illegal, an underground economy emerges to supply the illegal drugs that are in demand.

If you raise the minimum wage to make it illegal to work for less than a certain amount, an underground economy of off-the-books jobs for people who are willing to work for less.

Sometimes, even legal loopholes emerge, like treating employees as independent contractors. I wrote about how one high minimum wage supporter I knew skirted the minimum wage law in his own business here.

I find it strange that anyone for immigration has not mentioned raising the limit on legal immigration. Why is 700,000 a good number? What can’t it be higher?

Rather, it seems they just want to illegal immigration to continue to happen. Why not make it legal?

I’m fine with immigration and I’m fine with having more than 700,000 per year. I’m not even sure we need to set an arbitrary limit.

Maybe there are good reasons, but I haven’t heard them, yet.

I think the vast majority of immigrants come here for an opportunity at a better life and to contribute, not by taking benefits, but by creating value through the market system and that letting them in makes us all better off.

Raising the limit also reduces the number of folks who come in illegally who may intend to cause harm, making it easier to keep tabs on them since they came through the official process (though I won’t kid myself into believing that official processes are good at that sort of stuff).

Sports and Politics

Most of the banter between sides in politics is the same as sports. My team vs. your team. Us vs. Them. He said, she said.

In terms of debate, though, there’s no there there.

It never gets to actual discussing of issues and reasoning. It stays at the level of your side is all good and the other guys are all bad.

Most of the banter in sports is to sell beer, t-shirts and hats.

Most of the banter in politics is to keep you from thinking. If your side convinces you that I’m bad, then they minimize the risk of losing you.

I think you should be wary of people who act like this because they’re employing the same tactics as the adults in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village.

[Spoiler alert] 

They used phony beasts in the woods to keep their kids from exploring beyond the village limits and discovering there was an entire modern world out there.

Economist Thomas Sowell said:

There are no solutions, only trade-offs.

The world looks very different when you grasp this.

You begin to feel like the kids who found their way through the woods. You realize that many of your beliefs were built on fiction because others thought it best for you and for them.


What’s in a name?

US Soccer Federation – The name of the governing body of the sport of soccer in the U.S.

The Football AssociationThe name of the governing body of the sport of soccer (football) in the U.K.

One sounds like it’s driven from the top. Clubs exist to give the heads of soccer their power.

The other sounds like it is driven from the bottom.  The power exists to enable the clubs to be the best they can be.

Phony concerns about how much tax rate changes will cost

I will be more interested in hearing from folks about how much tax rate changes “will cost us,” when they are just as concerned about how much spending costs us.