Proofs

I’m going to do it. I’m going to waste my time. I want to talk a minute about proof, and it’s a total and utter joke. I keep talking to people about it and they so often completely miss the point, so from now on I’m just going to make people go here and save myself the breath.

The first thing to say is that proof has to be consistent. If I read what you’ve done and attempt to re-create the steps and come up with a different answer, that means that something is amiss. There are plenty of ways that this can be accounted for, such as experimenter error or accidental alteration of things that are assumed to be constant, but if we’re rigorous in our testing then the results should be identical. If they aren’t, then we cannot reliably say that we have come to a conclusion.

The second thing is that proof is not infallible. The best we can do is come up with conclusions based on the best possible understanding of things. But that does not mean that at some future point the understanding of things cannot lead us to some new understanding that results in the necessary change of our conclusion. One of the common examples of this is the Creationist argument that Darwin was wrong. There were certainly things that Darwin did not know, such as how genetic code impacted inheritance. The fact that he was incorrect on his speculation of the exact mechanics of how traits were passed down does not disprove evolution, but certainly the new evidence required changes to the conclusion we had reached.

The third thing I’d like to mention is that a testimonial is proof of nothing. You may know someone who knows someone who chewed xanthan gum and their appendix grew back, but that does not make xanthan gum a valid cure for appendectomy. You do not have a clue about any of the other details of the case. The testimonial always assumes that the only variable at play is the xanthan gum, but we cannot possibly know that. Since there was no rigor around the testing, we cannot trust the results and certainly should not consider them to be a valid proof.

The last thing I’d like to mention is the most important. There is no better proof than a double blind, placebo-controlled, peer evaluated study. If your claim is true, if that xanthan gum actually triggers appendix regrowth, then it will do so in any number of controlled environments, and the success of those taking the xanthan gum will contrast with the failure of those taking the placebo. Pure and simple, this is the single best and most effective way to prove anything. We say double blind because both the evaluators and the subjects are not made aware of who has the valid cure. The study is placebo-controlled because it is the only way to rule out the placebo effect, that pesky alteration of data that says that people may receive some kind of benefit simply from the belief that they should. And by peer evaluated, we mean that we publish the findings and ask others to verify that by following our steps they arrive at the same results.

Do you remember the story of the horse that could count? The owner truly believed his horse was doing mathematics right up until he had someone else do the test. Suddenly the horse had no idea how to count. It was determined that the horse had learned to keep stepping until there was some unintended reaction by the owner. When someone else tried, they did not know how to cue the animal, and the results were obvious.

What frustrates me, and what makes me say this is a waste of time, is the fact that they are acting with faith and not logic. You cannot win the argument because it’s not really an argument. When the faithful make up their mind, any proof to the contrary is simply to be discarded. I’ve heard people say that their clairvoyance wouldn’t stand up to any kind of rigorous testing and blame it on the spirits not wanting to be tested.

If I told you that a guy I knew jumped off a building and landed comfortably on his feet thirty stories below because he was covered in light mayonnaise, would you do it? No. Of course not. You would be skeptical and want to see some proof. That’s a good thing. Keep doing it, but broaden your scope. Don’t trust me just because I’m smart, question what I say and validate that I’m right. I’ve been wrong before. Lots. I’m human. So is everyone else.

Jim

p.s. It occurs to me that you might wonder where this came from. Well, I just finished reading a fantastic piece in Science Based Medicine. Recently, the British Chiropractic Association sued a respected science journalist named Simon Singh for claiming that there was no benefit at all to chirpractic treatment for certain childhood illnesses.They won their libel case, but have since been pressed for some proof that there was reason to believe that Simon Singh was wrong. After some time, they provided a stack of data which they say proves their case. It does not, and the article does a fabulous job of simply eviscerating this so-called proof.

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About biguglyjim

Like a caterpillar that spins a coccoon and emerges as a walrus with a mohawk, Big Ugly Jim has become something unexpected. Raised a fine young Christian boy in the city of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Jim began to question his teachings, first evaluating the wisdom of other religions and eventually realizing that none of them seemed any more accurate than any other, and not a one of them made a lick of sense. Today, Big Ugly Jim is a musician, a Business Analyst with Large Oil Company Whose Name Is Not Important, a music promoter with the Calgary Beer Core, a writer of fiction and non-fiction, a prick, an atheist, a father, an ex-husband, a role model, a horrifying vision in a red speedo (or at least he would be, if ever that happened which IT WOULD NOT), an announcer, and soon to be an officiator of weddings. Also, he's nice and does dishes. Jim continues to live in Calgary, spreading his filthy doctrine of free, critical thinking and appreciation for music.

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