Walter Murphy--The Argument From Authority:

With regard to Prof. Murphy's claims about himself and the TSA, discussed previously by Orin, I've noticed several comments on blogs and discussion lists suggesting that we should presumptively credit both his account of the event and his interpretation of it because he is a respected emeritus professor at Princeton. Without getting into the merits of the claims [acknowledgment: I do tend to agree with Orin's take], I find it interesting that some would think Prof. Murphy's academic position is meaningful evidence of credibility. Academics, it seems safe too say, often believe strange things, even (especially?) academics with prestigious positions at top universities. Whether or not they believe strange things less often than the average person, but it's certainly not exactly unheard of.

Putting aside the bizarre attraction "scientific" Marxism has had among prominent academics for generations, consider, for example, that one of the leading opponents of the accepted theory that HIV causes AIDS is a professor of molecular biology at University of California at Berkeley and a (former?) member of the National Academy of Science. Then there's the Harvard psychiatry professor who has become a leading academic advocate of the view that people have been abducted by aliens flying "UFOs."

More generally, in my work on expert witnesses and junk science, I've seen that it's not at all unusual for well-credentialed experts with impressive academic titles to sincerely believe (and testify to in court) all sorts of ridiculous nonsense.

Of course, the fact that some professors at prestigious universities have not been paragons of believability does not mean that Prof. Murphy isn't 100% right. But, on the other hand, contrary to what some have argued, the fact that he taught at Princeton isn't evidence that he's right, either.