Thursday, January 6, 2022

Overused Term: No Evidence

Astral Codex Ten (aka Scott Alexander, as outed by the NY Times, aka Slate Star Codex) writes:
Science communicators are using the same term - “no evidence” - to mean:
  1. This thing is super plausible, and honestly very likely true, but we haven’t checked yet, so we can’t be sure.

  2. We have hard-and-fast evidence that this is false, stop repeating this easily debunked lie.

This is utterly corrosive to anybody trusting science journalism.

He has a point. I first noticed this in evolutionism debates, where scientists attack creationism and other ideas because religion has "no evidence" to support. Then I saw it a lot in covid stories, as authorities would claim that hydroxychloriquine and ivermectin had "no evidence" of benefits.

I agree that this is poor reasoning and reporting.

I am personally partial to logical positivism, where it is considered reasonable to reject an idea because it has no evidence. But these folks are not positivism. They are just spinning stories to their biases.

In most cases, there is evidence. There is eyewitness testimony. There are published papers showing a positive effect to the drugs.

Okay, maybe the witnesses are unreliable. Maybe their reports can be explained in other ways. Maybe those published studies are not high-power double-blind controlled experiments.

For example, there is plenty of evidence for UFOs. There are eyewitnesses, and pictures and video recordings. I have seen them. They are almost certainly not visitors from another planet, as other explanations seem much more likely to me, but the pictures are certainly evidence of something funny going on.

A related overused term is "credible". As in:

She made a credible accusation of inappropriate sexual conduct in 1985, so the politician resigned.
Often these are recovered memories of wildly implausible events, with no specific dates or places. The term "no evidence" might be more appropriate, except that men sometimes go to prison for it. And women too, in the case of Ghislaine Maxwell.

1 comment:

  1. You would be amazed by how many people who consider themselves highly educated and 'scientific' don't actually know what words they are using mean, and believe that having a science related degree somehow frees them from having to know any historical context whatsoever.

    Sadly, science journalism now has more in common with PR and propaganda than basic reporting.