Fallacy of Mass Appeal
Tyler Cowen argues that we should judge our opinions based on what others think.
If no one agrees with you, you should be quite worried. If only a small number of people agree with you, you still should be quite worried. I don’t think it’s a numbers game, but I think whatever view you end up with, it doesn’t have to be a majority point of view, that reasons have weight, not just adding up whoever agrees with you. But you still ought to say at the end of the day, look all those other people are against me, maybe I think I’m right probability 57 to 43, but on any truly controversial question among intelligent people, you should never think it’s 95 to 5 in your favor.
Andrew Sullivan apparently agrees, commenting only with the snark, “Tell that to the president.”
But, clearly, the fact that the majority of people disagree with something isn’t evidence that it’s wrong. Indeed, we have a logical fallacy named after that idea.
To take an issue near and dear to Andrew’s heart, 70 percent of those polled by Princeton Survey Research Associates last week did not support “full marriage rights” for gay and lesbian couples, a finding consistent with other polls. Does that make Andrew wrong?
Another reputable survey has just found that 92 percent of Americans believe in God, three-quarters believe in life after death, and 79 percent believe in miracles. Should atheists and skeptics repent?
Further, the views on these issues are changing. Does rightness move along with these changes?
What about things on which polling is within the margin of error? Or one poll is a major outlier? How does one live one’s life under that circumstance? Should we all sign up for Google alerts on polling data?