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Appeal to Authority

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Appeal To Authority (argumentum ad verecundiam):

This fallacy name is commonly applied to two similar but distinctly different fallacies: Appeal to Authority, and Appeal to Irrelevant Authority. It's more-or-less the opposite of Ad Hominem.

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Appeal to Authority (or Argument from Authority)

Implying or stating that there is a causal relationship between who says it and whether it's true or not:

"Newton said that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, so there is."

It is true for most physical interactions that there is an equal and opposite reaction to an action, and it's true that Newton said so, but it's not true because Newton said so.

While it can be valid to call upon expert opinion to support a position, it is not valid when the status of the person as an expert is the only thing called upon. While the statement may be true, it is not true because the authority stated it. Calling on your own authority is never valid, since if your opponent accepted you as an ironclad authority on what you were talking about, you would not be having a debate in the first place.

A particularly insidious variant will attempt to pass off an argument based on Mister Authority's statements as actually having been made by Mister Authority himself; the implication is "So you think you're smarter than Mister Authority?"

In real life, this fallacy shows up most often in discussions or arguments about both hard science and soft sciences like sociology. If one or more parties are stubborn enough, this could even turn into a protracted authority and counter-authority tennis match between the two debaters. In especially blatant cases opponents might even demand sources for all the other side's claims without providing any of their own ("Do my homework") or combine this with Moving the Goalposts by dismissing any sources that are offered.

Tropes which rely on or use this fallacy

  • Appeal to Familial Wisdom (where the authority in question is one's parent or ancestor)
  • Because I Said So (this is called Proof By Assertion if there is no actual claim of authority attached: if there is an implicit claim of expertise, it is called ipse dixit ("he said it himself"))
  • Labcoat of Science and Medicine: How can you not trust this person as an expert when they're wearing a white coat?
  • Trust Me, I'm An X (a person who has qualifications should be able to demonstrate them, not just ask you to believe them)
  • You Know Who Said That? (overlaps with association fallacy)

Looks like this fallacy, but isn't.

  • Word of God, when used in the context of what an author or creator intended in his work. By definition, a creator is an authority on how and why their own work was created. Death of the Author, of course, holds that creator intent is irrelevant to meaning, and Word Of God carries no more (or less) weight more than Word Of The Guy Who Runs The Newspaper Kiosk or Word Of Your Sixth Grade Teacher — but it is still definitive as far as what that intent happens to be (unless it is argued the creator is lying, as with things like Parody Retcon and Flip-Flop of God).
  • Calling upon an expert in a field, but basing the argument upon something besides their status or assumed infallibility. For example, trusting a doctor's judgement in a medical manner not because he is a doctor, but because he has demonstrated his knowledge and has charts or other evidence backing up his claims.
  • When it's a question of definition or a decision, and the authority being appealed to is actually empowered to set the definition or make the decision. "In the USA, the police have to read you your rights for any information you tell them to be admissible in court, because the Supreme Court said so" is a valid argument, because the Supreme Court has the authority to make that decision.


    Live-Action TV 
  • On QI, when discussing the fact if you fire a bullet parallel to the ground and drop a bullet from the same height at the same time, they will hit the ground at the same time, Stephen Fry appeals to the audience, saying, "Are there any scientists here who will back me up on this?" Rich Hall then seems to point out this fallacy by following up with, "Or any assassins?"
  • The It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode "Reynolds vs. Reynolds: The Cereal Defense" has Mac and Dennis get into a debate over religion. Mac is The Fundamentalist and is generally framed as a bit of an idiot, but he successfully outfoxes Dennis because he manages to prove that Dennis's belief in evolution is mostly just fueled by this trope. Dennis doesn't actually know much about evolution, so he just claims "all the scientists say so", when even the smartest scientists make errors or get proven wrong all the time.

    Web Originals 
  • Urban legends site Snopes has a section called The Repository Of Lost Legends, which consists of completely ridiculous stories marked as true and obviously true stories marked false. The "additional information" section for each page links to an essay about why you shouldn't believe a story just because it comes from a seemingly reliable source.
  • In Doom House, when giving advice to Reginald P. Linux, Officer Cop likes to always remind Reginald that he is a cop just to give his advice that little bit extra persuasiveness. But this is, of course, a crafty ruse to get Reginald to inadvertently trust a terrorist.

