Prove it! The Burden of Proof Game in Science vs. Pseudoscience Disputes
- 1.2k Downloads
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
- Alcock, J. (2011). Back from the future: parapsychology and the Bem affair. Skeptical Enquirer, 35(2), 31–39.Google Scholar
- Annas, G. J. (1999). Burden of proof: judging science and protecting public health in (and out of) the courtroom. Public Health Policy Forum, 89(4), 490–493.Google Scholar
- Baker, A. (2010) Simplicity. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/simplicity/. Accessed 23 Sept 2013.
- Brown, R. (1970). The burden of proof. American Philosophical Quarterly, 7(1), 74–82.Google Scholar
- Caso, A. (2002). Three skeptics’ debate tools examined. Skeptical Inquirer, 26(1), 37–41.Google Scholar
- Cherkin, D. C., Sherman, K. J., Avins, A. L., et al. (2009). A randomized trial comparing acupuncture, simulated acupuncture, and usual care for chronic low back pain. JAMA Internal Medicine, 169(9), 858–866.Google Scholar
- Consonni, G., Moreno, E., & Venturini, S. (2011). Testing Hardy–Weinberg equilibrium: an objective Bayesian analysis. Stat, 30(1), 62–74.Google Scholar
- Fisher, R. M. (2003). Beliefs on trial, and the legality of reasonableness. Skeptical Inquirer, 27(1), 31–34.Google Scholar
- Flew, A. (1984). The presumption of atheism. In God Freedom and Immorality: A Critical Analysis. Amherst: Prometheus Books.Google Scholar
- Gill, S. T. (1991). Carrying the war into the never-never land of psi. Skeptical Inquirer, 15(2), 269–273.Google Scholar
- Hájek, A. (2012). Pascal’s wager. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pascal-wager. Accessed 18 March 2013.
- Hines, T. (2003). Pseudoscience and the paranormal (2nd ed.). Amherst: Prometheus Books.Google Scholar
- Hume, D. (1748). An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/9662. Accessed 18 March 2013.
- Kuhn, T. (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Lycan, W. G. (2010). Free will and the burden of proof. In A. O’Hear (Ed.), Minds and Persons (pp. 107–122). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Pigliucci, M. & Boudry, M. (2013). Philosophy of Pseudoscience. Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Prakken, H. (1999). On formalising burden of proof in legal argument. In H. Jaap van den Herik et al. (Eds.), Legal Knowledge Based Systems (pp. 85–97). Nijmegen, NL: GNI.Google Scholar
- Prakken, H. & Sartor, G. (2006). Presumptions and burden of proof. In T. Van Engers (Ed.), Proceedings of the 19th Annual Conference on Legal Knowledge and Information Systems (pp. 176–185). Amsterdam, NL: IOS.Google Scholar
- Prakken, H., Reed, C., Walton, D. (2005). Argumentation schemes and burden of proof. In F. Grasso et al. (Eds.), 4th Workshop on Computational Methods of Natural Argument (pp. 81–86). Valencia, Spain: ECAI.Google Scholar
- Prakken, H., Reed, C., Walton, D. (2006). Dialogues about the burden of proof. Proceedings of the Tenth International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Law (pp. 115–124). New York City: ACM Press.Google Scholar
- Sheaffer, R. (1998). Ufo Sightings: The Evidence. Amherst: Prometheus Books.Google Scholar
- Shermer, M. (1997). Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time. New York: Freeman.Google Scholar