Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Valid Argumentation And Expertise

     The list of fallacies relevant to argument includes one that isn’t, strictly speaking, a fallacy under all circumstances: the “argument from authority.”

     If we read authority to mean expert status, there is a place for it in arguments over substantive matters. Problems with expertise-based arguments arise in two venues:

  1. The validation of the claimed expertise;
  2. Its position in the priority scheme of argumentation methods.

     If the above seems a bit too abstract, commenter Zachriel at Bookworm Room has provided a compact elucidation:

     An appeal to authority is a type of inductive argument {eta: based on the experience that experts are more likely to be correct than non-experts in a field, though not infallibly so} and is evaluated as follows:
  • The cited authority has sufficient expertise.
  • The authority is making a statement within their area of expertise.
  • The area of expertise is a valid field of study.
  • There is adequate agreement among authorities in the field, and the authority is expressing this agreement.
  • There is no evidence of undue bias.

     The proper argument against a valid appeal to authority is to the evidence.

     Excellent – and vitally important to contemporary arguments over all sorts of matters. There is a priority order to valid forms of argument. Expertise has value, if it's authentic and founded on prior demonstration. However, it has less value than evidence. Evidence trumps everything else – and a true expert will always concede that.

     Let’s get back to my Problem #1 for a moment. It bears directly on Zachriel’s exposition on authority / expertise. How does one validate a proposed authority’s expertise sufficiently to make his arguments worth considering?

     Well, first off, we should avoid those darlings of the talk shows, the Anything Authorities:

     Virtually everyone is touched at some point by the arrogance of an expert. I have to saw one in half about once a month, but for a reason tangential to Ace's analysis: their readiness to assert "expertise" in fields other than their own. Arthur Herzog skewered this tendency in his 1973 classic The B.S. Factor:
The thirst for answers in a difficult world has brought about the rise of Anything (or Everything) Authorities. The Anything Authority is one whose credentials in one field are taken as valid for others -- sometimes many others....

The trouble with an Anything Authority is not that he takes a position or works for a cause, but that he seldom seems to apply the same standards of research and documentation to the field in which he is not an expert as he would to his own....

Psychiatrists are a special breed of Anything Authorities because their field is anything (or almost) in the first place....

When an Anything Authority becomes successful, he joins the Permanent Rotating Panel Show and appears on television programs, which pay him....the Anything Authority must never be stuck for an answer. Glibness helps, and so does the fact that many emcees do not know the hard questions to ask.

If the above passage has you thinking of Fox News regular Dr. Charles Krauthammer, you're not alone.

The progression is plain:

  1. Acquisition of a credential of some kind, often an academic one.
  2. Practice in one's field.
  3. Acquisition of notoriety in consequence of some publicized event.
  4. Interest in one's thinking from persons other than one's fellow specialists.
  5. Increasing boldness, in part due to sustained attention from laymen and journalists.
  6. Ascent to Anything Authority status.
  7. Television gigs and book tours.

The strong relationship between the Anything Authority and major figures in national politics follows automatically.

     But that’s only one end of the spectrum. We must also take care to ignore the Nothing Authority:

     What lies between those two extremes?

     I was once deemed an expert of sorts. My field was real-time software, and I was respected at it. But expertise in engineering has a special set of characteristics: it involves prior achievements that are beyond dispute. In other words, you can see, hear, and feel it.

     Engineering is the discipline that solves problems by applying physical knowledge and /or existing technology. When engineers argue, their expertise is counted to a certain extent and no further: what has worked in the past. Such expertise is discounted when considering new methods made available by subsequent technological advances. Of course, those new methods must prove themselves in the crucible of application, but that’s where we enter the realm of evidence.

     Expertise in any of the realms of knowledge that don’t involve problem-solving – e.g., physics, chemistry, astronomy, et alii — is founded on prediction. To establish oneself as an expert requires a series of successful predictions: the use of the knowledge one has claimed to create a demonstrable connection:

  1. From a specified context;
  2. Affected by a specified stimulus;
  3. To a consequence that arrives at a specified time.

     Once again, I have the pleasure of citing the late Sir Fred Hoyle’s novel The Black Cloud:

     "It looks to me as if those perturbations of the rockets must have been deliberately engineered," began Weichart.
     "Why do you say that, Dave?" asked Marlowe.
     "Well, the probability of three cities being hit by a hundred-odd rockets moving at random is obviously very small. Therefore I conclude that the rockets were not perturbed at random. I think they must have been deliberately guided to give direct hits."
     "There's something of an objection to that," argued McNeil. "If the rockets were deliberately guided, how is it that only three of 'em found their targets?"
     "Maybe only three were guided, or maybe the guiding wasn't all that good. I wouldn't know."
     There was a derisive laugh from Alexandrov.
     "Bloody argument," he asserted.
     "What d'you mean, 'bloody' argument?"
     "Invent bloody argument, like this. Golfer hits ball. Ball lands on tuft of grass -- so. Probability ball landed on tuft very small, very very small. Million other tufts for ball to land on. Probability very small, very, very very small. So golfer did not hit ball, ball deliberately guided onto tuft. Is bloody argument, yes? Like Weichart's argument....Must say what damn target is before shoot, not after shoot. Put shirt on before, not after event."

     The prediction must come before the consequence to be predicted! Anyone can say “Just as I predicted!” after the event occurs. That doesn’t take knowledge, only a lot of gall.

