What is evidence?

Discussion in 'General Science & Technology' started by Ophiolite, May 10, 2016.

  1. Ophiolite Valued Senior Member

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    This primary purpose of this thread is to express my annoyance at two common uses, or rather misuses, of the word evidence. As such you may consider it would have been more appropriate as an item on a blog, rather than a thread on a discussion forum. However, I believe there may be enough substance to generate hostile commentary, informative agreement, and many other perspectives twixt the two.

    Annoyance 1:

    This relates to the misunderstanding, deliberate or accidental, of what constitutes evidence. The guilty parties include woo-woo merchants, conspiracy theorists, creationists and the like. In support of their views they offer anecdotes, third party accounts and assertions of “authorities”. My attitude to this is captured by the following. (If it seems familiar that is because I have posted it in several forums in the past.)

    Evidence is not a belief.
    Evidence is not a desire.
    Evidence is not an opinion.
    Evidence is not dogma.
    Evidence is not a suspicion.
    Evidence is not writings of undemonstrated provenance.
    Evidence is not a passionately declared statement.
    Evidence is not an idea.
    Evidence is not what someone told you in a pub.
    Evidence is not a You-Tube video.
    Evidence is not a majority opinion.
    Evidence is not a minority opinion.
    Evidence is measurable, repeatable observation consistent with a hypothesis.

    Annoyance 2
    Contrary to the previous annoyance the perpetrators of this behaviour really should know better. Their egregious conduct is typically represented by the simple statement: “There is no evidence for ……..”.

    There is no evidence for ghosts. There is no evidence for alien visitations. There is no evidence that 911 was a government conspiracy. There is no evidence for God. There is no evidence for the Illuminati.

    The example that triggered me to open this thread was from a scholarly work on the formation of planetary crusts. (Planetary Crusts, Their Composition, Origin, and Evolution. ISBN 978-0-521-84186-3). The authors declare the following about Venus.

    “Among other differences, the planet displays no evidence of the operation of plate tectonics……”

    And yet I can cite at least three peer reviewed papers that do offer evidence of plate tectonics on Venus.

    What those who use the term in this, to my mind casual, way appear to mean is: "there is no good evidence for ………"

    There is no good evidence for ghosts. There is no sound evidence for alien visitations. There is no significant evidence that 911 was a government conspiracy. There is no compelling evidence for God. There is no convincing evidence for the Illuminati.

    It would take little effort to aim for this precision of vocabulary. The scientific literature and forum posts would be better for it and I should not be so annoyed.
     
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  3. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Well said, although you undermine yourself a bit by using "good," "sound," "significant," " compelling" and "convincing" as though they are synonyms. "Significant" evidence and "convincing" evidence are not the same kind of evidence, and when included in this august company, "good" evidence seems neither very significant nor very convincing.

    I find it more useful to present the alleged evidence, then analyze it and identify the attributes which either support or discredit it.

    My classic example, which I find necessary to post in a SciForums discussion at least once every year:
    The best evidence that the supporters of religion have ever been able to present to us is one tortilla, out of millions that are fried every year, with a large scorch mark that is said to be the likeness of an important character in the stories of the Bible, of whom no contemporary portraits have ever been found against which to compare it.​
     
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  5. Daecon Kiwi fruit Valued Senior Member

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    Don't forget Bigfoot.
     
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  7. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    I've always viewed evidence as something that merely has to be proven, because it CAN be proven. It doesn't require belief, it just exists. Evidence just is. (but it still requires proving it to others)
     
  8. cluelusshusbund + Public Dilemma + Valued Senior Member

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    This may or may not throw a wrench in the gears... however... about 15 years ago i made a batch of about 25 tortillas... an only one (pitchered below) was out of the ordinary... an ther was no trickery/maniplutation/photoshop... so how coud it not be presumed as evidence that God is an Alien.???

    (Pardon the quality... but its a frame from a vcr camera.!!!)

