“One million users of Shiney Bubbles can’t be wrong!”
Appeal to the People (ad populum): When we claim that our viewpoint is correct because many other people agree with it we are committing an appeal to the people.
This logical fallacy is one of the more popularly (pun intended) utilized in marketing a product. A company wants you to go out and purchase their product so they tell you how many other people have also done so. “Buy a Tough Guy Truck. The number one truck in Oklahoma.” This appeal does nothing to evidence the quality of the product, it’s just an appeal to the popularity of the product. “Use BeautyGirl wrinkle cream. Voted the best wrinkle cream by Vogue magazine readers.” What is wrong with using a product, buying an item, or believing a view on the basis of its popularity? The error in reasoning is due to the fact that a position or product is not the best one for any individual just because a group of people (even a large group of people) think so. What is important is looking at the evidence these people have utilized in arriving at a conclusion about the product or view. Unless the group has some kind of special knowledge (such as they all work for a consumer watch company), it is fallacious to ascribe authority to their view.
An everyday example: Gossip can fall into this category when a person uses the phrases “some people” or “the word on the street” or “they say” in order to prove or argue for a point. Remember, good reasons (good data) must be brought as evidence for an argument, not just a group of people’s preferences or opinions; especially not an anonymous group of people such as “they.”
A political campaign example: Political campaigns utilize this strategy when they use the opinions of the American populace to support their platform:
“Seventy-five percent of Americans say they will vote for Senator George Washington in the upcoming presidential election. Therefore, Washington is the best candidate!”
The problem with polls and percentages is that though they may reflect a group of people’s opinion on an issue or on a person, the poll itself does not prove that the candidate is therefore the best choice for any individual voter. However, candidates misuse the polls as evidence that they are the better choice for voters. When choosing the best candidate for your individual vote, you need evidence that the candidate will legislate according to what you think is best for the nation. Popularity is not an evidential factor for legislative ideology. I’m sure you have seen this type of fallacy in use already as we approach the upcoming 2012 elections.
Resources for recognizing fallacies: 1)Hans and Nathaniel Bluedorn. The Fallacy Detective: Thirty Six Lesson on How to Recognize Bad Reasoning. (Christian Logic, 2002, 2003). I am utilizing this book for preteens through adults as an introductory level book on fallacies.
2) For a higher level reading on critical reasoning, see Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking by M. Neil Browne and Stuart M. Keeley (Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007, 2004, 2001, 1998, 1994).