The Appeal to Authority Logical Fallacy - Definiton & Tips

Coach Andy
Post by Coach Andy
The Appeal to Authority Logical Fallacy - Definiton & Tips

Introducing the Appeal to Authority Fallacy

The Appeal to Authority is one of the most common types of argument in debate. It’s also one of the most misunderstood. Citing experts and authorities in the field you’re debating about isn’t necessarily wrong – in fact, in some formats of debate, it’s required – but it has to be done with care to ensure that you don’t fall into the trap of committing a logical fallacy. So, read on to find out what’s wrong with this particular form of argument, and how to avoid making a logical error.

What is the Appeal to Authority and is it a fallacy?

Simply stated, an Appeal to Authority is an argument which claims that something is true because an expert, or authority figure, says that it is. That person could be a scientist, or a politician, or any expert in the topic that is under discussion.

Now, it’s important to immediately note that experts aren’t necessarily wrong – indeed, they are often right! So the opinion of an authoritative figure like a scientist may well be persuasive in a speech – but it doesn’t prove that something is so. To do that, you need logical reasoning, examples, and potentially other forms of evidence depending on the format you are debating in.

For example, you might say “according to eminent scientific writer Stephen Jay Gould, the theory of manmade climate change is true.” It may well be true – but if it is, it’s not because Stephen Jay Gould said so, but rather because the overwhelming bulk of the evidence available to us tells us that it is true.

If you went further, and said “according to eminent scientific writer Stephen Jay Gould, the only way to stop climate change is by using the taxation system to change individuals’ carbon consumption”, that would be a worse appeal to authority – because the authority in this case is expressing an opinion on a policy issue on which there is wide disagreement even between scientists and policymakers, all of whom agree that manmade climate change is real.

Appeal to Authority in different debate formats

We mentioned that the Appeal to Authority is a tricky area. Why? Because in some forms of debate, use of expert opinions is not only tolerated but actively encouraged. For example, in Public Forum debate, citing experts is an important way of building your credibility with the adjudicator, and can serve as a powerful warrant for your argument. So, we aren’t saying you should never cite experts!

Even in PF debate, though, always be sure that your reasoning is strong enough to stand on its own two feet. Expert opinion can certainly be used to back up your explanation in this format, but it should not serve as a substitute for it.

In Parliamentary debate formats such as BP or WSDC debate, you should either avoid using the argument from authority completely, or else be very careful how you do so. Expert opinion should only ever be an example or illustration of your point in BP or World Schools debate, not a reason why your argument is true.

How to rebut an Appeal to Authority

Again, how you respond to an appeal to authority depends on what format of debate you are participating in. If you are debating in an evidentiary debate format such as Public Forum debate, your best tactic is to have an equal or better authority to cite in response! That way, your expert will cancel out their expert and their appeal to authority will hopefully fail.

If you are debating in Parliamentary debate formats like BP or WSDC, you can call out the appeal to authority as a logical fallacy, although it’s not always necessary. Instead, concentrate on their reasoning, or lack of it. For example, you could say, “They quoted some expert, but they didn’t actually explain why their point is correct”, or “They cited an authority as evidence for their point, but the reality is that experts are divided on the correct course of action, so this doesn’t really prove their claim”.


Using evidence and expert opinion in debates is a tricky subject. There may be times where it is useful, and in some debate formats it is expected. But you should always be careful how you use such evidence, and not rely on the opinions of experts as an alternative to your own process of carefully building logical foundations for your arguments. The appeal to authority is a fallacy that you should avoid where possible!

Claim My Risk-Free Trial Class » 

Coach Andy
Post by Coach Andy