I’m on the road for the next several days and won’t always have access to the Internet. So I’m reposting a series of classic fallacies. Regular service to resume early next week. This post originally appeared on 17 April 2013.
The genetic fallacy is committed when a proposition is accepted or rejected because of its origin, history, who speaks it, or who paid for it to be spoken.
It is one of the most popular of all fallacies, probably because it is the most fun. You get to raise your eyebrow when using it, and even leer. It is like gossip because it makes you feel superior and need only be put in the form of an unsubstantiated aspersion. It is thus the favorite fallacy of journalists and activists.
An example, which is said in a whisper between two people or boldly shouted if on a website or newspaper, is: “What he says can’t be true. His organization accepts money from a certain corporation. You know the one I mean.” Examples of corporations are Apple, Abercrombie & Fitch, or New York Times Company.
So if you criticize Greenpeace or the Sierra Club by saying they accept money from oil companies, it does not prove that whatever Greenpeace or the Sierra Club says about oil (and its derivatives) is therefore true or false.
So if you criticize a Columbia University professor by saying she is a convicted bomber and accomplice to murder and is otherwise thoroughly disagreeable, it does not prove that what this professor says about sociology is therefore true or false. This example works at several universities.
So if you criticize an NPR reporter by saying his salary is based upon money from corporate advertisers, it does not prove that whatever the reporter says about rivals to those corporations (rivals who did not advertise) is therefore true or false.
So if you criticize a Nineteenth Century philosopher who claimed Utopia would evince once the State was in control of all, it does not prove that his philosophy was true or false because it was uttered so long ago.
So if you criticize a politician by saying he was lobbied furiously (including receiving generous campaign donations) by MoveOn.org, it does not prove that the bill sponsored by the politician is therefore good or bad.
So if you criticize a scientist by saying he accepted grants from an ever-increasing government, and that his entire career is based on the government so increasing, it does not prove that the conclusion reached by the scientist is therefore right or wrong.
Further examples of people who take money or accept consideration to provide opinions: everybody. Except hermits and my Uncle Donald.
Don’t confuse the genetic fallacy with the gene fallacy, which is all the rage among the over-educated. This fallacy claims we are all slaves to our selfish—or rather “selfish”, which does not mean selfish but something else like selfish but not—genes. This fallacy claims our thoughts, will, and reason are fully determined by “blind” genetic forces. It is likely this fallacy is embraced because it is so wildly at odds with commonsense, and is a way to separate occult masters from the endarkened masses.
Full disclosure Your author, unlike Greenpeace, has never, very unfortunately, received any consideration from any oil or tobacco company, nor any of their subsidiaries—even though he would have taken the money were it offered.