I'm encountering a frequent recurrence of a rhetorical device that seems to me fallacious but I can't figure out what it's called. When making an argument, the person does the following:

  1. Makes a claim that is unrealistic.
  2. Provides a source which they purport backs up the claim.
  3. The source is really long and it's unclear how it backs up the claim.
  4. When pressed to explain which part of the source actually confirms their claim, they just say that I haven't read the source.

It feels like I'm being sent to search for a needle in a haystack.

A practical example:

Bob: There is a lot of evidence that vaccines cause autism.
Alice: OK, what's the evidence for that.
Bob: Here is an article showing all the ways in which vaccines cause autism.
Alice: I don't see anything in this article which confirms this claim. What's the specific part of this article that confirms that vaccines cause autism?
Bob: You didn't read the article, did you?
Alice: I did, but it doesn't say what you claim it does.
Bob: Yes. It was in the link I gave you. Try reading it and let me know if you have any specific questions.

Is there a general term for this type of argument or lack thereof?

  • 11
    Of course, there doesn't need to be a fallacy involved - the data might actually be there. I mean, there is no 'faulty reasoning' (if we take that definition of 'fallacy') in offering a source one thinks has the right data to back up a claim. It could be Alice is just lazy.
    – Joachim
    Commented Nov 6, 2019 at 21:44
  • 8
    'sources' are for further reading. specific 'citations' is what should be purported. - I'm unaware of any logical fallacy called, talking out of your ass.
    – Mazura
    Commented Nov 7, 2019 at 2:49
  • 11
    "Timewasting". Quite an effective tool in some debates. See also "Gish gallop"
    – pjc50
    Commented Nov 7, 2019 at 9:32
  • 4
    Not everything is a logical fallacy. You are too lazy to review the source, or - do not have the time. There is no fallacy.
    – Cloud
    Commented Nov 7, 2019 at 10:29
  • 9
    @Cloud There is some fallacy. Please read everything on Wikipedia to find justification for this claim.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Nov 7, 2019 at 12:19

7 Answers 7


In mathematics, this is sometimes called a proof by intimidation.

As Wikipedia puts it:

Proof by intimidation (or argumentum verbosum) is a jocular phrase used mainly in mathematics to refer to a style of presenting a purported mathematical proof by giving an argument loaded with jargon and appeal to obscure results, so that the audience is simply obliged to accept it, lest they have to admit their ignorance and lack of understanding.

It's also sometimes called the "Gish gallop", named after a creationist who became (in)famous for throwing out dozens upon dozens of unrelated sources and irrelevant points. The goal of this is usually to shift the burden of proof (as J D's answer points out): now you not only have to wade through dozens of pages of journal articles or the like, the burden is on you to show that it's nonsense.


In general, if your opponent insists on claiming that her source provides substantiation in a way it clearly does not, that is false attribution, however, it should be noted that such a counterclaim is largely contextual.

Now, since your opponent insists it is evidence, she has shifted the burden of proof to you. If you ask for where the proof is in the citation, in effect, you have shifted the burden back. It is now incumbent for the claimant to briefly identify how or why the evidence accomplishes what it does. If your opponent refuses to do so, then she is not following the principles of fair argumentation. If your opponent responds in another way, perhaps by citing another article or posting a series of ambiguous and shifting claims regarding the purported evidence, this is moving the goal posts. Once an opponent stops cooperating by using principles of fair argumentation, it is appropriate for you then to elevate your concern, generally with a rhetorical question to verify that your opponent is aware of not playing by the "rules". If an opponent refuses to recognize their own fallacy, it is often indicative of a cognitive bias and likely signals the end of meaningful discourse.


This is not a logical fallacy.

Just because someone is wrong does not mean they are committing a logical fallacy

If you're asking where the logical fallacy is, you have to analyse the discussion logically.

The argument appears to be about this:

Question: Is there a lot of evidence that vaccines cause autism?

