יום חמישי, 10 בינואר 2019

“Read this research, and that research,”

[זהו תרגום לאנגלית של פוסט קודם שכתבתי בעברית]

“Go read this book, and that one. Check out the website of such and such organization, watch the videos on their website and read their articles. What, do you want us to spoon feed you like you were a bird? Read this and that research. I don’t need to read and chew the information for you, you wouldn’t believe me anyway so if you really want to know do the research yourself. Research. Study. Understand by yourself. If you don’t do the research don’t say it’s not true.”

All these are various expressions of the same logical fallacy called “shifting the burden of proof”. Every time I get into a conversation with people who are emotionally, socially or financially invested in certain topics like the anti-vaccination and anti-modern-medicine crowd, the flat-earthers, those who believe they understand so called quantum physic, energies and mysticism, these evasions are repeating like a broken record.

They are certain that this line of defense is perfect, and now I need to stop my expressions of doubtfulness, stop spoiling their charlatanry, not to hinder them in selling miracle medicines and devices, quit hindering their campaigns for recruiting suckers, and immediately start pecking in countless books, researches and videos like they did. At most the feel they did what they had to do when they pointed me at a certain movie or website or a specific study, and this also is nto because some logical imperative, a condition for intellectual honesty, but because they are doing me a favor when they chew the information for me and giving me links to it.

If this was really the entire meaning of a burden of proof, I could respond with the same gift and throw at them some volumes of scientific periodicals and demand that they read them before continuing with their claims. This would have brought to shifting the burden of proof again and again without end, and no critical argument would be making even a little bit of progress. Regretfully for them, it doesn’t work that way.

I'll give an example for how it does work -- say I express a claim concerning the effectiveness and safety of the flu vaccine, and I claim that my claim is not just an opinion but is backed in lots of researches and knowledge and agreement of experts, it is not enough that I refer anyone not agreeing with me to research by themselves, or even to bother and read a book, a research or an article. Even not one short article. Why not? Because if I believed that there is some basis to the matter, and I’ve checked and researched and read, and understood, and became convinced, I should be able to explain and summarize the information. If I did not bother myself to do so, there is no reason that the burden will shift to someone else to prove that I’m not correct, and if I did bother to read but did not understand or I may have jumped to a conclusion that if too far from what the facts can support, it shouldn’t be the work of others to waste their time because of me. If it wasn’t so, I would be able to make claims with no rational basis and without even checking, and send people to read books I didn’t bother reading, or only skim through and then throw false claims without really understanding things in depth, and someone else would have been required to repeat the research and study or it was not possible for anyone to say I’m incorrect. This is of course complete nonsense.

In fact, whoever refuses to accept my position -- is not required, at any point at all, to go and search or read and study anything, and I, the one who advances a position, I am the one required to prove proficiency and understanding in the information which I claim is proving my position. A part of the burden of proof is to be able to not only present and “chew” the information, but to factorize the information, summarize to a level of just one sentence or paragraph, and top be able to expand upon request on any part of the claims. If I bring a research as support for a position I’m presenting, I should be able to explain in a nutshell how the research proves my position, and to be able to expand each time in a concise and clear way as I’d be asked to, and point to pieces of data from that research and explain how they prove the claim I’m making.

If I present a correct position which is based on a huge research, or on many researches, at no point in the conversation between us should a hole be discovered in my understanding or proficiency of the material, I would always be able to expand and explain and provide references. If the conversation wouldn’t stop it would end in us going over all the material on which I base my position. That far goes the burden of proof, until the exhaustion of every element and layer of the proof. However, rational people usually, upon identifying that they speak to a likewise rational person tend to save time and accept and become convinced. Sometimes we simply accept a position or final conclusion without going through every element and step of the proof, and sometimes we simply become convinced that it’s worth while for us to put in the time and indeed read the said book or research.

Merely the fact that I wasn’t convinced that studying your information is worth my time, doesn’t mean you’re wrong, and only because I question you doesn’t mean I suspect you’re a liar or a fool, because maybe you’re just mistaken, you’re a human being after all, like me. If in the process of my questioning it becomes evident that you’re not proficient in the material, you are not able to explain how and why and what, and to provide precise references (for example that in table X in page Y of research Z the numbers teach us so and so because of this and that), it does mean that there is no good reason to assume you’re correct, there is no good basis for your conclusions and it is you who needs to study the information better. It happens to everybody, we’re just human being and human beings make mistakes sometimes. But, and it’s a big but, if you refuse to admit your failure to stand the burden of proof, and all the more so if you deal in missionary marketing of your positions, but refuse to cooperate in a reasonable questioning of 10 or 15 minutes, especially if done in public (inasmuch as if you stand the questioning well it would be very beneficial for you in advancing your opinions), and you refuse to answer and explain and show proficiency in the information you claim is basing your conclusions, the only reasonable assumption if that you know you’re a liar, an exploiter and a charlatan.

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