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An Incredible Story is not Necessarily a Credible Story

October 19, 2009

An Incredible Story is not Necessarily a Credible Story


People may often wonder why some stories regardless of their sensational claims never seem to gain traction where as other live on. Some news papers thrive on disposable news and others spend weeks building up a case that has hard hitting ramifications. We are living in an era of information bombardment that requires a very big baloney detector. Why is it that that some stories are considered trash despite the conviction of the story teller? Perhaps we should look closer at the credibility of the evidence being used to support the story.


Evidence can be broken down into several main categories: Primary, Secondary, Logical and Personal Experience.

I will deal with the last of these first. Personal experience is perhaps the most common form of justification that people use when rebuffing an assertion. “Well that is not how I found the situation when I was growing up,” is often the line of argument. The problem with personal experience is that is subjective and influence by a narrow band of the very personal experiences that people refer to. Prejudice, memory and perception can influence how the experience is presented to one’s self. Since no two people can ever experience exactly the same life, accounts of the same witnessed event can often vary. Try questioning witnesses to a car accident and you see what I mean. Each person sees it from a different angle and each person pays attention to the incident at a different point in time. Some see the car approach, some see the hit but not the approach and some only hear the screech of tires and look to see the aftermath. It is the same situation when people try to give accounts of their lives that justify a stance over a social issue. Emotional distress can cloud the recollection as much as the desire to be the hero of the story can also embellish it.


We place greater emphasis upon objective evidence because it is meant to remove the pride and prejudice of personal experience. Subjectively one witness may say that Fred head butted John’s first, whereas objectively the security cameras show John punching Fred in the head. We often call this direct evidence, where a situation can be resolved by directly observing the available objective evidence (in this case a video tape of the incident).


This brings up the issue of the validity of direct evidence.


Shall we all start quoting Bible verses at each other or shall we start mentioning historical incidents from a history book. These are direct forms of evidence that can be sourced. We know how to open a Bible and if we know the name of the history book we can certainly verify that is what is in print. Yet all we have verified in this matter is that the copy of the text was quoted correctly. We have not established whether, in the case of the history book, the author had not made it all up. That book must also have a reference for its claims or it become worthless. We come across this problem all the time where one person quotes a book but the book has not been sourced correctly and so were cannot verify the claim. Sometimes the reference then goes off to another source that in itself is not referenced and so forth until all we have been chasing is a cycle of ignorance. In some disingenuous cases the source comes directly from the person who fabricates evidence. Yet to the uninitiated it can seem academic rather than the fraud that it is. Eventually if something is claimed to be true then it requires a point of origin. A primary source of evidence.


The Primary Source of evidence is the key to all claims that follow. In history a primary source of evidence is the original documents kept at that time. It can be the hieroglyphs on a wall; the parchment written at the time and direct record of supply and trade with a missing village. Secondary Sources of evidence come from other sources some may refer to Primary Sources and others don’t. Secondary Sources of evidence that do not eventually lead to a primary source are as useless as the paper that they are printed on. They become the stuff of wild conspiracy theories and numerous websites that tell us what is happening beneath our noses. They may be utterly enthralling and echo the views of a social peer but they need a lot more work if they are to seen as credible.


In some cases the primary evince is not entirely available but the circumstances of the remaining evidence points to what has occurred. Mrs Green is hold a smoking gun as Mr Green is found dead upon the directly opposite her. Only Mrs Green was in the room at the time and despite the fact that no one actually saw her pull the trigger it is logically concluded that she did it. The Circumstantial Evidence is over whelming because the logical conclusion is a direct result of the evidence.


Logic is probably one of humanities worst respected subjects. I make this claim because we often find that people can use one form of logic if something favours their opinion and another form when it conflicts with their opinion. The separation of opinion from factual evidence gets blurred if someone does not wish another view point to be heard. Even with seeing footage of an unprovoked attack on a hapless victim some will argue that he had it coming and continue to justify that stance. Yellow Journalism is rife with kind of logic where any brutal action by the enemy is condemned but the same actions by their allies is rationalized away and justified. “Whose side are you on?” is a common question as if to say that partisanship negates all morality. Logical conclusions based upon scraps of evidence must be looked at with a degree of skepticism. Did the person start with a false premise and seek to cherry pick evidence to build a case? It happens. And since the advent of blogging it happens all too often.


There is a huge difference between claiming something true and proving it. Citing studies and producing graphs may be very impressive to those without any professional experience but evidence needs to be checked. There is always the chance that someone is trying to blind you with colours and lines where they should be pointing to direct sources of where this evidence as gathered. Even the best in the business can sometimes be fooled by a charlatan posing as a professional.

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