    Western Animation 
  • Played for Laughs in the Futurama episode "Jurassic Bark", when Fry insists on diving into magma to rescue the dolomite-petrified carcass of his dog Seymour and Professor Farnsworth explains why this is obviously a bad idea. When Bender dives in and the Planet Express crew expresses concern over his safety, Fry and Leela insist on going in, but Farnsworth becomes increasingly exasperated that he's being ignored despite his status as a professor.
    Farnsworth: "I'm a professor! Why isn't anybody listening to me?"
    Farnsworth: "PROFESSOR! LAVA! HOT!"
  • In the Teen Titans Go! episode "Oil Drums", Robin warns Cyborg that TV rots a person's brain based on the claims of concerned parents, to which Cyborg disagrees. Not that the former is unfounded in the least, but the following response from Beast Boy does reflect this trope a bit:
    Beast Boy: "I don't know, dude. If a parent said it, it has to be true!"

Irrelevant Authority:

More accurately called Irrelevant Authority, Inappropriate Authority, or Questionable Authority, Irrelevant Authority is citing someone as an expert even though they are not really an expert on the question under discussion; their expertise is in an unrelated field; their "expertise" is not in a legitimate discipline at all (e.g. an "expert" psychic or ghost hunter); their expertise is what is under discussion; they have not been demonstrated to actually exist; or they made the statement in a state where their judgment was suspect (ie, they were drunk, high, senile, stressed, angered, etc).

In some cases, they do possess a legitimate expertise and renown in some field, it's just that said field is unrelated to the one being discussed. A person with a Ph.D. in astrophysics may be fairly regarded as an authority on orbital mechanics, but less so when it comes to, say, radiology or ancient history.

Tropes which rely on or use this fallacy:

Looks like this fallacy, but isn't:

  • A Degree in Useless: Their training qualifies them as an Expert in Underwater Basket Weaving; so they do have some authority but only for things related to saying, "Would you like fries with that?"
  • Closest Thing We Got: It's acknowledged (or Hand Waved) in story that the person isn't an authority in the field we need them to be, but the situation is urgent and it's no time to be picky.
  • Hard on Soft Science: People with expertise in a more concrete discipline dispute the credentials of people with expertise in a more theoretical one. This isn't necessarily fallacious, simply trying to establish the parameters of what we accept as authoritative proof for the question at hand.
  • Worthless Foreign Degree: The person may be a legitimate expert, it's just that their credentials are from a country that doesn't transfer for employment purposes.


  • In Rain Man, the title character is an autistic savant, and his condition proves to be a major asset in blackjack. Tom Cruise's character, impressed at his ability, then trusts his judgment at roulette, only to find that the advanced math skills that allow him to count cards accurately do nothing to predict the outcome of a roulette spin.
  • Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe features an interview with Luc Montagnier, who won a Nobel Prize for his contributions to the discovery of HIV. Unfortunately Montagnier's expertise as a virologist is irrelevant in a movie about autism, because autism is not a virus.

  • Isaac Asimov's "The Encyclopedists": Mayor Hardin is repeatedly frustrated by the Board of Trustees deferring the problem of Anacreon's desire to conquer their planet by putting their faith in authority figures. First the Imperial Emperor, and then Hari Seldon. Seldon Hardin realizes that this is a symptom of the Empire's corruption; nobody is doing original scientific experiments, merely trying to imitate an expired Golden Age.
  • In Left Behind, the entire world believes a Technobabble nuclear physics explanation of the Rapture because a botanist and the president of Romania (note: not a nuclear scientist) say it's so. Later on in the book, the pseudo-religious explanation of the Rapture is accepted because it's espoused by an airline pilot.
  • Under Heaven: Usually shows up in Quote-to-Quote Combat; using well known poetry, or name-dropping poets, bolsters arguments in the quoter's favor. (The poem may have originally been just about how a particular river looks in summer, for example.) Also, at one point "history-mandarins" are referenced in regards to "popular" forms of storytelling.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In one episode of Dinosaurs, in a trial for the heretical view that the earth is round, the "expert" who testifies that the world is flat's stated qualifications are that he is wearing a white lab coat and his proof that the world is flat is the existence of a flat-earth "globe". If a man in a white lab coat has a flat-earth globe, he can't possibly be wrong. And not just one flat-earth globe! The company that makes 'em has a whole warehouse full of the things! What more proof do you need?
  • When the Mass Effect sex-scene fiasco was at its height, Fox News brought in an "expert" who knew nothing about the game, and wasn't even regarded as an expert in her own field (child psychology).

