Results tagged “appeal to authority” from onegoodmove

Industry Friendly

The term "industry friendly," or "pro-industry," is often used as an insult, a term of derision, it is commonly heard these days in response to appeals to authority, and sometimes it's justified. It is reasonable to consider that those with a financial interest, or some other personal interest may be biased, and because of that bias, dishonest.

T Edward Damer author of Attacking Faulty Reasoning: A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments adds a caveat:

In determining whether an authority is biased, you should be careful not to disqualify a source too quickly by claiming that he or she is prejudiced. Unfortunately, it is all too common a practice to find or fabricate some reason why the judgment of almost any authority might be biased. Such a charge should be registered against an authority who is otherwise qualified only when the possibility of bias is clear and might impede the discovery of the truth. If you suspect that an authority may have a conflict of interest, you might point out the presence of that possible conflict, without in any way accusing the authority of either bias or dishonesty. That will at least get the issue out on the table so that it can be directly addressed. p. 104 Attacking Faulty Reasoning- Damer

Merrilee Salmon in the book Introduction to Logic and Critical Thinking says:

It is reasonable to take the word of an authority if

(i) the authority is an expert on the matter under consideration, and

(ii) there is agreement among experts in the area of knowledge under consideration.

It is also worth remembering that even though an argument is made by an authority, an expert in a field, the argument may very well stand entirely on its own. If the form is correct and the evidence provided is verifiable and supports the conclusion, then it's not an appeal to authority. The fact that the argument is made by an authority is irrelevant, and so to is any possible bias.

There are entire PR organizations with their troop of advisors who contribute daily to the flood of misinformation, distortion, and half-truths. It happens on both sides of almost any question, but simply making the charge "industry friendly," or "tree-hugger," is not enough, one still needs to consider the argument.

There are some who think that any connection, however remote, however insignificant, and with no evidence that the claimed bias results in any dishonesty, is grounds for leveling the "industry friendly" charge as if that should be the end of the conversation. I'm not sure they'd even be satisfied with six degrees of separation.

I recently received an email from a reader charging Pam Ronald, with being "industry friendly," as a term of derision, he wrote:

Pam Ronald, who, according to the about-the-author blurb on the back of Tomorrow's Table, works for something called the Joint Bioenergy Institute, which is a research division of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which, in turn, receives research grants from the DOE, which, in turn, has a history of carrying water for big oil, nuclear and coal companies.

The implication seems clear, she too carries water for big oil, nuclear and coal companies. He provides no evidence of such complicity, he doesn't demonstrate her bias by citing anything she's written, nor does he provide evidence that anything she'd said demonstrated the bias, for him it was enough that she had any connection to industry however remote. Contrast that with Orac who accused the ACSH of having a distinct pro-industry bias. He spelled it out and he gave examples of the bias in action.

I asked Pam Ronald for a response to my readers charge, she wrote:

Well, if we exclude non-profit government agencies (NSF, NIH, USDA and DOE) from funding scientific research in non-profit institutions then who will fund basic research in the US?

If we exclude these agencies (that have made US science the best and most envied in the world) then the only groups left to fund scientific research are for-profit corporations (eg big Oil and monsanto) and non-profits like Bill Gates.

Here is a recent piece that appeared in the New York Times by Pam Ronald and James E. McWilliams, does it sound like they're carrying water for industry? It doesn't to me, It sounds like a well-balanced article on an important topic.

Remember all arguments need to be evaluated independently of their source, since even a biased source may be correct.