11th November 2020
How to Avoid the Bandwagon Fallacy in Academic Writing
In academic writing, a “fallacy” is a bad argument. But what is the bandwagon fallacy? Why is it a problem? And how can you avoid it in your own work? Check out our guide below to find out.
What Is the Bandwagon Fallacy?
The bandwagon fallacy – also known as an appeal to popularity or argumentum ad populum – is a type of incorrect argument in which we assume something is good or right because it is popular.
Arguments of this type take the following form:
Claim: X is popular or supported by a majority.
Conclusion: Therefore, X is correct or morally good.
The unstated assumption here is that every popular idea is correct or good. And that leap is what makes this type of argument fallacious.
The term “bandwagon fallacy” itself comes from the phrase “jump on the bandwagon” (i.e., to do something or adopt an opinion simply because it is very popular). And a related phrase is bandwagon effect.
Some Popular Examples
Let us jump on the bandwagon and use a common example of the bandwagon fallacy to demonstrate what we mean. Take the following:
Claim: People throughout history have believed the world is flat.
Conclusion: Therefore, the world must be flat.
This may look like an argument on the surface. But belief does not equate to existence (e.g., believing that you’re a millionaire who can fly does not, sadly, make it true). Nor does the number of people who believe something increase its likelihood. The popularity of ‘flat earth’ as an idea, now or historically, simply has no bearing on the shape of the planet earth!
Similarly, the popularity of an idea does not mean it is good or desirable.
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In the past, the Transatlantic Slave Trade was considered normal or popular among many people. But this doesn’t mean slavery was a good thing (it has always been a form of punishment and exploitation). Rather, its acceptance was a product of various factors, such as racism in society at the time.
In cases like these, then, popularity clearly does not make something correct.
Is an Appeal to Popularity Always Wrong?
So, is appealing to popularity always bad in an argument? Not at all! It just depends on whether popularity is relevant to the claims you’re making.
For example, if you were writing about the plausibility of a political idea, such as a universal basic income, a poll showing how people feel about it could be useful evidence. It could still be flawed (e.g., if it used a small sample size or a biased methodology). But it would be directly relevant to your argument insofar as you discuss public appetite for the idea.
However, this information has limited use. A poll wouldn’t tell us whether universal basic income is plausible in other ways, such as whether it is affordable for the country in question. And that’s because the affordability of a political scheme is not directly related to its popularity.
The key, then, is working out when popularity is relevant to your argument.
How to Avoid Bandwagon Fallacies
The key to avoiding the bandwagon fallacy is thinking about whether popularity is truly relevant to what you’re discussing.
Sometimes, the majority of people believing something is important to an argument, or at least a reason for looking at something more closely.
But if you’re suggesting that an idea is correct or that other people should adopt a belief merely because it is popular, you risk making a fallacious argument. Instead, try to base your arguments around why people believe the idea in question and whether they’re justified in that belief.
And if you’d like to be sure your arguments come across clearly so that you don’t accidentally make an appeal to popularity, our experts can help. Submit a 500-word sample document today for free to find out more.
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