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Argumentum Ad Populum – Logical Fallacy

Logical Fallacy > Informal Fallacy > Ignoratio Elenchi > Argumentum Ad Populum

Argumentum ad populum (appeal to the people, appeal to popularity) is an argument which concludes that a position must be true because many people believe it is true.

Other Names for Argumentum Ad Populum Fallacy

  • Argumentum Ad Numerum (appeal to the numbers)
  • Consensus Gentium (agreement of the clans)
  • Argument by Consensus
  • Appeal to Popularity
  • Appeal to the Masses
  • Appeal to the Majority
  • Authority of the Many
  • Bandwagon Fallacy

Form of Argumentum Ad Populum Fallacy

Idea X is popular.
Therefore, X is correct.

Argumentum Ad Populum Fallacy Examples

Yesterday I watched this video. It was such an incredible example of argumentum ad populum used in a public policy debate that it prompted me to finally get this long-planned series going.

As I listened to the first fallacious installment from Dr. Richard Denniss, I was banging my head on the monitor, yelling, “Ad populum! Ad populum! Is that all he’s got?” (Yes, I do scream latin phrases at my computer when sufficiently frustrated.)

Indeed it was. He addressed global warming itself only in passing, choosing instead to focus on listing all sorts of (mostly unnamed) masses who supposedly agree with him. I admit I felt quite smug when Lord Christopher Monckton concurred.

Date yourself! Remember this commercial? Trident must be good for your teeth because so many (surveyed) dentists say it is!

What examples of argumentum ad populum have you heard?

{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Chandra July 23, 2011, 3:16 pm

    I really like knowing there is a NAME for this. I see it all the time like I’m supposed to just go along with something because everyone else does. Adult peer pressure.

  • djinn July 23, 2011, 5:07 pm

    “Everyone that knows what they are talking about disagrees with me” (Monckton’s actual argument) is a long ways from an “argument ad populum.” The actual argument ad populum uses people with no special expertise to make its point. If these “ad populum” people do have special knowledge, as climate scientists do, then the name calling (even if in Latin) doesn’t even rise to the level of logical fallacy. To disagree with the general consensus of the climate change scientists requires actually addressing their data and conclusions.

  • Alison Moore Smith July 24, 2011, 6:07 am

    Chandra, agreed! Being able to label the problems we see — in our thinking and others — helps us determine what we really believe.

    djinn, thanks for dropping by.

    Argumentum ad populum doesn’t specify whether the group has special knowledge or not. (And, indeed, a great number of those cited by Dennniss don’t have any.) It is simply the idea that because many support a position, it is therefor true.

    The main crux of Denniss’ argument was to say — again and again — how many people agree with his position. And he threw in a couple of poor analogies for effect. Whether you agree with his conclusion or not, Denniss gave a lovely example of the fallacy.

    Monckton, OTOH, talked about actual climate science. Even if you disagree with his conclusion, the debate was a slam dunk.

    Dennis = cancer and insurance analogies –> Monckton = climate sensitivity
    Dennis = precautionary principles –> Monckton = closed loop climates
    Dennis = appeal to authority –> Monckton = doubling of CO2
    Denniss = asserting the science is settled –> Monckton = citing research and unanswered questions counter that assumption

    You do know that Monckton believes the planet is warming, right? The point of the debate was to address the impact and efficacy of the proposed carbon tax Australians are facing.

    Interestingly, this was scheduled to play as a tape delay on ABC, but they “lost” the tape.

    P.S. No, your comment didn’t disappear. The blog settings put the first comment using each, unique name/email combination into moderation until I can clear them.

  • Julia July 26, 2011, 4:47 am

    Silly, thing everyone know suddenly came with it’s own name 🙂 Argumentum Ad Populum.
    Julia recently posted…What is an 627 pillMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith July 26, 2011, 11:42 am

    Unfortunately, what seems obvious when explained (and named) isn’t so obvious in debating issues. Logical fallacies are outlined because they are employed regularly by people who either don’t know better or who use them because they know the audience doesn’t know better.

