Explanation of the credentials fallacy
In the context of the credentials fallacy, the term ‘credentials’ refers to qualifications or achievements which demonstrate that their holder possesses a certain degree of knowledge or expertise in a given field. Credentials can take many forms, and what constitutes relevant credentials depends on the field which is being discussed.
This means that, for example, having teaching experience could be viewed as a type of relevant credentials when it comes to talking about education, while a PhD could be viewed as a type of relevant credentials when it comes to discussing a scientific field.
The credentials fallacy is a type of informal logical fallacy, since there is an issue with its underlying premise, and namely with the assumption that if someone doesn’t have credentials in a certain field, then any argument that they make can be immediately dismissed.
This premise is problematic, since even though credentials should certainly be taken into account in some cases, it’s fallacious to assume that if someone doesn’t have the necessary credentials in a given field then everything that they say must be wrong.
The credentials fallacy can be categorized as a genetic fallacy, since it focuses on the origin of the argument rather than on the argument itself. More specifically, it can be categorized as a type of ad hominem attack, since it personally targets the individual who is making the argument.
Note that the credentials fallacy is associated with the concept of credentialism, which is the phenomenon of over-reliance on credentials in situations where they aren’t relevant or necessary.
However, the credentials fallacy can also be used in situations where one’s credentials are relevant or necessary. Specifically, this occurs when the attack on someone’s lack of credentials isn’t supported by valid reasoning, as in cases where people fail to explain why the lack of credentials is relevant to the discussion, or in cases where people only mention a person’s credentials, while ignoring their original argument entirely.
Related logical fallacies
When discussing the credentials fallacy, it’s important to point out two related logical fallacies:
- First, there is the argument from authority, which is a logical fallacy that occurs when someone claims that a certain argument must be right, simply because it was stated by a supposed expert on the topic.
- Second, there is the appeal to accomplishments, which is a logical fallacy that occurs when someone claims that a certain argument must be right, simply because it was stated by someone who has a certain set of accomplishments.
Essentially, the difference between the credentials fallacy and these two fallacies is that the credentials fallacy is based on the fallacious assumption that a lack of credentials is a valid reason to assume that a certain person is necessarily wrong, while the argument from authority and the appeal to accomplishments are based on the assumption that the presence of such credentials is a valid reason to assume that a certain person is necessarily right.
The credentials fallacy is often used in conjunction with an argument from authority or with an appeal to accomplishments, since the person using the credentials fallacy will often try to disparage the opinion of the person without credentials, while comparing it with the opinion of those that have them.
Furthermore, the person using these fallacies might also use an appeal to false authority, in situations where the authority figure whose argument they support has authority which is invalid for some reason.
[update] Added and highlighted below for those who do not understand when it is appropriate:
When it may be appropriate:
However, there are of course situations where addressing your opponent’s lack of credentials can be appropriate. In such cases, it can be reasonable to mention this issue, as long as you properly explain why credentials are necessary in this case, why your opponent lacks those credentials, and how the lack of credentials affects the point that your opponent is trying to make.
Furthermore, if you do choose to address your opponent’s credentials, then you should generally try to ask your opponent what they think about the credential problem in this case, instead of immediately presenting their supposed lack of credentials as a personal attack.