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How To Lie

This technique defers or deflects critical thinking and attention away from the merits of an argument by making reference to a higher authority that either knows more than we do or seems more "authoritative" than us. This is how it works:

- Analyze your opponent's argument.

- Find (or make up) an authority on the subject.

- State that said authority has the opposite opinion to your opponent's argument.

In general terms, the idea behind this technique is to "put us to shame" and make us feel stupid when compared to the all-knowing "authority". This technique manipulates our feelings in order to hide the flaws in their arguments.

As with any other technique to lie, there are several ways in which this one can be used.


Non-existing Authority

The most basic way to utilize this technique is to make up an "authority". Let's return to our two politicians from our previous technique; Larry and Moe.

Larry: I believe people must be made aware of the physical consequences of daylight savings changes, such as higher stress levels, hearth attacks, insomnia and so on.

Moe: Not necessary. The eminent professor Dr. Ludwig van Kristoforos has determined time and time again that all those claims are groundless.

When we hear such a fallacy our immediate gut reaction would be to cringe because we wouldn't want to be seen as idiots trying to argument against an "eminent professor". Thus we shut up.

But the real question is this: who is Ludwig van Kristoforos? What is his background? Which studies has he published? In what area(s) of science? How was his research received by the scientific community? Has there been any rebukes? Has his research been reproduced independently? And so on.

Well… it so happens that the "eminent professor Ludwig van Kristoforos" does not exist. At all. Moe made it up. And before you say that politicians don't do this, think again. There are plenty of examples in our current politics where politicians do just that.

Dubious Authority

The previous version of this method is quite risky precisely because it can backfire. Some people will actually go an check the pedigree of the "eminent professor Ludwig van Kristoforos" and when they discover that this person does not exist, the politician making use of this technique will be seen as a liar. Not a good position to be on.

Therefore a modified technique is used. Instead of just making stuff up on the fly, a politician may choose to "defer to authority" in general or to make reference to an obscure authority. For example:

Moe: Not necessary. Many studies have shown that only a small percentage of people are affected.

Huh? Which studies? What constitutes a "small percentage"? How were the studies conducted? By whom? Where those studies reproduced? Does the scientific community agree with them? And so forth.

This techniques is quite common particularly when politicians throw numbers at you. For example:

Moe: Not necessary. Relevant studies have shown that 96.754% of population are not only happy with daylight savings but they welcome it.

See what the politician did there? He mentioned a number! Worse. He mentioned a number in reference to "studies" which were presumably done by reputable scientists and accepted by the scientific community. But is this information true? Can it be confirmed? Nope. Without knowing which studies and how was that percentage arrived at, we should give that argument the credibility it deserves: zero.

And then there is yet another technique which utilizes an actual authority to misdirect away from an argument. For example:

Moe: Not necessary. Dr. Luktrin has researched this topic extensively and he has determined that the impact of daylight savings on people's lives is meaningless.

The trick here is to use an actual researcher (Dr. Luktrin) who actually exists, so that its name can actually be checked. But if this is the case how does this trick work? By choosing a point of view that coincides with Moe's argument regardless of the fact that it is not an accepted view in the community of peers (e.g. scientific).

This technique is much more subtle and difficult to debunk because the researcher actually exists and his point of view is a valid one. The problem is that this very same point of view has a very low probability of being correct and in order to determine this critical fact, we need to understand the subject being argued. This is oftentimes quite difficult because it is a complex and highly technical topic. Thus, politicians using this technique count on you being unable to do your research.

Another spin:

Moe: Not necessary. Ancient wisdom tells us that people recover their sleeping time at a later date.

And the question is why? Why should we believe "ancient wisdom"? Just because it is "ancient"? The implication here is, of course, that "ancient" is "tried, tested and true"; i.e. an "authority" on the subject. In reality "ancient wisdom" means nothing. The fact that it is ancient means that it is old but this information provides us with no inkling as to the reliability of the argument. In "ancient times" people believe that the world was flat! See what we mean?

Actual Authority

Another way of using this technique is to reference higher authorities which are well known and have credibility in their area of expertise. For example:

Moe: Not necessary. The research group led by Dr. Kilpatrick from the Institute of Sleeping Disorders has determined that early risers have the same probability of having a stroke as normal risers.

See what Moe did that? He mentioned an existing, well-known and well-respected authority in an area which seems relevant. Emphasis on seems. If we go back and review his argument, we will discover that that yes, Dr. Kilpatrick exist and she is renowned in her area of expertise. We will also find that the Institute of Sleeping Disorders is a relevant and well-respected institution. The problem is that they study sleeping disorders catalogued as diseases; while a daylight savings switch is not a disease and therefore has not been studied neither by the good doctor nor by the institute. Basically, what Moe did was to argue his point by referring to an irrelevant authority.

Political or Moral Authority

Yet another spin off from this technique is to make reference to an authority which reigns supreme within an irrelevant context but has no value in terms of an argument. For example:

Moe: Not necessary. As it was legislated by the General Governor of the region, daylight savings are beneficial to our society.


Moe: Not necessary. The eminent Shayhk Shayyid Khamenei has issue a fatwa stating that daylight savings is permissible within the teachings of the prophet.

The fact that daylight savings was legislated or that it was interpreted to be consistent with the teachings of Islamism is utterly irrelevant because the "authority" issuing those opinions only make sense within a political or religious context. Those authorities cannot issue medical or biological opinions because they are not subject matter experts! Yet, if we doubt or criticise such authority we will be seen as rebellious and we may even be persecuted, prosecuted and punished! This kinds of arguments play on our fears.


And yes, there is a proper use of this technique while arguing. It is OK to mention relevant authorities on the subject as long as they are subject matter experts and their research and/or points of view are subject to scrutiny and accepted by their peers. For example:

Moe: Not necessary. Dr. Ibrahim Fallawi and her team has been researching this precise subject for over a decade now. They have published many articles with their research and their conclusions have been independently verified many times and accepted by their peers. They are of the opinion that daylight savings represent a minimum threat to health while providing a large economic benefit.

The problem is that politicians oftentimes than not need to express ideas that are contrary to science and/or do not work in real life. They do so because those ideas sound great (emphasis on sound) while in reality are gross mistakes. Thus they can't find reputable authoritative sources that will support their points of view. Thus, they make use of these techniques.


So, every time a politician mentions an "authority", beware, be very, very aware. Chances are you are being sold a bag of pestilent manure. Unless you need fertilizer, we would suggest you refuse to buy it.

Note: please see the Glossary if you are unfamiliar with certain words.

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