    One of the main tactics used by liberals against the Tea Party movement has been to call them names: stupid, idiots, racists, middle-aged (yes, that’s an insult now), etc. Rarely do you hear these screamers discussing issues or facts. It’s all ad hominem and others jump on the bandwagon as if that makes perfect sense.

  • djinn July 31, 2011, 11:13 pm

    Actually, dozens of cancer specialists agreeing on a cancer treatment is not an argument ad popularum. Lord Monckton exploited a subtle, poorly-understood–yet fallacious in its own right– loophole. But when it’s explained, pretty much everyone understands the inherent difficulty of decrying expert consensus as some sort of fallacy. You, for example, launch into a discussion of the non-popularum argument to shore up your original claim. As to that, the pretend sciency arguments; an economist (Denniss) arguing with a Journalist (Monckton) about scientific matters that neither understand is just an exercise in whose accent is more impressive. All light, no heat.

  • djinn July 31, 2011, 11:30 pm

    Sorry about the misspelling. Ad Populum or ad populorum, take your pick. Darn vowels.

  • Alison Moore Smith August 1, 2011, 1:41 am

    Actually, dozens of cancer specialists agreeing on a cancer treatment is not an argument ad popularum.

    djinn, neither I nor Monckton said it was. However, cancer specialists claiming their course of action is correct because others agree, would be. A cancer treatment that is correct because it actually works would be the one I’d want to get.

    But when it’s explained, pretty much everyone understands the inherent difficulty of decrying expert consensus as some sort of fallacy.

    Expert consensus isn’t a fallacy. As I said, consensus as the basis of your argument is. “Everyone knows the earth is flat. The science is settled.” It’s bad discourse as well as bad science. And, as I pointed out, a great deal of his “consensus” wasn’t from scientists (let alone expert scientists) at all.

    You, for example, launch into a discussion of the non-popularum argument to shore up your original claim.

    What exactly is the “non-populum argument” that I launched into? The second item out of four?

    Dennis = cancer and insurance analogies (doctors agree on treatment — ad populum)
    Dennis = precautionary principles (even if we didn’t have consensus (which WE DO), we would STILL need to do X or we all DIE)
    Dennis = appeal to authority (experts agree — ad populum)
    Denniss = asserting the science is settled (“everyone knows” — ad populum)

    As to that, the pretend sciency arguments; an economist (Denniss) arguing with a Journalist (Monckton) about scientific matters that neither understand is just an exercise in whose accent is more impressive.

    In that case, Monckton still wins. 😉 But I’ll be looking for your next post lambasting Al Gore for squawking about carbon footprints from his private jet. 🙂

  • SueBee August 1, 2011, 2:24 am

    I watched this vid. I wish Dennis had at least made a basic argument for his position. I was almost embarrassed for him because he didn’t seem to really even follow the discussion.

  • Daniel September 20, 2011, 2:49 am

    The actual argument ad populum uses people with no special expertise to make its point. If these “ad populum” people do have special knowledge. Also I want to say that I watched this video. I wish Dennis had at least made a basic argument for his position. Thanks for sharing…..Keep it up….Congrats.. 🙂

  • Alison Moore Smith September 27, 2011, 10:07 am

    Hi, Daniel. Thanks for dropping by.

    Some of the “populum” were experts. Some weren’t. The problem was (at least) two-fold. First, pretty much his only argument was, “Look how many people agree with me!” Second, this is a scientific discussion. Science isn’t proved or disproved (if it is actually “proved” or “disproved” at all) by showing how many people agree. It’s shown by scientific evidence. It’s shown using the scientific method. The only person using actual science in the discussion was Monckton.

  • Pesquisas October 5, 2015, 3:12 pm

    “We’re 15 million strong!”

    That’s another one.

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