Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Burden of Proof

Proof beyond reasonable doubt. 

As skeptics, we require proof beyond reasonable doubt for all claims ordinary and extraordinary.  This has frequently caused problems in situations involving charlatans who claim that they have psychic abilities, or for gullible, self deluded inventors who claim to have created a perpetual motion machine.  These people have been convinced, in some cases willingly, and in some cases naturally.  Claims can be convincing while still not having proof beyond reasonable doubt, unfortunately the burden of proof is on the accuser, or the claimant.

The term “Burden of proof” is usually reserved for courtroom settings; however one can use it in day to day situations as well.  This could be considered cynicism or as I like to call it “turbo skepticism”... Because it sounds cooler... 

There are serious social situations where one must exercise reason and logic when it becomes difficult to keep a clear head.  Imagine for example John Doe tells your very close friend that they saw some security footage of your wife in a grocery store parking lot beating your child before entering the vehicle.  This is a serious claim and it requires further investigation. 

First one must take a step back and figure out what the source of the information is, In this case, video.  We as the defendants do not have access to the video as it is security footage and it is confidential in nature.  So right off the bat we have a friend claiming that John Doe saw something on a video, and we are supposed to take his word for it.  Not only are we expected to take his word for it, but we are also supposed to trust his ability to make out an identity via security camera as well as trust his memory to report the incident.  Any skeptic can tell you that the human memory is plastic, and anecdotal evidence is complete rubbish.

I don’t intend to sound superior; however I just don’t think a non skeptic could make sense of the analysis above.  Some people just can’t understand burden of proof, the fallibility of the human brain as well as the worthlessness of anecdotal evidence.  In most cases the emotions overwhelm reason and logic in a situation such as this.

I feel strongly that we need more skeptics in politics and education.  I also feel that every single person on this planet needs a skeptical toolbox in order to live a reasonable life.  One needs to be able to examine every day claims with reason and logic, without these tools the human brain will take a shred of anecdote and turn it into proof enough to make a rash decision.  

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