    Web Comic 
  • This Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal strip states that at the end of all physicists' "natural life cycle", they will inevitably start believing that they have the authority to speak about any field.

    Web Original 
  • During the 1990s, on the newsgroup comp.sys.sinclair, someone turned up briefly claiming "expertise", and backing up his claim by further claiming to have been a c.s.s. regular in the earliest days; knowing that Deja (as it then was) didn't have archives going back that far so his claim couldn't be disproved that way. A number of people called him out on this, pointing out that lack of evidence that he wasn't an early regular didn't amount to evidence that he was. A few years later, Google Groups absorbed Deja and extended their archive back to the earliest days of many groups including c.s.s.; to nobody's surprise, the so-called "expert" was nowhere to be found in the early posts.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "The Monkey Suit", creationists seeking to ban the teaching of evolution succeed by getting a scientist to testify in court that evolution is a myth — a scientist with a degree in "Truthology" from "Christian Tech".
    • In another episode, Marge said "children need discipline, just ask any certified advice columnist."

    Real Life 
  • A product called "Vitamins Of Linus Pauling, Two Times Nobel Prize winner" is marketed. His first Nobel was for Chemistry, on the nature of chemical bonds. That's great, but it has rather little to do with vitamins. His second Nobel is the Peace Prize, which has nothing at all to do with vitamins. His connection with vitamins is that he became rather ...obsessed... with mega-doses of vitamin C in his later years, but that part of his work caused much controversy and his results were unreproducible.
  • Nobel Prizes in general, in fact: that other scientists gave a scientist an award for what they deemed to be an outstanding achievement in his or her given field does not automatically make the scientist a valid authority on everything. Also, those who give and receive Nobel Prizes are as fallible as anyone else, and have made some awfully dubious decisions over the years. Anyone who thinks a Nobel-Prize-winning scientific procedure must be a good thing might well reconsider this belief if given one of Dr. António Egas Moniz's Nobel-Prize-winning prefrontal lobotomies. The Nobel Peace Prize, moreover, isn't scientific at all, and has gone to many a dubious recipient as well.
  • Pierre Salinger gained much press attention for his claims of conspiracy involving TWA Flight 800. Salinger was President Kennedy's press secretary, a senator, and a journalist - including a stint as an award-winning foreign correspondent - but wasn't particularly an expert on aviation or international terrorism.
  • Marketers of pseudoscience do this quite frequently by appealing to Dr. So-And-So, who is possibly Not That Kind of Doctor or else regarded as a crank by his or her colleagues. For example, Deepak Chopra may have a legitimate medical degree, but his focus has moved on to pure pseudoscience and most practitioners of science-based, evidence-based medicine consider him to have gone over to the dark side. Saying, "Deepak Chopra said X, therefore it's true," is an Appeal to Authority. Saying, "Deepak Chopra is a quack, therefore this claim is false," is another fallacy, the Ad Hominem. The claim stands or falls based on evidence.
    • Penn & Teller: Bullshit! did an episode on multilevel marketing. A proprietary drink was marketed with Dr. Chopra's name getting dropped in the pitch. It did not impress the customer, who did not know who Dr. Chopra was.
    • On that note, Chopra himself (somewhat embarrassingly) does this with his book Jesus: A Story Of Enlightenment. On the cover, he promotes the book with a complimentary quote from Kevin Costner.
    • The ol' lab coat routine. Lab coats are appropriate if you are in a clinical setting or worried about contaminating your clothing. Donning one out of context is an attempt to look like a scientist or physician. Lab coats are safety gear. They're designed to resist chemicals or catch pathogens, then be removed to minimize the amount of contamination or harm suffered by the wearer. It is like wearing a fireman's jacket while pretending to be an expert on safety.
      • Or, as xkcd puts it, "Did you know you can just buy lab coats?"
