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.
Using the blowfish strategy in an attempt to distract from the scientific consensus on climate change. While, study after study, using a wide range of independent methods, has found overwhelming agreement among climate scientists that human beings are causing global warming. For example, a study that read through 21 years of climate papers found that among the papers stating a position, 97 percent agreed that humans are causing global warming.
This study has been relentlessly attacked by conservative think tanks, politicians, and newspapers, who focus on tiny methodological details or false assumptions to discredit the results. However, the fact that the study has been independently replicated by multiple other studies suggests that the scientific consensus is not a result of biased methodology or a fluke, but a robust finding supported by a broad body of scientific evidence.
In addition to attacking scientific studies, climate change deniers also rely on fake experts to dispute the consensus. For example, they might cite a petition signed by 31,487 Americans with a science degree that claims humans are not disrupting the climate. This is an example of the fake experts fallacy, as the signatories are not climate scientists and their views are not representative of the broader scientific community.
Overall, the fake experts fallacy is a powerful tool for climate change deniers, but it can be countered by evaluating the credentials of experts and scrutinizing the scientific evidence behind their claims. Replication of studies and consistency of findings across different scientific teams can provide strong evidence for scientific consensus and help distinguish genuine scientific experts from fake ones.
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.
HOW TO AVOID FALLING FOR THE FAKE EXPERTS FALLACY
To avoid falling for the fake experts fallacy, it’s important to evaluate the credibility and expertise of the sources being cited. Here are some tips for doing so:
- Check the credentials: Look up the background and qualifications of the individuals or organizations being cited as experts. Do they have relevant degrees or expertise in the field in question? Are they associated with credible scientific or academic institutions?
- Follow the money: Investigate the funding sources of the individuals or organizations being cited. Are they funded by groups with a vested interest in denying scientific consensus, such as the tobacco or fossil fuel industries?
- Look for consensus: Check the scientific consensus on the topic in question. Are the sources being cited part of a small minority of dissenting voices, or do they represent the mainstream scientific opinion?
- Be skeptical of claims of expertise: Be wary of individuals or organizations that claim to be experts on a topic without any clear credentials or qualifications. In general, true experts are recognized by their peers and have a record of published research
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.