In previous articles we discussed a number of fallacies used in arguments or debates – ad hominem, straw man, ignorance, false dilemma, circular reasoning, and slippery slope fallacies.

This article is Part 4 of 4, we have two more fallacies to go to complete this series.

Number 7. The Appeal to Authority Fallacy

The appeal to authority fallacy occurs when an argument relies on the opinion, position, or expertise of an authority figure or institution as the primary reason to support a conclusion, without providing substantive evidence for the claim being made.

This fallacy is based on the assumption that if an authority believes something to be true, it must therefore be true, overlooking the possibility that even experts can be mistaken or biased.

It’s important to differentiate between a legitimate appeal to authority, where an expert’s opinion is used appropriately as part of an argument supported by evidence, and the fallacious appeal to authority, where the authority’s opinion is used in place of evidence.

Examples of the appeal to authority fallacy include these:

1. Misplaced Authority

Citing a celebrity’s views on a complex scientific issue as proof of the claim’s validity, despite the celebrity not having relevant expertise.

2. Over-reliance on Authority

Asserting an historical figure’s opinion on a matter as conclusive evidence, without acknowledging more current research or data that might contradict that opinion.

3. Unquestioned Authority

Assuming a political leader’s statements on environmental issues are correct solely based on their position, without considering their background in environmental science or the available empirical evidence.

To avoid the appeal to authority fallacy, it’s crucial to critically evaluate the relevance and expertise of the authority being cited, to consider the evidence supporting their claims, and to remember that authority opinions should complement, not replace, logical reasoning and empirical evidence.

Examples of the use of the Appeal to Authority Fallacy

In Australian politics, as in many other countries, the appeal to authority can often be observed in debates on climate change. Politicians and public figures sometimes reference scientists or reports that align with their stance on climate change policies as definitive proof of their position’s correctness, without engaging with the broader scientific consensus or the details of the data and analysis.

For example, a politician might argue that because a specific scientist, who may have a minority view within the broader scientific community, questions the extent of human impact on climate change, this casts doubt on the need for environmental regulations or actions to mitigate climate change.

Another example could be found in economic policy debates, where politicians might cite economic models or experts that support their views on tax policy or government spending as indisputable evidence that their policy approach is the most beneficial for the country.

This can be fallacious if the cited experts’ views are not representative of the consensus in the economic community or if the politician ignores equally credible but opposing viewpoints.

It’s important to note that referencing experts or authoritative sources is not inherently fallacious; it becomes an appeal to authority fallacy only when the authority is used as the sole or primary argument, especially if the authority’s relevance or expertise is questionable.

A robust argument should stand on a foundation of evidence and reasoning, with appeals to authority serving as supportive evidence rather than the central pillar of the argument.

Number 8. The Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc Fallacy

The “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy, which is Latin for ..

“after this, therefore because of this”

.. occurs when it is assumed that because one event followed another, the first event caused the second.

This fallacy involves a mistaken assumption of causation based on temporal sequence alone, without sufficient evidence to establish a causal connection.

This type of reasoning is fallacious because it confuses correlation with causation; just because two events occur in sequence does not necessarily mean that the first event caused the second.

Many events can follow one another purely by coincidence, or there may be other factors at play that are the true causes of the observed effect.

Examples of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy include these:

1. Health and Treatment

“After I started taking this new herbal supplement, my symptoms improved, so the supplement must have cured me.”

This ignores other factors that could have contributed to recovery, such as other treatments, natural recovery, or lifestyle changes.

2. Sports Superstitions

“Our team has won every game since we started doing our new pre-game ritual, so the ritual must be bringing us good luck.”

This overlooks other reasons for the team’s success, such as skill improvement, strategy changes, or the quality of the opposition.

3. Economic Policies

“The economy improved in the months following the introduction of Policy X, so Policy X must be the reason for the economic improvement.”

This conclusion fails to account for other variables that could have influenced the economy, such as market trends, international events, or prior policies coming to fruition.

To avoid falling into the post hoc ergo propter hoc trap, it’s essential to look for actual evidence of causation beyond mere temporal succession, considering other possible explanations and controlling for other variables where possible.

Example of the Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc Fallacy in Action

In Australian politics, this fallacy can sometimes be observed in debates about economic policy and its outcomes.

For instance, a government might attribute a positive economic trend, such as increased job creation or economic growth, directly to its policies implemented shortly before these trends were observed, without adequately accounting for other variables that could have influenced the economy.

A hypothetical example of this fallacy in action would be if a new tax policy were introduced, and shortly thereafter, the country experienced economic growth.

A politician supporting the tax policy might argue, “After we introduced our tax reform, the economy grew significantly, proving that our policy directly caused the economic improvement.” This argument assumes a causal relationship based solely on the sequence of events — the policy was implemented, then the economy grew — without considering other factors that might have contributed to the growth, such as global economic trends, technological advancements, or pre-existing economic conditions.

While it’s possible that the policy did have a positive effect, claiming direct causation based on the timing alone is an example of the Post Hoc fallacy. It’s essential to consider a broader range of evidence and possible contributing factors before conclusively attributing cause and effect, especially in complex systems like national economies where multiple variables interact in complicated ways.


And that’s it, I am finished with argument fallacies. I trust this information will be useful to you.

I wrote about these primarily because awareness of the different fallacies has been beneficial to me in my quarter of a century of both presenting and speaking to audiences, and debating points and positions.

So I have no doubt your awareness of these fallacies, and let’s refer to them as they are – misleading argument strategies, is what will help you to respond to, and counter the effect of those strategies.

If you want to go back to Part 1, CLICK HERE

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