The appeal to novelty is a logical fallacy that occurs when something is claimed to be good simply because it’s perceived as ‘new’ or bad simply because it’s perceived as ‘old’. For example, a person using the appeal to novelty might claim that a certain exercise plan that they come up with is better than traditional alternatives, simply because it’s more novel.
Because this kind of thinking frequently plays a role in people’s thought process, it’s important to understand it. In the following article, you will learn more about the appeal to novelty, and see how you can respond to people who use it to support their stance.
Understanding the appeal to novelty
Appeals to novelty revolve around the assumption that newer things are inherently better than older things. As such, an appeal to novelty can manifest in two ways:
- Overestimating things that are considered “new”. For example: “if you’re trying to lose weight, then you should follow the latest trends in dieting; they always work best”.
- Underestimating things that are considered “old”. For example: “if you’re trying to lose weight, then you shouldn’t use the old-school methods; they’re all outdated and don’t work well”.
Furthermore, this fallacy can sometimes manifest in both ways simultaneously, when the new and the old solutions are compared directly. For example: “if you’re trying to lose weight, make sure to follow the latest trends in dieting; you want to use the most modern regimens you can find, not the old stuff which probably doesn’t work.”
The appeal to novelty fallacy plays a role in various domains, from the usage patterns of new drugs and medical devices in the healthcare industry, to the rapid adoption of nanotechnology-based solutions in a wide range of fields. Furthermore, it affects people’s decision-making on various scales, from more personal choices to policies that could affect millions.
The main reason why this fallacy is so prevalent is that people often feel a need to take action, and choosing a novel solution feels like a more “active” choice in comparison with adopting an older solution, especially when the older options are perceived as inadequate. Furthermore, people often feel compelled by curiosity to try new things, which they can justify to themselves by saying that these things must be better.
Accordingly, certain groups take advantage of the prevalence of this fallacy in order to be more persuasive. For example, the advertising industry often takes advantage of the appeal to novelty, and persuades people to buy products by suggesting that the novelty of those products makes them inherently better.
Note: the appeal to novelty is sometimes referred to by its Latin name, ‘argumentum ad novitatem’.
Why appeal to novelty arguments are fallacious
Regardless of how an appeal to novelty argument manifests, the end result is the same, with the newer option being preferred over the old one, based only on the fact that it is perceived as more novel. As such, the appeal to novelty is a type of an informal logical fallacy, because there is an issue with the underlying premise of the argument, and specifically with the assumption that ‘new’ necessarily means ‘better’.
This assumption is false, since there is no guarantee that a newer solution will be better than older ones. Fad diets, which are dubious diets that promise some “magical” solution to weight loss, are a good example of this.
Every once in a while, a new fad diet gains prominence by emphasizing its novelty, before being replaced by a new diet several months later. However, these fad diets are almost always scientifically-unsound and potentially dangerous, and fail to improve on older, well-established solutions to weight loss.
This demonstrates how people sometimes decide to choose the more novel solution to their problem, when they act under the assumption that this newer solution must be better than the older alternatives. Even though these fad diets are almost always unhealthy and ineffective in the long term, people let themselves believe that they must be better because they are newer, since this kind of thinking supports what they want to be true.
Overall however, the fact that a certain solution is newer could in fact be advantageous in some cases, and especially when testing a new solution could be beneficial to your own progress in some way.
As such, this kind of reasoning is fallacious only when people focus their argument on the novelty of a certain solution, without explaining why this novelty is beneficial. Doing this means that people make invalid comparisons between the newer and older options that are available to them, which leads them to make irrational, suboptimal decisions.
How to counter the appeal to novelty
The main way to counter an appeal to novelty argument is to point out the fallacious reasoning that it contains, and explain why this sort of reasoning is problematic. Essentially, there are two main issues that you can focus on:
- “New” isn’t necessarily related to the discussion at hand.
- “New” isn’t necessarily better.
To counter these arguments properly, you should first start by pointing out to your opponent the fact that their argument relies only on the fact that what they are arguing for is novel, without explaining why this novelty is beneficial or even relevant. Then, ask them to justify their stance, and explain why they believe that the novelty argument is important here.
Asking them to explain their reasoning first, rather than just arguing against it, makes for a more constructive discussion, and increases the chances that they will be willing to accept the fact that they are wrong, when presented with sufficient evidence later on. Furthermore, by listening to what the other person has to say you might actually discover that their reasoning is valid, which could lead you to make a more informed decision.
If the other person cannot justify their use of the appeal to novelty, then that means that their reasoning is likely fallacious, and you can move on to counter it directly. To do this, you need to explain why their novelty argument isn’t relevant to the discussion, or why it’s incorrect to assume that a newer solution is necessarily better.
A good way to highlight why this sort of thinking is fallacious is to use some counterexamples, which demonstrate the issues with the appeal to novelty. Specifically, these counterexamples should clearly demonstrate either why newer solutions aren’t always good, or why older solutions aren’t always bad.
For example, you can discuss the fact newer medical solutions are often considered to be relatively risky, until sufficient evidence has been collected about their side effects. Consequently, older medical solutions can often be safer than newer options, since we have a lot of evidence about how patients react to them.
The closer your examples will be to the discussion at hand, the bigger the impact that they will have. This is because the closer the examples are, the easier it is for the people involved to see the similarity between them. For instance, if you are discussing an alternative-health trend, providing an example for a novel alternative-health trend that failed will usually be more helpful than an example of a technological trend that had a similar downfall.
Using appeal to novelty arguments yourself
It’s important to remember that you might also be using appeal to novelty arguments yourself, either when making decisions, or when discussing relevant topics with other people.
To identify cases where you do this, ask yourself whether you are using the concept of novelty in order to support a certain option, without truly considering why this novelty is relevant or beneficial. Then, see if you can justify its use, and if you can’t then try to detach the concept of novelty from your argument, and reassess the situation.
Essentially, what you want to do is use the same techniques that you would use when trying to counter an appeal to novelty argument used by someone else, as we saw in the section above. This will allow you to look at things in a more rational way, and will help you make better, more informed decisions.
Summary and conclusions
- The appeal to novelty is a logical fallacy that occurs when something is claimed to be good simply because it’s perceived as ‘new’ or bad simply because it’s perceived as ‘old’.
- This type of reasoning can manifest in two ways: either by assuming that something that is perceived as new is good, or by assuming that something that is perceived as old is bad.
- While novelty can be relevant to the discussion and can be advantageous in some cases, it is fallacious for an argument to be based solely on novelty, without explaining why this novelty is relevant and advantageous.
- In order to counter arguments which contain an appeal to novelty, you need to point out the fallacious reasoning, and explain why it’s problematic, by showing that novelty is either not relevant to the discussion, or by showing that novelty is not always advantageous, which you can do by using specific counterexamples.
- Remember that you might be using this kind of fallacious reasoning yourself, either when arguing with others or when making various decisions, so make sure to ask yourself whether you are using the concept of novelty in order to support a certain choice, without explaining why that novelty is relevant and advantageous.