I’m writing this because of the number of times I’ve seen “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” on this board. Sometimes those words weren’t used, but basically it was the same response.
Sometimes I’ve found it justified, but quite often, it’s simply looked like bad debate technique. The poster can simply say this and pretend that they don’t have to present any evidence of their assumptions.
First of all if all, how do we know that something is “extaordinary”? It seems to me that this requires proof of its own. I think that the proof that something is extraordinary is tantamount to proving that it is highly unlikely, thus you still have to present a case.
Second, I find it aesthetically annoying. Imagine a debate where one person just sits there smugly says “prove it” which in turn provokes “no, you prove it.” It’s quite a boring read. It seems to me that if you aren’t willing to provide evidence or discernable arguments, I would rather you didn’t post to GD. And just because somebody else did so first (with an idea you considered crackpot) doesn’t make it any more justified.
example: Somebody claims the earth is flat. Someone else simply says “prove it, the onus is on you”. I think the proper response is instead to link to a NASA site and show them photographical evidence, or make a common sense argument using observations that could be made by anyone. If you’re too lazy to make the link or an argument, why bother?
example2: Somebody says that crop circles were obviously made by aliens. Someone responds by saying “I don’t know how it was done, but it would be extraordinary to claim that aliens did it.” We have no reliable information on aliens as yet, but I don’t see why that would negate their presence. There is no proof either way about alien contact with earth. This doesn’t mean that aliens are the likely cause, but it does mean we can’t really refute that they did it without coming up with a better explanation ( two people with a broom stick and rope for example).
There are other variations on this theme. Generally though I can’ think of any reason why any viewpoint, no matter how commonsense, is not without a burden of proof.
—Generally though I can’ think of any reason why any viewpoint, no matter how commonsense, is not without a burden of proof.—
That’s where you go wrong. The point of the burden of proof is to deal with claims not people. That is: if you want to advance a claim, it’s up to you to do it, not your opponent.
The main reason for the burden of proof is that without it, you can make your claims more convincing simply by making them less and less intelligible and testable.
If I suggest that “gzxcyf” exists, and then demand that it is your responsibility to disprove it, I can make my case stronger simply by refusing to define “gzxcyf,” or maybe claiming that it is intangible, invisible, and generally resists observation. But that’s ridiculous. The incentives should be the other way: if I have to PROVE my own claim, then I have an incentive to try and explain what the heck I’m talking about, and try to present it in a form that is MOST testable and examinable.
—This doesn’t mean that aliens are the likely cause, but it does mean we can’t really refute that they did it without coming up with a better explanation ( two people with a broom stick and rope for example).—
The whole point of the burden of proof is that it’s not anyone’s job to “refute” it. The assertion of the hypothetical OP is that we should believe that aliens did it. In such a case, it is perfectly right to ask “well, why should I think that? Anyone can make claims, for goodness sakes, so what?”
—First of all if all, how do we know that something is “extaordinary”?—
Usually when it would overturn lots of established knowledge, is significantly different from the other claims out there, has huge implications, or is highly unprecedented.
The onus of proof is logically on the person making the claim, no matter whether it is extraordinary or not. The level of extraordinariness is subjective, of course. Some people think UFOs are the simplest solution, others see them as ad hoc. But in general, anything that goes against the current paradigm can be considered extraordinary.
I am embroiled right now in the idea that a rogue planet will pass the Earth next May and kill us all. A lot of people are making this claim, and their evidence is, um, pretty bad. The burden of proof is squarely on them, of course. But in many cases they have presented their evidence (Sumerian text, coverups, telepathic communication with aliens, etc.). The ball is now in my court to show where their evidence is bad (conclusion: everywhere).
Then it’s up to them to rebut me. They do, claiming I am a government disinformation agent. I then say that this is speculation, and they have no evidence for that claim. Then it goes back to them, and what I ususally hear is crickets chirping. And so on.
You cannot go back and forth saying “prove it”; the claimant shows the proof, and the other side can then lay into the proof. If claims are made by the other side (for example, I make claims about the way planets orbit the Sun) then they must be supported by evidence (hundreds of years of planetary observations, decades of probes, etc.). So again, the onus of proof is on the claimant.
