Philosophy:False attribution

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False attribution can refer to:

  • Misattribution in general, when a quotation or work is accidentally, traditionally, or based on bad information attributed to the wrong person or group
  • A specific fallacy where an advocate appeals to an irrelevant, unqualified, unidentified, biased, or fabricated source in support of an argument.[1]

Incorrect identification of source

One particular case of misattribution is the Matthew effect. A quotation is often attributed to someone more famous than the real author. This leads the quotation to be more famous, but the real author to be forgotten (see also: obliteration by incorporation).[2]

Such misattributions may originate as a sort of fallacious argument, if use of the quotation is meant to be persuasive, and attachment to a more famous person (whether intentionally or through misremembering) would lend it more authority.

In Jewish biblical studies, an entire group of falsely-attributed books is known as the pseudepigrapha.


A fraudulent advocate may go so far as to fabricate a source in order to support a claim. For example, the "Levitt Institute" was a fake organisation created in 2009 solely for the purposes of (successfully) fooling the Australia n media into reporting that Sydney was Australia’s most naive city.[3]

Contextomy (quoting out of context) is a type of false attribution.[4]

See also

  • Fake news


  1. Humbug! The skeptic’s field guide to spotting fallacies in thinking, a textbook on fallacies. "False Attribution": p. 56.
  2. Mermin, N. David (2004). "Could Feynman Have Said This?". Physics Today 57 (5): 10–11. doi:10.1063/1.1768652. Bibcode2004PhT....57e..10M. 
  3. Deception Detection Deficiency, Media Watch.
  4. McGlone, Matthew S. (2005). "Quoted Out of Context: Contextomy and Its Consequences". Journal of Communication 55 (2): 330–346. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2005.tb02675.x. 

Further reading

  • Garson O'Toole (2017). Hemingway Didn't Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar Quotations. Little A. ISBN 978-1503933408. 

External links