     Concerning the claims of expertise submitted in the political arena, the majority aren’t even worth committing to paper so we could have the fun of shooting them full of holes. The persons making arguments from authority:

  1. Lack sufficient expertise;
  2. Are outside any area of expertise they might validly claim;
  3. Their field, if any, is not a valid field of study;
  4. There is no agreement among authorities in that field;
  5. They’re demonstrably biased.

     That final point is the most telling of all: When their claims are contradicted by the evidence, they dismiss the evidence. Indeed, some of them have taken to hiding the evidence to protect their claimed “expertise”...and, of course, the benefits that flow to them from their assertions of “authority.”

     A genuine expert, who possesses the self-respect that comes from demonstrable accomplishments, would never do such a thing. As we mathematical types like to say, quod erat demonstrandum.

     I could go on about this. History is filled with examples of “experts” who did all manner of contemptible things to protect their stature as such. The one that comes to mind most readily is Trofim Lysenko. But there have been many others.

     Remember always:

When evidence is available,
The true expert will defer to it.

     All else is vanity.


mobius said...

Heh, don't be silly. The (((science))) is settled.


@mobius Joooos. Joooos. JOOOOOOOOOOOOS.

If we were that all-powerful we'd have you in zoos by now. Look to your own house and the beam in your own eye.


As a STEM professional, I had been convinced by the alarmism... until I looked at it. Probably the brick on the jeweler's scale of making up my mind was the concealment of data and methodologies. Someone interested in the truth doesn't do that. Other things also came to the field, but that's the overwhelming thing.

What truly troubles me - and I've written several pieces about why I became a skeptic under my own name - is that people whom I have known for years, with whom I have had many conversations at high levels on any number of topics, become gibbering fools on this topic. And when I show, without question, that I know more about the topic, the scientific method in general, and can run rings around them on data collection, analyses, etc., back away from me as though I've sprouted fangs and voiced a desire to drain them dry.

They have replaced G-d with climate science. And what I keep pointing out is that if they truly believe this - that unless there is a rapid and utterly-unprecedented shift in economy and such, on a scope and time scale that has never been done in human history - that ALMOST ALL LIFE ON EARTH WILL DIE (did you see Jerry Nadler's short video on that?) what would they NOT do to save the planet?

Solar and wind won't be enough. Eliminating fossil fuels won't be enough. It will take a genocide to make a Muslim shudder.

Beware people who have made themselves into deities and believe they are doing a great and noble thing.

Sorry Francis, going to self-reference because it addresses exactly the above:


Francis W. Porretto said...

NITZAKHON: I'm going to give you the opportunity to explain how your comment relates to Mobius's comment -- and you'd better make a good job of it because if you can't or won't, I'm going to revoke your commenting privileges here.

Get started. NOW.


My comment to Mobius was simple. He inferred, through the ((())) marking, that Jews are behind the current climate alarmism. Just as people infer that we Jews are behind mass migration and illegal immigration, globalism, etc. And there's no question that there are Jews, in some cases very prominent Jews who - in actuality - are JINOs but Jewish nonetheless who are in positions of authority and influence in those movements. But the ((())) states something different: that it's ALL Jews, ALL THE TIME.

And thus my mocking.

There are Jews who are outright evil. Soros. Barbara Spectre. The organizers of the Never Again Action who are taking the side of illegal crimmigrants attempting to invade America. But as Michelle Malkin has pointed out over the years, and in particular in her new book, there are religions aplenty in this. I was horrified to read, I don't recall where, that part of the Catholic Church's support for this is monetary - not just money coming from the US government to help this (which is abominable) but also because Catholic hispanics who move to the US will donate more money to the Church than if they were in their native lands.

Mobius's use of ((())) stated that it was JEWS behind this. I mocked him, as is my rhetorical right to do. It's not Jews, it's globalists/leftists... some of whom are Jews, the vast majority of whom are not.

As to the rest of my comment, sans Mobius, I was precisely addressing the whole climate alarmism and my views on the underpinnings of it - to wit, the Left has replaced G-d with themselves.

Francis W. Porretto said...

Mobius: Is that how you intended the three-parentheses around science in your comment to be interpreted?

Jim Horn said...

Hello, Francis,

I've often seen the triple parenthese used in other sites but ignored them. The above discussion surprised and alarmed me as I have appreciated the postings of all in the past. So I googled "((( )))" and the results affirm NITZAKHAN's explaonation.

Now, of course, Google is known for its bias so that might be a misleading search result. But if that's a common understanding of what the parentheses mean, then they have no place in civil discourse.

Thank you and may God bless us all!

Jim Horn said...

I do hope moebius was writing satirically. If so, my apologies for any aspersions. I've only been on the Internet since '84 and am still figuring it out. Conversational inflections still don't survive ASCII very well, and few have your writer's skill.

Tracy Coyle said...

Commenting on another point: tuffs of grass and golf balls.

I stood some 90 yrds from the green. I told my playing partner, hit to the right side, back half of the green, let it release to the left, rolling along the back side to the hole mid green on the left.

Shot made, landed back half right, rolled left around the back, into the hole on the left.

He commented, "Just luck".

I retorted - "can't be luck if I called it exactly as it occurred and was successful". Of course, luck had SOMETHING to do with it. But given I called it before hand and executed it as called, the outcome was hardly lucky.

And in 48 years of playing golf, thousands of rounds, tens of thousands of holes played, I've never had a hole in one. Just not lucky, I guess.