If somebody claims x is true they have made a claim which they need to back up. If someone says x is false, they have also made a claim which they need to back up. If someone says “x is true” is extraordinary they need to back that up too.
Politely asking for evidence is acceptable form to me, but not when it’s accompanied by an unsupported dismissal.
perspective, you didn’t find my claim extraordinary? You don’t find my claim worth questioning?
I would suggest that if someone is not sufficiently aware of “established knowledge,” they have no business within 500 yards of an ongoing debate.
To take your “aliens making crop circles” example, it rests on several assumptions which, to the best of our knowledge, are unproven:
–That nonhuman intelligent life exists somewhere in the universe,
–That this life is capable of interstellar travel,
–That this life is aware that there is intelligent life on Earth,
–That these aliens have visited the Earth.
Those are things that need to be established before we can even get to the crop circle claim. I would think that a claim that rests on that many unproven assumptions could correctly be considered “extraordinary.”
If I claim I have 50 pounds of salt in my kitchen, a reasonable, well-informed person would probably believe me. They might wonder why I have so much salt, but they probably know salt is readily available, even in a 50 pound block at livestock supply stores. They would be perfectly justified in accepting my claim at face value.
If I claim I have 50 pounds of gold in my dresser, a reasonable person would have sufficient cause to doubt my claim, and would be very prudent to require more eveidence than my say-so before choosing to believe me. Perhaps they would like to inspect my dresser themselves, or even bring along an experienced jeweler if they felt they might be unable to identify gold themselves.
If I claim I have 50 pounds of plutonium in my car trunk, no reasonable, well-informed person would believe me. They most likely would not even be interested in checking out my trunk themselves, since the idea that any private citizen would be able to acquire 50 pounds of plutonium, and would choose to carry it around in their trunk is utterly preposterous.
The rub is, this sort of thing only works with a person who is reasonable and well-informed. Trying to debate an irrational, ignorant person is like trying to nail jelly to a tree.
No. There is no need to claim F. The claimaint is the one claiming T: it’s their job to present evidence and arguement as to why anyone should take their claim seriously.
—But a dismissal of the theory without proof, is not a debate.—
Again: that’s backwards. Anyone can make up a theory. But to get anyone to take it seriously, they are going to have to present some proof. And it’s their responsibility to do so, not anyone else’s to run around trying to disprove it.
—Of course you have to present a proof for “gzxcyf”, and if someone disagrees, they also have to present something better than “gzxcyf”—
Uh, why? You aren’t being very robust with what you mean by “disagree.” Surely, if a person makes a claim "“gzxcyf does not exist” then that’s an additional claim. But that’s wholly overboard and uneccessary: the primary issue is simply that there is no reason TO think that “gzxcyf” exists.
—No, but if you assert something else without properly refuting the original you’ve wasted space.—
You really seem to have a hard time raging against the same target: now instead of a burden of proof, you have a person making new claims. But no one has to make new, contrary claims to challenge the old ones. There may not even be any “alternative” to something: it may simply not exist, end of story.
It’s the person who makes claims without providing evidence to discuss that is wasting space.
—How do we know it overturns established knowledge though? Because you say it does? Prove it.—
Now you’re just being pointlessly contrarian. It is hardly difficult to point to a body of conventionally agreed upon regularity and physical law in a given area of interest.
Actually I found it slightly flippant since that’s all you posted. But I also chose to follow my suggestion, by ignoring it and not making a counter-argument. I can make no assertions about what is going on in your office and I honestly don’t care. If you want to convince me that I should, please do. But I’m in no position to refute your claim.
If you don’t want to waste your time debating someone you think is an idiot, then don’t. If you want to flame them, try the BBQ Pit. But we’re supposed to be debating here right? If you’re going to say anything, be prepared to back it up.
