Spotting and Avoiding the Fake Experts Fallacy: Tips for Evaluating the Credibility of Scientific Sources
Science denial is a growing problem in today’s society, with many people rejecting scientific evidence and expertise in favor of their own opinions or beliefs. One common tactic used by science deniers is the “fake experts fallacy,” which involves citing large numbers of seeming experts to argue that there is no scientific consensus on a topic. In this article, we’ll explore the fake experts’ fallacy in more detail, provide several real-life examples, and offer tips on how to avoid falling for it.
The fake experts fallacy is a form of argument from authority, which involves citing an authority figure or “expert” to support a claim. However, in the case of the fake experts fallacy, the so-called “experts” are often not actually qualified or credible sources on the topic at hand. Instead, they may be individuals or organizations with little to no relevant expertise or may be funded by groups with vested interests in denying the scientific consensus.
This fallacy is particularly effective in public debates, as it can create the impression that there is significant disagreement among experts on a given topic, even when the overwhelming majority of credible scientists agree on a particular issue.
One notable example of the fake experts fallacy is the case of tobacco industry-funded research on the health effects of smoking. For decades, the tobacco industry-funded research and advocacy groups to create the impression that there was significant disagreement among experts on the link between smoking and lung cancer. This included funding “expert” witnesses who testified in court cases, as well as creating industry-funded organizations that produced research and reports that downplayed the risks of smoking.
Similarly, the fake experts tactic is used by climate change deniers by citing large numbers of seemingly qualified experts who dispute the scientific consensus on climate change, deniers attempt to create the impression that there is no agreement among scientists on the issue.
Another example of the fake experts fallacy is the anti-vaccine movement, which often cites individuals with little to no scientific expertise to argue that vaccines are dangerous or ineffective. This includes celebrities, politicians, and advocacy groups that claim to be experts on vaccine safety, despite having no relevant qualifications or expertise in the field.
More on the subject:
Cook, J., Lewandowsky, S., & Ecker, U. K. H. (2017). Neutralizing misinformation through inoculation: Exposing misleading argumentation techniques reduces their influence. PloS one, 12(5), e0175799.
This paper discusses the effectiveness of using “inoculation messages” to counter the fake experts fallacy and other forms of climate change denial. It also provides further background on the fake experts fallacy and how it is used to create the impression of a lack of scientific consensus on climate change.