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Genes and IQ

Of course, Burt’s claims still might be correct: genes and IQ might be cor- related. Nonetheless the point here is just that Burt and his studies should not be trusted as authorities. Outright fraud of this kind by someone so prominent is rare, but even a few cases provides a reason for being suspi- cious of authorities, at least when their results have not been given inde- pendent confirmation.

One last question we can ask is why the appeal to authority is being made at all. To cite an authority is to give assurances. As we noticed in Chapter 3, people usually give assurances to strengthen weak points in their argu- ments. It is surprising how often we can see what is wrong with an argu- ment just by noticing where it is backed by appeals to authority. Beyond this, we should be suspicious of arguments that rely on too many authori- ties. (We might call this the fallacy of excessive footnotes.) Good arguments tend to stand on their own.

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To summarize, reliance on experts and authorities is unavoidable in our complicated and specialized world. Yet we still need to be critical of appeals to authority by asking these questions:

1. Is the cited authority in fact an authority in the appropriate area?

2. Is this the kind of question that can now be settled by expert consensus?

3. Has the authority been cited correctly?

4. Can the cited authority be trusted to tell the truth?

5. Why is an appeal to authority being made at all?


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