Unproven to whom? If you assume that aliens don’t exist and that they are extraordinary, you could be ignoring pertinent evidence that they do by always assuming there is a better explanation. There have been hundreds maybe thousands of “sightings”. If you assume aliens are extraordinary, then you dismiss the evidence, if not then you might have lots of evidence. That is why a better explanation should be given for the phonomenom in question. If you can say “they were probably airplanes or satellites”, you have probably given a better explanation.
To my knowledge none of these things have been proven, but I don’t think we have enough knowledge to say whether they are likely or not. To me they are not extraordinary, simply unknown.
There’s nothing wrong with asking for evidence, but if you dismiss a theory then you have made a claim of your own. If you care enough to continue the debate, then you should be expected to back up your claim.
So saying something like" I don’t know what your talking about. Why should I believe this?" Is perfectly fine. But saying," You guys are a bunch of wackos(ad hominen), you’re obviously wrong(unproven assertion). Give me one good reason to believe you." Is poor form. If you are defending the former, we have no argument. The latter is worthy of criticism in my book though.
Is there? How do you know? Something made that person believe.
I concur. No matter whether I agree with the claim or not, or who made which assertion first.
Well if it isn’t difficult, then do it. If you don’t want to be bothered with proving your assertions then don’t post.
Suppose that someone starts a “Global Warming is a hoax” thread. Somebody says something like " You obviously, don’t know what you’re talking about.Prove it". This person has added nothing in my book. In certain circles global warming is accepted without debate, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t debatable. Thus just because you think it’s conventionally agreed upon does not make it so. You still have to prove that it is, if you want to make that assertion.
It isn’t at all likely, for a number of very simple reasons.
First of all, it is extremely unlikely that you have an office big enough for a fire-breathing dragon to fit into it. There probably aren’t half a dozen people in the world with offices that big. Certainly if you were one of those few people, you would have better things to do with your time than post on message boards about your Dragon.
Secondly, if you did have an office that big, and such a dragon came into it, you would have to either slay the dragon, or leave immediately. (These things have a certain traditional flow in terms of how the events play out.)You might be the great hero, or the poor peasant, and have a part in the tale of this great dragon, but neither of those would include posting on message board.)
Perhaps you have a monitor lizard in your office, and someone has been smoking very recently, causing you think that the lizard is breathing fire. It might be possible that there is a komodo dragon in your office, although that too is a stretch, size wise. They don’t breathe fire. They do have extraordinarily bad breath, though. Are you extremely near sighted? Perhaps you should check with some of your associates, and see if this “Dragon” is apparent to them as well.
—There’s nothing wrong with asking for evidence, but if you dismiss a theory then you have made a claim of your own.—
Dismissing a theory is not the same thing as asserting the contrary. Remember: the theory and the claim is how we GET to the truth, not the truth itself. If someone offers a theory that I find unconvincing, I think it’s fine to say so, without having to prove the contrary.
—If you care enough to continue the debate, then you should be expected to back up your claim.—
If you make a claim, sure. But people don’t always make a contrary claim, and they shouldn’t feel they have to. Being skeptical of something doesn’t require you to believe or assert the contrary (you might well be skeptical of the contrary case as well)
—So saying something like" I don’t know what your talking about. Why should I believe this?" Is perfectly fine. But saying," You guys are a bunch of wackos(ad hominen), you’re obviously wrong(unproven assertion). Give me one good reason to believe you." Is poor form.—
I certainly agree with that.
—Is there? How do you know [that there’s no reason to believe]?—
Because the person has not presented any: i.e. has not met the burden of proof.
—Something made that person believe.—
So? What does that prove about the truth of the belief. All beliefs are probably motivated by something, but not all beliefs are true.
—If you don’t want to be bothered with proving your assertions then don’t post.—
Sure: but skepticism is not an assertion about anything other than myself: I am not convinced by your arguement. More is required.
