Project Steve

Argumentum ad Populum, aka Bandwagon Fallacy, is the logical fallacy that states that a proposition is true because many people believe in it.  Consider the following statements:

  • “Most Australian households use and trust Brand X for their laundry.”
  • “In a survey, most people believe in extra-terrestrial beings.”
  • “Islam is the fastest growing religion.  Therefore, Islam must be true.”
  • “Everyone I know does it.”

Just because many people believe in something doesn’t make it true or right.

However, sometimes it can get tricky identifying whether a statement is a bandwagon fallacy or not. Consider these statements:

  • “Nine out of ten nutritionists recommend kids eat ABC breakfast cereal.”
  • “Brand X Toothpaste is the brand most dentists recommend.”

Here, we have an Appeal to Authority.

The strength of this argument depends upon two factors:

  1. The authority is a legitimate expert on the subject.
  2. A consensus exists among legitimate experts on the matter under discussion.

Got that?  Good.  Now consider this statement:

We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.” – signed by about 800 PhD holders in the sciences.

Firstly, not all the signatories could be considered legitimate experts on the subject.  Professors in mathematics and statistics are not really experts in evolutionary biology.

Secondly, 800 – or even 1000 – scientists signing such a statement can hardly be considered a consensus among the wider scientific community.

Finally, this is not how science is done.  Attempting to convince the public that somehow there are ‘so many’ scientists who disagree with Darwinian evolution via lists like these is unethical.

Or, consider this list from Answers in Genesis of ‘modern scientists who have accepted the biblical account of creation’. (about 150)

The National Center for Science Education has rightly recognised these lists as propaganda and has come up with its own tongue-in-cheek parody of these lists.  Project Steve is a  list of scientists named Steve (or a variation thereof) who accept evolutionary theory:

Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to “intelligent design,” to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation’s public schools.

To date, there are over 1000 scientists named Steve who have signed the statement.

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Posted on Sunday, August 21st, 2011, in Science and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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