    • Diploma mills allow you to do this. These uncredited, unsanctioned bodies allow you to get a degree in whatever field you wish based on your "life experience," without a peer-reviewed course of study. For a small fee, you can be awarded a doctorate in any field you wish and then appeal to your status as a doctor. Don't expect it to carry any weight in a real academic setting. Note that a for-profit school is not the same thing as a diploma mill, as a for-profit school can still insist on proper academic rigor and only becomes a diploma mill if it drops its standards.
      • Parodied at Thunderwood College, a website by Brian Dunning of Skeptoid, which allows any visitor to instantly create a very valid-looking diploma in just about any field of nonsense. It's actually useful for making cheap theater or table top game props.
    • Also addressed seriously by Skeptoid in an episode called "All Scientists Are Not Created Equal", pointing how much the media and other advocates of a particular position love to bring on 'a scientist' to back up their position without much in the way of context: "You need to know who they are, what their interest is, and especially what the preponderance of opinion in the scientific community is. You need to know if the scientist being quoted actually has anything to do with this particular subject."
      • On that note, appeals to Stephen Hawking when discussing religion (both in a positive and negative sense) are very common, despite the fact that his main field of study is physics, and he actually has very little expertise/experience with theology. Same with Albert Einstein.
      The Catholic Church’s official position is that while Stephen Hawkings is a brilliant theoretical astrophysicist, when it comes to Theological Matters, Stephen Hawkings is a brilliant theoretical astrophysicist.
  • Creationists citing the Bible in an attempt to disprove evolution, since the claim that the Bible is literally true (in other words, that it has the authority from God to speak on matters of science and history) is the claim being argued in the first place. If God didn’t inspire a given holy text, then nothing it says is relevant, and the creationist has yet to prove God did inspire theirs and no others.
    • It is, however, not fallacious to say "I am convinced for other reasons that the Bible is the word of God and Genesis is all meant to be taken literally, and therefore conclude that the world was made in six days even though the physical evidence suggests otherwise." This is an appeal to the Word of God of God himself, a very relevant authority on the subject, and is therefore valid logic. Of course, the argument relies on its premises, so anyone who rejects those premises (eg a non-Christian) can't be expected to accept it. Even many fellow Christians also don't accept such a literal interpretation, with most mainstream churches believing that evolution did happen.
  • During the neoclassical revivals of the Renaissance, the works of Aristotle were a major victim of this. While he did get a surprising number of things right (he was one of the first to realize that whales are a mammal), many claims made by Aristotle (particularly in the field of biology) were taken as proven fact, even if many of them could be tested and disproven with trivial effort. For instance, Aristotle claimed that if you take two objects of the same shape and material but different weight and drop them, the heavier object lands first. This wasn't properly disproven until the late 16th century, despite the fact that anyone with a couple of objects, a tall building, and an observer at the bottom could find the answer themselves. Another infamous example is his claim that women had less teeth than men, which is untrue, and he never bothered checking (it's all rather strange, as Aristotle generally did confirm his empirical claims).
  • St. Thomas Aquinas discusses this in length in his work, especially in the Summa Theologiae, and typically makes this kind of argument in the Sed contra to indicate his position. In Part I, Q. 1, Art. 8. of the Summa, one of the objections to sacred doctrine being argumentative is that the argument is either from authority or from reason. If it is from authority, then it would be unbefitting the dignity of sacred doctrine because the argument from authority is the weakest form of proof... according to Boethius. St. Thomas replies that the argument from authority is the weakest form of argument if based on human reason, but the strongest if based on divine revelation. Arguments from divine authority works if the opponent concedes belief in divine revelation, which is why the Bible is used when disputing with heretics.


Video Example(s):


Body-Builders for Grammar

Raph seems to think that a body builiding forum is the best place for grammar advice because "the brain is a muscle."

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Main / AppealToAuthority

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