—Suppose that someone starts a “Global Warming is a hoax” thread. Somebody says something like " You obviously, don’t know what you’re talking about.Prove it". This person has added nothing in my book. In certain circles global warming is accepted without debate, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t debatable. Thus just because you think it’s conventionally agreed upon does not make it so. You still have to prove that it is, if you want to make that assertion.—
Your confusing things here. That something is conventionally agreed upon is not the important idea in “extrordinary claim”: it’s that there is a conventional body of evidence and arguement that’s fairly strong. But DON’T confuse the raising of that issue with someone claiming that this conventional knowledge proves the case. The reason we talked about that convention, remember, that is simply to establish that the claim is indeed extrodinary, and requires overcoming a higher burden of proof. Simply stating this should NOT be confused (and I agree with you that some skeptical people DO make this mistake) with refuting the original claim. Rather, it simply sets the bar that the claim needs to face up to if it is going to be convincing.
My point would be that CxD=X and A=B are completely unrelated. Do you assume the person is a troll/stupid, or do you give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are trying to make a point, and they just can’t put it into words that make sense for you?
But obviously we need to examine a specific case to see IF CxD=X is, in fact, unrelated. It could be, or it could not be. We have to consider the validity of the arguement that it is directly: you have not described a hypothetical case in enough detail for us to discuss whether it is valid or not.
Would you say that “You haven’t provided enough evidence to prove that to me” and “What you’re saying is wrong unless you prove otherwise” can be distinguished?
I would say that one is more neutral and inviting to discussion, one is challenging and enthusiastically partisan. From my experience, I would say I see the latter more than the former.
Don’t you think that people would have a reason to doubt? Why wouldn’t it be reasonable to discuss that doubt in detail?
Perhaps you are proposing (since we’ve already adopted the law metaphor) that “guilt” is presumed of all ideas until completely accepted by the scientific community.But even if that is so, if you claim that some idea is not completely accepted, you have made a claim and you should rightfully be expected to back it up.
In the case of things that have yet to be examined sufficiently by the scientific community, I would like to distinguish between the unknown, the unlikely, and the extraordinary. It is unknown whether there is some new species of insect we haven’t discovered in the deserts of California. But is it likely or unlikely? If it is unlikely, would you still say it is extraordinary? Would it have the burden of proof of say the discovery of a large carnivorous mammal? Hopefully, the scientific community would require the same amount of proof for both. But I wonder if they would, and even so, GD is not the scientific community. Do you think that one of those claims would more likely draw a “cite please” sort of response?
If you say that something is unknown, you have made a claim, although to me, a properly neutral one that would allow for reasoned discussion. If you say that something is unknown and unlikely you have made a stronger claim and a partisan one that bears justification. If you say that something is extraordinary, you have made a really strong claim and have even more reason to back your assertion up. Or perhaps,“Claims of extraordinariness require extraordinary justification”.
I haven’t seen a proof yet that alien contact is extraordinary, but I’ve seen plenty of claims to that effect. Certainly alien contact would be a surprising revelation, but until we knew more about the distribution of planets with life (or that the “distribution” is only here on earth), and the practicalities of interstellar travel (which we are only beginning to assess), I don’t see how we can even say that it is unlikely.
Ok, would you say that I am invoking a straw man then? That the people on this board almost without exception, inquire with complete detached neutrality, instead of a partisan position?
So you have differences in your requirements for proof. Discuss. It’s yet another important point to debate.
I think it is hard for most people to make a distinction between “I don’t believe you yet” and “you are wrong”. I don’t think everybody makes that distinction here, nor do they think they should.
I was trying to point out a case where something was assumed conventional, when in fact it was debatable ( if you don’t think this is the case with global warming, think of another one). You seem to say that even if it is conventional, that doesn’t make it a proof, but you can justify requiring a higher standard for conflicting ideas. I think I can grant your point in many cases, but one still has to provide proof that the knowledge is indeed conventional in order to claim the contrary assertion has the burden of proof. Furthermore in the process of proving that claim, it is reasonable to expect an explanation and discussion as to why that conventional knowledge is relevant.
example: if you provide evidence that 9 out of 10 ten dentists reccomend Lucky gum to their patients that chew gum, have you really made a case that Lucky gum is good for your teeth or rather that it is simply not bad for them?
IOW you still should be expected, if questioned, to launch into a full fledged discussion and provide proof, there are no excuses.