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  9. Futilitist This so called forum is a fraud... Registered Senior Member

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    Then I have compelling evidence that this forum is a fraud.

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    ---Futilitist

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  10. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    Looks a bit like Tiassa to me.
     
  11. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    I applaud the general sentiment, but it seems to me there may be a slight inconsistency between the two parts. If one says that "evidence" has to be measurable, repeatable observation consistent with a hypothesis, then what does "good" evidence mean? Where does it leave evidence that is not "good"? Is that also evidence or not? Is it possible that what you characterise as "evidence", in the first part, is actually what you mean by "good" evidence?

    I am also a little doubtful as to whether all good evidence has to be measurable. I'd have thought that quite a lot of evidence - even good evidence - relating to a hypothesis can be qualitative in nature and thus not necessarily measurable.
     
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  12. Ophiolite Valued Senior Member

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    I am pretty much in total agreement with what you say here. Although I read and edited the post multiple times it wasn't until I had posted it that I noted the inconsistency you mention.

    My geological training makes me acutely aware that many observations of value (i.e. good evidence) may lack any precise quantitative aspect.

    Here is the relevant sentence again:
    Evidence is measurable, repeatable observation consistent with a hypothesis.

    I note that I have written measurable, rather than quantifiable. It may be my imagination, but measurable seems a little less precise than quantifiable. It is almost synonymous with observable, which would make the word redundant. (While I am equivocating I could note that evidence only becomes evidence once we have a hypothesis to attach it to. Up until that point it is simply an observation. A lot of good science consists simply of making accurate observations.)

    So, yes, good evidence would more or less match up with something akin to my definition of evidence in part 1. Bad evidence would fail in some regard - insufficiently measured, inadequately described, improperly observed, etc.
     
  13. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    So why do you still post here?
     
  14. Ophiolite Valued Senior Member

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    Where else would a fraud post, but on a fraudulent forum?
     
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  15. danshawen Valued Senior Member

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    The forum itself is neutral, as it should be, not fraudulent.

    If everyone on a forum were fraudsters, I take your point. But there would need to be compelling evidence, as you have said.

    Still hard to resist liking, but you have my support if you should ever wish to be a moderator, FYI.
     
  16. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    Well......... he might start a blog to rerun acrimonious arguments he has had with fellow doomers on other forums, I suppose.

    As here, for example: http://www.doomsteaddiner.net/blog/author/futilitist/

    It seems to revolve mainly around cat poo, believe it or not. But then this other forum looks very flaky, if not necessarily fraudulent.

    Perhaps these fellow-doomer enemies of his also turned out to be members of the Bilderberg Group, or paid lackeys of the military-industrial complex, or something. All very baffling.

    P.S. But I do rather like the acronym TWATWAKI, or whatever it is - most appropriate, I thought.

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    Last edited: May 11, 2016
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  17. Bells Staff Member

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    [QUOTE="exchemist]

    P.S. But I do rather like the acronym TWATWAKI, or whatever it is - most appropriate, I thought.

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    [/QUOTE]

    Gah.. Damn you!

    Made me dribble orange juice.
     
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  18. parmalee peripatetic artisan Valued Senior Member

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    Unfortunately, where the writer may strive for accuracy with "there is no compelling evidence for such..." or "there is no solid evidence for such...," another writer may very will pick that up as " there is evidence for such..." --and without qualifications. This is especially prevalent in science journalism, or journalism in general, to be accurate.
     
  19. Ophiolite Valued Senior Member

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    But if we yield to inaccuracy in anticipation of stupidity or venal decision making then we are guilty of dumbing down or worse.
     
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  20. danshawen Valued Senior Member

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    Bells, you lost me.

    TWATWAKI: "This Would/Will Alter The World As we Know It."?
     
  21. danshawen Valued Senior Member

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    This is really nice and clear, and I don't even care if it throws out a lot of mainstream science along with it. The part that it doesn't will be golden.
     
  22. Boris2 Valued Senior Member

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  23. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

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    God is an owl.

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