Prove it! The Burden of Proof Game in Science vs. Pseudoscience Disputes
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The concept of burden of proof is used in a wide range of discourses, from philosophy to law, science, skepticism, and even in everyday reasoning. This paper provides an analysis of the proper deployment of burden of proof, focusing in particular on skeptical discussions of pseudoscience and the paranormal, where burden of proof assignments are most poignant and relatively clear-cut. We argue that burden of proof is often misapplied or used as a mere rhetorical gambit, with little appreciation of the underlying principles. The paper elaborates on an important distinction between evidential and prudential varieties of burdens of proof, which is cashed out in terms of Bayesian probabilities and error management theory. Finally, we explore the relationship between burden of proof and several (alleged) informal logical fallacies. This allows us to get a firmer grip on the concept and its applications in different domains, and also to clear up some confusions with regard to when exactly some fallacies (ad hominem, ad ignorantiam, and petitio principii) may or may not occur.
KeywordsBurden of proof Pseudoscience Logical fallacies Bayesian theory
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