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one of the authors discovered prions, so I am not so quick to discount their work.



If the author discovered prions, wouldn't this make him strongly biased toward thinking that prions are the key to solving important problems?


that's an argument from authority rather than one of science though.

we believe things only once we've exhausted our attempts to disprove it


> that's an argument from authority rather than one of science though.

No. An appeal to authority would be "this must be true because someone authoritative said it". Saying "I am willing to treat this claim more credibly than other claims because the source is credible" is not a logical fallacy.


It's a Hacker News favorite to point out logical fallacies in comments as if that automatically refutes them.


>"I am willing to treat this claim more credibly"

That's a personal heuristic - a very reasonable one, but it's still an argument from authority.


A heuristic is a bias, not a fallacy. "All else equal, I'll try this path first".

A fallacy assumes a cogent argument is being made. This is just a preference.


Assigning any credibility to a statement based on the identity of its source is indeed the logical fallacy known as "appeal to authority".

Whether you say "it must be true", or "it is likely to be true" does not matter. Credibility must only come from the statement itself and the evidence to support it.

However, while it is a logical fallacy, it is reasonable to temporarily hold beliefs for or against the truthfulness of a statement while no or insufficient evidence is present. As long as belief is not mistaken for proof, nothing is wrong about having such gut-feeling.


There’s nothing fallacious about assigning greater probability to a claim made by a relevant authority. Such claims are actually more likely to be true.


> Assigning any credibility to a statement based on the identity of its source is indeed the logical fallacy known as "appeal to authority"

I think you are confusing deductive and inductive reasoning.


This fallacy is usually taught as appeal to irrelevant authority. It concerns relying on those who purport to be experts but lack any actual expertise.

"The ad verecundiam fallacy concerns appeals to authority or expertise. Fundamentally, the fallacy involves accepting as evidence for a proposition the pronouncement of someone who is taken to be an authority but is not really an authority."

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (9): https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/fallacies/

Here we have a researcher who is an expert in the thing he's talking about. There are still absolutely reasons to be guarded-- the matter is not fully decided, it's just one study. Maybe this is an example of an ongoing controversy, and we're selectively ignoring other experts?

But it is different to extend a cautious benefit of the doubt here than it would be to take, say, Paul Rudd's word on the topic as final.


Prusiner actually proved his case well over a decade before the establishment was ready to accept his findings. They literally denied his results were true and accurate. Accepting that proteins can catalyze misfolding in a cascade was not an easy thing for the establishment to accept (however, by the time I attended UCSF, prusiner's work was already being suggested to be valid, and people were already working on mechanism).


The important context here is that the author spent 20 years fighting The Establishment over the facts of prions and ultimately was proved completely correct. that makes him the ultimate authority in this case because he had to actually fight to overturn a long-standing scientific belief with heroic data collection and a hostile environment


Parent is right this is an appeal to authority. It doesn’t make it more or less right whether a Nobel prize winner comes up with the idea or my mom does, we need to evaluate it on its merits alone. The corollary as I mentioned in a sibling post is that when you have a hammer everything starts to look like a nail.


We rely on a million appeals to authority every day of our lives. Try some new food, trusting that it won’t kill you because somebody says it won’t, and nobody bats an eye. Say you give more weight to a study performed by an expert, when that has no immediate bearing on your life, and everybody loses their mind.


Well said. Myself specifically, I'd like to think science is supposed to be better than that -- neutral, dispassionate. It probably isn't because it's done be humans, but I want it to be.


The people studying this stuff definitely need to be better than that. They can maybe take hints from authorities but they need to check facts for themselves.

But for the rest of us, we have no choice but to trust authorities in some way when deciding how to interpret some new result.


I have to strenously disagree on this point. In this case, the author won the Nobel Prize after fighting the establishment for 20 years over a basic idea- that a disease could be caused by misfolded proteins and that the proteins can themselves cause more proteins to misfold in a cascade- ultimately showing that his theories were correct.

When a person fights the establishment and shows their data and ultimately gets accepted and defines the new paradigm, they've earned a seat at the table to speculate on how things work. They proved their worthiness as an authority.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't evaluate on the merits, but the priors are very heavily in his favor.




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