The Everest Fallacy

Not an average senator

Everest Fallacy” is a little-known name of an often made logical fallacy: the confusion of the exception with the norm. For example, if you start to research mountains, Mount Everest will be the first summit you notice, but it is hardly a typical mountain. Cicero is the best-known Roman senator, but his works have survived because he was a brilliant speaker, which gave him some assets that his colleagues lacked – so, his career is atypical.

The Everest Fallacy is of course nothing but a special case of the fallacy of eliminating qualification, and any scholar who has a master’s degree ought to recognize it. So I am a bit amazed to notice how much energy scholars devote to fighting pseudo-scholarship (e.g., this interesting article). Of course it is good to fight against it, but the energy can be devoted more efficiently. The outrageous claims by amateur-historians are only extremes; there are types of poor knowledge that occur far more frequently – and it is more prudent to fight the real enemy.

The 3,200-3,600 questions that are the foundation of my book on common errors strongly suggest that the main reason why there is so much incorrect knowledge of Antiquity, is the fact that historians have become too specialized. Still, when writing for a larger audience or teaching to first year students, historians have to speak about subjects outside their own specialty; and in those situations they have to fall back on outdated information. As a consequence, the errors of our doctores and professores are a far more serious cause for oncern than pseudoscience.

2 Responses to The Everest Fallacy

  1. Bill Thayer says:

    Fighting kook-craft is even more a waste of time when you consider that the people who believe in it will believe in it no matter what, and will tax any corrective as some kind of conspiracy. Once this pseudo-knowledge gets into its victim, God Himself could patiently demonstrate the falsity of it, it would not be dislodged from its host; thus, such things are not worth rebutting at all, period.

  2. Sean Manning says:

    But then kookery goes unchecked, Bill. Psychologists have proved that when people hear an opinion repeated without disagreement, they tend to assume that everyone else agrees (or else they would have spoken up, right?) So there need to be people speaking against silliness. The James Randis of the world are fighting a battle they cannot win, but so are doctors and police.

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