The limitations of communications technology, and the resulting restrictions on the availability of knowledge, have historically made appeals to authority a necessary if flawed accommodation. Access to information was previously extremely restricted, and only a tiny percentage of the population had access to original sources. Even if the average peasant somehow happened to encounter a scrap of papyrus or a clay tablet, it was unlikely he possessed the literacy to read it. The average individual had little choice but to accept the information provided by whatever authority was available - chief, king, shaman, priest, teacher, parent, etc.
Appeals to authority have arguably provided significant advantages and efficiencies. They let us use information without each of us having to individually expend the effort to personally confirm its validity. Accepting the authority of reference books has no doubt saved engineers and scientists substantial time and effort that would otherwise have had to be spent duplicating the data that was available simply by opening an authoritative book to the proper page. Auto mechanics can confidently tune engines according to the recommendations in their manuals because they trust the authority of those who wrote those manuals. They allow us to focus on the larger significance of scientific breakthroughs without having to fully understand the complex equations and laboratory procedures needed to achieve them.
However, appeals to authority also have a dark side that has played a central role in the many digressions and detours that have periodically delayed and even reversed meaningful human progress. The ability to define reality by decree was no doubt a valuable and all too easily abused aspect of the authoritarian primitive world. The "divine" pronouncements of religious leaders have long obstructed scientific progress and justified demands to appease imaginary gods - while enriching and empowering the temporal representatives of those gods.
The silencing of opponents by personal attacks has been a time honored tactic of those who resort to appeals to authority. Opponents had to be attacked because an appeal to authority can only function as long as the validity of the authority remains beyond question. Continued questioning could bring down both the immediate appeal and the authority that was being used to give it undeserved credence. Attacks on those questioning appeals to authority had to be personal because the actual issues typically couldn't stand close scrutiny, which is why an appeal to authority was used in the first place.
Destroying the credibility of opponents allowed authorities to eliminate embarrassing contradictions to their claims without having to address the factual basis of their victim's objections. The number of individuals who dared to point out the self-serving errors in the pronouncements of their rulers tended to be few enough that they could be summarily eliminated as heretics, witches, traitors, madmen, or similar pejorative category.
The need to discourage not only the immediate questioner but all those who might otherwise raise embarrassing questions in the future, tended to result in extreme violence. Questioners were burned alive, thrown off cliffs, hung, drowned, subjected to depraved tortures, etc. Fortunately for our modern world, there remained a few courageous enlightened individuals willing to continue to question and eventually discredit fallacious appeals to authority even at the personal risk of torture and murder.
The increasing availability of information has the potential to diminish the ability of ruling elites to use claims of artificial authority to manipulate the world views of populations. Unfortunately, intellectual laziness, vested interests, and ulterior motives continue to make appeals to authority an effective alternative when factual substance is lacking.
Appeals to authority have always been an integral aspect of hierarchies. Position in a hierarchy bestows on the occupant the authority to arbitrarily override the views/beliefs of those below them, and exercise such power as allowed by those above them. Appeals to authority have become the favored means of achieving the goals of bureaucracies - especially when those goals are actually counter to the wellbeing of the citizens.
Consider the dynamics of the heavily promoted "global warming" controversy. While the word "science" is mentioned at every opportunity, the issue depends on appeals to authority as its primary proof of legitimacy. We were told to accept the pronouncements of the UN's IPCC without question based solely on the organization's prestigious facade, and the academic credentials of the supposed "experts".
"Global warming" advocates also launched an aggressive preemptive campaign intended to suppress any questioning of their unfounded appeals to authority. We were relentlessly told that the "issue is already settled", "the science is already proven", and there was already a "consensus" among credentialed authorities in support of the claims. Skeptics were preemptively labeled with pejorative terms like "denier", an obvious ploy to trick the public into actively avoiding contradictory information that would undermine their willingness to believe what they were being told.
