Another Reason “Argument from Authority” is a bad idea

Because almost any authority can get it wrong. But since the authority is recognized as such, it can then perpetuate the error.

Case in point: The Oxford English Dictionary. It’s definition of “siphon” was penned in 1911. It was wrong then, and it’s been wrong since. Until now.

Of course, the problem is, many another dictionary has got it wrong, too, because they likely double-checked their own definition of siphon against the standard, the OED. And so the error rolled down the generations….

So the next time someone quotes an authoritative source to you, maybe an arched eyebrow is called for, instead of humble submission.

Sigh. How the mighty are fallen.

And an even scarier thought: maybe Wikipedia isn’t quite so awful, after all.  😉

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One response to “Another Reason “Argument from Authority” is a bad idea

  1. Actually, both air pressure (more specifically, a vacuum in the siphon hose) and gravity are involved — the gravity forces it down the long leg, and the gravity forces it down a long leg. The current definition doesn’t seem so bad to me.

    A pipe or tube of glass, metal, or other material, bent so that one leg is longer than the other, and used for drawing off liquids by means of atmospheric pressure, which forces the liquid up the shorter leg and over the bend in the pipe.

    The advantage of the OED is that it gives numerous examples of usage of the word over a millennium of English usage, something that most dictionaries omit.

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