Tools and Rules

These are some basic principles I use to help sort through the various topics and suggested explanations. Using them can simplify discussions.

Occam’s Razor

This principle is attributed to William of Occam. He said something like, “do not multiply entities unnecessarily.” I prefer, “Keep it simple.” Choose the simplest explanation that covers all the facts. Don’t add complications unless the facts require it.

Horses Before Zebras

“When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses before zebras.” This is similar to Occam’s Razor. Consider the more familiar explanations first. Those hoofbeats might be zebras, but they’re probably horses.

Lack of Evidence

Lack of evidence is exactly that – insufficient evidence to make an informed decision or to support a claim. When evidence is lacking, there is no basis for any conclusions. It isn’t proof of a conspiracy to suppress the information by Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Science, Big Government, Big Brother – whoever. It just means we don’t know enough.

Related to this is the fact that an absence of evidence does not prove that something does not exist.  That is certainly a reasonable conclusion, but it is not proof.

Lack of Certitude

Some argue that if you can’t prove a point, it must be false. Not so. At most, being unable to prove a point suggests that your belief it it is based more on faith than on solid reasoning.

The flip side of this is the idea that if you can’t disprove a point, it must therefore be true.  Again, this isn’t the case.

Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence

The more unusual a claim, the more compelling the evidence must be.

If you tell me you have a dog, I’ll believe you. Lots of people have dogs. If you tell me you’ve got a dragon, I’ll need some serious evidence before I’ll believe you. Dogs are ordinary; little evidence is needed. Dragons are extraordinary. The evidence needs to be compelling.

Burden of Proof Is On the Claimant

Whoever makes the claim needs to support it with evidence. It is fallacious to make a claim and then demand that others disprove it.

You see this a lot in science, when some would-be genius thinks he’s found a new theory, and demands that scientists disprove it. When scientists don’t respond, he claims they’re afraid of the truth, or covering up, or some such bullshit.

If you make a claim, it’s up to you to provide evidence to support it.

Ad Hominem Fallacy

This is a Latin phrase that means “to the man.”  It refers to a fallacy where a respondent tries to refute a claim by commenting on the person making the claim, instead of the claim itself.  Quite often this involves insults, but that isn’t always the case.

This fallacy often arises with controversial events that people witness.  Their evidence is sometimes dismissed because they’re not trained scientists.  The evidence itself isn’t examined, which is where the fallacy arises.

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