In the last two posts, I’ve argued that Orson Welles and Leslie Howard do not belong on the lists of famous people who hold the Oxfordian position on which they frequently appear. I could spend some more time debunking other names about which I am skeptical, but I’d rather make one last sweeping statement about them all.
The overarching problem with the lists is the logical fallacy known as “the appeal to unqualified authority.” The intent of the lists’ composers is to say that we should trust the Oxfordian’s view of the authorship question because various famous people hold that view. And they may very well hold that view—but holding the view and having the ability to speak authoritatively about that view are two different things.
The fallacy is the same perpetrated by many television commercials. A famous person may be hired to promote a particular kind of cereal; however, if that person isn’t also a fully-qualified nutritionist, he or she lacks the authority to speak about the nutritional value of the cereal.
Here are three sets of questions to ask of any list of Oxfordians:
- Do these people actually hold the views assigned to them? Is any evidence offered for the claim that they believe the Earl of Oxford wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare? Does the evidence come from a reputable source? Does it come from more than one source?
- Do these people have the authority to speak on the subject? Are they historians or literary scholars who possess the authority necessary to comment on the question convincingly?
- Do the people on the list contribute to the argument in any way, or do they simply hold an opinion?