Appeal to Ignorance

The Appeal to Ignorance fallacy is a logical fallacy in which one asserts that a claim is true because it has not been proven false or, conversely, that a claim is false because it has not been proven true. In essence, it relies on a lack of evidence as evidence in itself.

What is it?

  • "There is no proof that the new voting machines were not hacked, it assumes they were."

  • "There's no concrete evidence showing that this politician doesn't have hidden offshore bank accounts, so it's likely true."

  • "Since experts can't conclusively prove the source of these cyber attacks, it's safe to assume our rival nation is behind them."

  • "We haven't seen any official reports disproving the rumour about her involvement in this scandal, so she must be guilty."

  • "There's no scientific consensus proving this medication is 100% safe, so it's probably harmful."

How it works with disinformation?

Asserting Unproven Claims: Suggesting that because something hasn't been disproven, it must be true, or conversely, because something hasn't been proven, it must be false.

Playing on what isn't known rather than what is known, and thus banking on people's uncertainties, fears, or gaps in understanding.

Presenting Absence as Evidence: Positioning the lack of counter-evidence as definitive proof of a claim, thereby shifting the burden of proof improperly.

Muddying the Waters: Bringing up unrelated or poorly understood topics to emphasize how little is known about them, to further support the primary unproven claim.

Engaging in Emotional Manipulation: Exploiting the fear of the unknown or preying on feelings that arise from uncertainty, to gain acceptance of an unsupported claim without proper scrutiny.

Video by PsychOut | Used under Creative Commons license

Suggested use in training

  • Fallacy Competition: Divide your students into groups. Ask them to collect - or come up with - as many statements demonstrating the appeal to ignorance fallacy. Allow 15 minutes for this activity. Allow discussions and internet searches. Ask each group to present their list and allocate 1 point for each unique example, and 0 points for each example that is featured in other groups' lists. The winning team is the one with the most points. Next, start a discussion with the entire class on why such statements are used and in what circumstances they may be effective as part of an argument. Invite a self-reflection process and ask the students to identify 1-2 situations in which they have recently used a flawed argument or were addressed by a flawed argument based on the appeal to ignorance.