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Genetic Fallacy

Rejecting (or accepting) something solely on the basis of its origin, without looking at meaning or context. This ignores the fact that even a less credible source is sometimes, or can be, right. Alternately, that a more credible source is sometimes, or can be, wrong.

This is seen in any case where a source is either highly disparaged or esteemed. Sources will commonly be accepted or dismissed out of hand without looking into the actual validity of their facts or arguments.

Examples


The ur-example is perhaps Dr. Peter Duesberg. An oncologist at UC Berkeley, he became best known for claiming in 1987 that HIV did not cause AIDS, but that it was the result of recreational and or/antiretroviral drug use, with HIV being only a "harmless" passenger virus. Outrage predictably followed, and Duesberg quickly fell from grace. Worse, this view had a major influence on South African President Thabo Mbeki, who failed to provide antiretroviral drugs to AIDS victims (Duesberg claimed such drugs in fact caused AIDS rather than treating it), resulting in hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths. However...Duesberg had discovered a gene that helps cause cancer in 1970, which he continued to conduct research on in the intervening years, including when he was involved with the AIDS controversy. As he was so ostracized and discredited, most of his research was not even read. Ironically, it has potential to save millions of more lives than the deaths his AIDS denialism contributed to. He demonstrates both sides of the fallacy, as many people believed his AIDS denialist theory due to his scientific credentials, while conversely other scientists did not read his work due to that very theory.

Looks like this fallacy but is not:

  • When a factual claim is rejected because the source of the claim is known to be unreliable. A man who suffers from frequent hallucinations could not be relied upon to accurately report observations of the physical world, for example. Rejecting the claim because it was made by a delusional man would be a Genetic Fallacy, as the man may not have been hallucinating when he made the observation, or even if he did hallucinate, the claim may still be true. But simply saying that the hallucinating man cannot offer useful testimony one way or the other is not this fallacy.
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