I don’t quite see what you are getting at perspective…
One can obviously go ahead and claim that ETs swarm down on us in the hundreds every year. It’s a possibility that we can’t just dismiss. So is the possibility that bovines and equestrians actually speak and enjoy opera, although only when we are not looking. In both cases the lack of evidence is the refutation. Since this lack of evidence is so evident and apparent it becomes somewhat of a tedious and tiresome effort to disprove any of the two statements. Let’s take my speaking horses and cows.
Pro Equestri-Bovine Speech: “How do you know they don’t speak?”
Con Equestri-Bovine Speech: “Well I see a lot of cows and horses around that don’t.”
P: :My premise was that they only speak when we aren’t looking. So you don’t really know do you?”
C: “Well it makes sense to assume that they aren’t speaking. Why would they only speak when we are not around?”
P: “To keep us in the dark.”
P: “So that we don’t know that they speak.”
C: “Do you have any proof of this rather fantastic theory.”
P: “Do you have any proof against it?”
C: “Well I have reason to believe that the lack of proof makes it safe to assume that you are wrong.”
P: “So in fact; you don’t know?”
P: “You have no proof.”
C: “I need no proof!You need proof to show that there is reason to believe that they speak. Goddamned!”
P: “Why? Just because we don’t know I need proof? How could we have proof when the idea is that we shouldn’t know? Why do I need proof when you don’t?”
C: “Why am I having this conversation?”
C: “Uh?¿? I’m not having this conversation!”
Kind of boring and pointless don’t you think. Now if the Pro side had brought us evidence that indicated the remote possibility of telepathic language in cows and horses, falsifiable research that indicated a love of opera in the same, and some kind of smoking gun pointing at that the critters in question congregate across species boundaries in our absence… maybe we would have a discussion. As it stands P is just pissing in the wind and C happens to be stupid enough to stand downwind from his position.
You claim it - you prove it. It’s the skeptical method; it avoids a lot of wasted time. Try debating someone that constantly reverses the burden of proof, you go balmy after a while, especially if they pretend to give you proof and each time you refute it based on the lack of veracity or that it is not falsifiable they say; “Well prove me wrong then…” There are members like that around here, no names needed. They get a frightfully bad reputation after a while and only have to make one post to pull a pile on screaming for cites from them. Why do we scorn them? Because it is counter productive, illogical and wasteful of peoples time, but more importantly just piss boring. Debate is about testing hypothesis – the one who states a hypothesis needs to be ready to argue it and bring some proof. If refuted s/he needs to be ready for rebuttal, the refutation and rebuttal might or might not need it’s own counter proof, or can just be an argument based on logic and common sense. It’s simple, symmetrical and very practical.
Actually, that’s exactly it: When examining a question under scientifc auspices the null hypothesis is always assumed to be true. The object of experimentation is to disprove the null hypothesis. If the null hypothesis cannot be disproven, it continues to be assumed true.
In the crop-circle example, the null hypothesis is “All crop circles are the result of human activity.” The hypothesis being tested is “Some crop circles are made by nonhuman aliens from other planets.” Since we already are in possession of evidence concerning human-made crop circles, it is up to the proponent of the other hypothesis to offer the evidence for his statement. If he cannot, we assume to null hypothesis to still hold true.
In this particular case, I personally would classify the claim of a heretofore undiscovered insect species in Southern California as unknown, but likely. Insect species are numerous, and new species are discovered all the time.
The claim of a large carnivorous predator in Southern California I would classify as unknown, unlikely, and extraordinary. The number of assumptions that it rests on – undiscovered habitat, the presence of prey, how the prey’s population would be affected by a large predator, etc., the rarity of discovery of new large predators in general – all work against this being a run-of-the-mill claim.
That’s why the “Bigfoot” community has had difficulty for all these decades. They propose that there is a large community of bipedal, humanoid primates sharing the continent, and yet the only evidence they’ve ever produced has been a number of easily-faked footprints and a couple of (to be generous) inconclusive photos and films. Apparently these creatures are immortal, or diffuse instantly into thin air when they die, because Bigfoot hunters have never been able to produce a body, a skeleton, a body part, or a habitat.