Data Standards

We deal with a wide range of subjects on this board, and some are quite controversial. (Surprise, surprise…it is, after all, the Great Debates board.)

I was moved to start this thread by rereading something Phil said:

Okay. I can grant that. But, as I tried to debate with David in two threads that got mired in semantics, evidence that one chooses to disbelieve can be ingeniously “proved” to have been faked, by proper selection of criteria. (By which I do not mean to impugn Phil’s or David’s veracity!) But if I adduce evidence of a “miracle” in support of a religious thread, it would be very easy to show some way in which this supposed “miracle” could be faked, or misinterpreted as a “miracle” when in fact it is not.

Again, Contestant #3 seems to feel (correct me if I misinterpret, please!) that evidence of reports regarding Falun Gong and the French study seems to “prove” something regarding UFOs. And almost everyone is assuming that this interpretation is correct, and shooting down his “evidence” as not true evidence of anything except Chinese attitudes towards dissidence and French attitudes towards something or other. (Personally, I rather like the idea, which I picked up from his defense post on the “Why believe in UFOs” thread, that they are a topic of inquiry that interests him, and he refuses to be constrained by “what everybody knows” thinking.)

By proper selection of criteria, it would be quite possible to “disprove” some historically valid statement, e.g., Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape in 1745. In fact, I happen to know that the present Prince Charles was escorted to an island in Lake Ontario by Flora MacDonald (who was P.C. M.P. for the area, and a low-octane minister in the Canadian government, at the time). Certainly misinterpretations of this story, which was widely covered in the press (at least the Watertown Daily Times, the Ottawa Citizen, and the Kingston Whig-Standard), could have given rise to the 1745 legend. The fact that the 1745 event was historically true, and the late 1980s event was a conscious parallel to it, could easily be lost over the next century or two, and thus the later event used to “disprove” the former.

It’s been rehashed several times that “extraordinary claims must meet extraordinary standards.” In view of the fact that it is quite possible to interpret or explain away virtually any assertion, what criteria would satisfy a skeptic? This is necessarily asked generically, but I would suppose needs to be answered by specifics.

E.g., suppose (and I do not have any statistics or axe to grind on this one, which is one reason I’m selecting it) that “miraculous cures” of cancer by visitors to Lourdes exceed the normal rate of spontaneous remission by a significant factor. Is this “proof” of anything? If so, what? If not, what would be?

If miraculous cures at Lourdes showed a statistically significant increase over what would be expected, it, in and of itself, is not “proof” of something. It is evidence of something and should be further examined. Maybe the water at Lourdes has an anti-cancer component; maybe people who go there also have gotten conventional treatment but attribute their cure to Lourdes; etc.

I think that part of every child’s development process is creating a framework in which all events can be interpreted. For instance, “everybody knows” that things don’t just float in space, so if someone sees something that appears to be floating in space, the natural assumption is that there is something invisible (glass pillar, very thin string, etc) holding it up. My guess is that this process is largely completed around six years old. Once a person gets older that that, they can accept small, gradual changes to their worldview, but they can’t accept a radical change. If you took an adult from the middle ages into this time, he quite possibly would never adjust, and perhaps even would go insane. I think that both extraterrestial intelligence and the existance of a deity are such a radical departure from my current understanding that even if I were forced to abandon my current understanding, I would not find either hypothesis to be useful. For if there is some being capable of unknown and possibly unlimited acts, how can I trust that anything I experiencee corresponds with reality? Our entire understanding of realitry is based upon the premise that there is a certain class of events which are impossible. While it would be possible to function with another set of impossible events, once one event from one’s impossible event set actually occurrs, one’s faith that one can be sure that anything belongs in the impossible set is destroyed. And once we have nothing in the impossible set, normal functioning is impossible. Is that clear?

Clear enough, I suppose, but I’m not going to argue with you about that. I WILL, however, take issue with your assertion that objects do not float in space. What about stars, planets, celestial bodies? Although if you insist that the word “float” must imply that the object remains permanently in a fixed position relative to some absolute fixed point within the Universe, I suppose you could argue that these objects are being kept aloft by their own momentum. Or, if your criteria for “floating” merely include an insistence that the object remain somewhat motionless with relation to an observer, but apparently unsupported by any visible matter other than the medium which surrounds it, well I still don’t necessarily see where that has to disqualify those objects we can see in the night sky. Of course, if when you refer to “floating in space,” you are assuming that we should all understand you to mean “levitating within our own atmosphere,” I have no argument with your example. But in that case, I do have a problem with your somewhat cavalier attitude toward the need for precise speech. 'Course, it could be just me, being a smartass. :slight_smile:

Time to change the signature line; my cover’s been blown . . .

Ryan: I have to disagree. Maybe some people are completely set in their ways, but others aren’t. I, for one, am willing to accept that things I don’t “believe in” work – if they provide the evidence. If somebody proves that they can routinely see into the future, for example, I would love to see how they do it. Yes, I’d check for trickery and other explanations first. But if they passed, I think it would open up all sorts of interesting possibilities. I just don’t happen to think it’s going to happen.

kaylasdad noted:

Not to mention superconductors/magnets. One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen is a superconductor floating over a magnet (or vice versa). But that only made me appreciate real science more, not look to magic. It certainly didn’t shake up my whole world view.