The main stream media joined the propaganda assault by saturating their programming with horror stories of the looming global warming catastrophe. Al Gore became a media star and was awarded an Oscar and Nobel Peace prize for producing a PowerPoint slide show full of sensationalist "inaccuracies" (more commonly known as reprehensible lies to those capable of seeing through the manipulative deceptions). We were relentlessly told that the failure of the Industrial world to comply with the "solutions" demanded by the alarmists would destroy the planet, with "global warming" being loudly blamed for pretty much everything from record breaking snowfalls to the sub-prime mortgage crisis.
Applying the old adage of "follow the money" should have exposed the scam early on, but the unthinking masses were blinded by their own ulterior motives, or intimidated by aggressive advocates claiming to be concerned about the environment. Following the money quickly reveals the real purpose of the "global warming" scam is to enrich the venal first world advocates, and provide the despotic dictators and corrupt kleptocracies that dominate the UN with a new way to extort subsidies from the dwindling number of productive first world economies.
What should have made the true nature of the scam obvious is that only "capitalist carbon" is bad and subject to draconian restrictions and punitive fees, while "communist carbon" is good and is exempted from the "necessary to stop global warming" carbon taxes. The draconian measures "needed to save the planet" only apply to the increasingly clean industries of America and Europe, while the massive environmental disasters of China and India are given a free pass and even encouraged to increase their environmental destruction.
In reality, even if enacted the scam would utterly fail to achieve its claimed objective of significantly reducing carbon emissions. Total global emissions would continue to increase with the only real effect being to force western capitalist economies to purchase "carbon credits" from the failed parasitic economies of the third world. Not surprisingly, this additional artificial cost of operation imposed only on western economies would also give the Communist Chinese a wholly artificial competitive advantage - possibly enough to finally achieve their declared long term goal of destroying the last remnants of the free world.
The "global warming" appeal to authority, supported by saturation of the mass media with alarmist propaganda and snake-oil rhetoric, looked like it might succeed - right up until the authority of the UN's IPCC was exposed as a corrupt agenda driven fraud. The IPCC's credibility was destroyed by the exposure of their own internal email communications discussing their aggressive suppression of dissenting opinions, and their intentional corruption of the original weather station data to produce results that supported their predefined politically motivated conclusions.
One of the worst crimes of the dishonest pseudo-scientists of the IPCC was to only include the data from the small number of weather stations that fit their intended results, discarding most of the data they had been trusted to preserve and protect.
The IPCC "experts" then applied various "corrections" to the data supposedly to adjust for factors that might influence the data from specific weather stations. Once they'd "adjusted" and processed the raw data, they destroyed the original weather station data to cover their tracks and make sure no one could calculate accurate results. They disingenuously claimed that the data had been accidentally discarded because it was no longer needed since it was obsolete after their "corrected" data had been generated. However, no legitimate scientist destroys the data on which their findings are based. On the other hand, destroying the evidence of their crimes is a common practice of those fabricating a fraud.
Their malfeasance exposed, the IPCC "experts" have since been forced to admit that they deleted the medieval warming period from their "hockey stick" graph because the real data contradicted their intended conclusions. They've also been forced to admit that the climate has not been warming for over a decade, and has actually been cooling.
An unfortunate consequence of the IPCC's destruction of the raw global weather station data is that centuries of hard work and careful effort by countless individuals have been lost to humanity. It's now impossible for real scientists to use that valuable resource for legitimate climate studies that would actually add to our understanding of the world around us.
The fraudulent use of a flawed appeal to authority by the "global warming" alarmists was a crime against humanity that continues to cause global harm. Many people continue to believe the lies, and continue to demand that Western Industrial Civilization commit cultural suicide by adopting the crippling constraints and paying the ruinous extortion sought by the global warming conspirators. Many of these committed believers will never accept that the fabricated "global warming" scam was a fraud because the false claims resonate so closely with their personal delusions and emotion driven agendas. They will continue to deny all proof to the contrary because they want to continue believing the lies.
The scam has also undermined the public trust in real science at a time when our dependency on science and technology has never been greater. It may take a long time before real scientists can regain the respect that the corrupt IPCC pseudo-scientists squandered.
The most valuable lesson that could be learned from the "global warming" scam would be to aggressively question any appeal to authority - especially those tainted by political agendas. Unfortunately this is the lesson the public is least likely to learn.