Bob is using a very basic Argument from Authority. This is fine. It is not as strong as a mathematical proof, but it is very often the best you can do:

This source is credible
This source makes claim X
Therefore claim X is true

In our case:

This article is a good source on vaccines and autism (implied)
It shows many ways vaccines cause autism
Therefore, there is a lot of evidence for vaccines causing autism

Alice does not have a problem with the implied premise 1, but refutes premise 2. Since Alice and Bob cannot agree on premise 2, they cannot progress the discussion until they can agree on that premise. Therefore, Alice wants to explore premise 2 and asks Bob for some premises on which to base it. To Alice, the discussion is now about this:

Question: Does this article show many ways vaccines cause autism?

But Bob thinks he can cut this step out with a rhetorical strategy that he thinks will simplify the argument. He seems to make this implication:

If Alice had read the article, Alice would not refute premise 2.
Alice has not read the article.
Therefore, Alice refutes premise 2.

He hopes that the second premise here will become false, so that the consequent will also become false, and the argument will be resolved.

But Alice says the second premise here is true, and the consequent is false, therefore the first premise must be false.

The discussion ends there.

Alice and Bob are essentially working from different premises, so they cannot resolve their differences with logic. While Bob's part of the discussion may not be helpful or nice, it is not using invalid logic.

You could potentially say that there is a logical fallacy in Bob's reasoning in that he quotes a single source and follows from that that there is "a lot" of evidence. However this does not appear to be what your question is about.

  • 2
    Isn't there some fallacy in incorrectly assuming X = "Alice had read the article" implies Y = "Alice does not refute premise 2" and dismissing any other cause of Y? Or refusing to believe the other person claiming X (even if they're the only person who can know X for certain)? Or refusing to answer the question that was asked, i.e. refusing to back up their claim [about what the article shows] in any way?
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Nov 7, 2019 at 12:50
  • 7
    +1 simply for the "Being wrong doesn't mean you're committing a fallacy." A fallacy is the logic being unsound; being wrong can also mean you just have the wrong inputs. Bob has an input of "This article is factual".
    – Kevin
    Commented Nov 7, 2019 at 16:54
  • Oh oops I just realised I think I am committing one of the common fallacies in my second syllogism :P I think the consequent and the second premise should be swapped? Then I would have to rewrite some stuff...
    – Nacht
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 9:20

I agree with J.D.'s Inappropriate Shift of Burden of Proof. Since Bob is making the claim, Bob should have the burden of making the argument and evidence really clear, but Bob inappropriately shifts it to Alice. But Alice does not have the burden of proof here, Bob does.

But I also smell a bit of Appeal to Authority here: Bob is pointing to the article (and the science that is implicitly assumed to be behind it) to try and make Alice think that if it is in an article, it must be true!


What you have said is that the referenced source or citation does not support the claim. This happens all the time, and editors of journals will send you requests for changing the writing. It isn't really a logical fallacy since the author isn't providing a formal logical reasoning for his statement. It might be considered misstating the reference.

This has become a very serious problem for online sources and eBooks since there are no page numbers. One thing that I have considered is providing a text string that the reader can search for.

Another problem is that the citation may refer to a document that is a known forgery. This is a major problem with extremist groups. I'm not going to give examples, but if you pick any religion xxxx then search with google for "anti-xxxx forgeries" (Do not include quotation marks in Google search field.) This includes fake news, fake documents, rumors, etc.

Since logical fallacies have a specific meaning that may not appropriate in this category, I would consider it poor, misleading, or fake research.


One word for this is obscurantism, in the sense of being deliberately vague, abstruse or recondite in order to discourage further inquiry.


Munchauseen, or some variation, applies to it all. All fallacies are variations of it. It is a simple catch all fallacy and as complex as you need it to be.

As to your points:

  1. Assumption.

  2. Assumption/Circularity.

  3. Infinite Regress.

  4. Assumption (point of view, agrippa's fallacies).

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