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Evidence First, Argument Second.

December 23, 2009

Evidence First, Argument Second.

 

The courts understand the importance of evidence, scientists understand the importance of evidence and even children understand the importance of evidence. In the court we are asked to swear to tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In science evidence is examined objectively and experiments repeated to ensure that the truth is unmistakeable. If you try to tell a child to go to bed 1 hour too early and they will check the time. Evidence is the most basic element to any suggestion.

 

The reason why so many debates go off is because the evidence is rarely looked at. Instead we can reduce everything down to questionable logic and slogans. Arguments become circular where the first premise is used to prove the second premise and the second is used to prove the first. (Mr Brown is a fool for not supporting my proposal. My proposal is so good that only a fool would reject it.)

 

Slogans can be more deceptive because they permeate throughout society in the form of idioms. (A stitch in time saves nine is benign enough) However some idioms reduce the argument to a conversation stopper where it used to make a case in itself. (Property is Theft, When in Rome do as Romans do and Spare the rod, spoil the child.) When any discussion is reduced down to idioms and slogans the space for discourse is almost nil. The slogan is presented as evidence and can be used in any context that is required.

 

Slogans and circular arguments might be fine for drunken bouts of political posturing but when it gets down to implementing policy they become useless. Can I build a bridge over a particular river? The answer is not which slogan suits the proposal. The answer will come in the form of finances, designs and engineering projections. These will be based upon formulae that have been test before. Construction will have a design engineer ready to make changes where required. Each step of the project will be tested then signed off before the next dependant step can take place. The whole process is evidence based to ensure that the bridge is built to a particular standard. If the bridge falls down unexpectedly you can be certain that all documents of construction will be checked. The investigators will be looking for evidence of anyone not doing the job correctly.

 

In journalism we have a situation where evidence should be paramount but often fall victim to personal interests. Inaccurate reporting is often highlighted in the television show called Media Watch on ABC television. What the program highlights is the way that reporting can be perverted by the desire to sell a message or appeal to the cheap audience. The problem becomes drastic when individuals are misrepresented, misquoted or targeted for a smear campaign. If all the news was doing its job correctly then Media Watch would have no program to run.

 

In the world of Blogging and Internet Reporting we have a situation where trust is nonexistent because the evidence used to make a claim is so unreliable. In many cases arguments are being presented with no evidence or worse manufactured evidence designed to give a veneer of respectability to the story. The whole problem starts when evidence is considered to be nothing more than a tool to support the argument. Where as evidence should be used to discover the truth. People can sometimes be so focused upon the argument that they will find evidence that will suit it and reject anything that disproves it. This is a fraudulent method where the truth does not matter.

 

Evidence is often easy to find and can be laid out in a simple display. Books, test results, previous studies, images and even websites can be used in some cases. Yet in more complicated cases evidence can come very slowly and sporadically (such as in war reporting). Yet the consequences of such misinformation can be disastrous. In the build up to war wrong information can be used as propaganda to drive a pro war message; in times of civil unrest misinformation can be used to ferment racial attacks and in bad economic times inaccurate information can cost people a fortune.

 

Bias is a hard thing to overcome when reporting and deciding what evidence is used and what is edited out is often a difficult phase. However if the evidence is not accurate then even the best intentions can be misled.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. similimodo permalink
    December 28, 2009 9:15 am

    Damo,

    So this is where you’ve been.

    This brings back some memories:

    “The whole problem starts when evidence is considered to be nothing more than a tool to support the argument. Whereas evidence should be used to discover the truth. People can sometimes be so focused upon the argument that they will find evidence that will suit it and reject anything that disproves it. This is a fraudulent method where the truth does not matter.”

    I’ve always wondered why Media Watch was never developed into an hour-long program. Or scheduled earlier. (Maybe when Ray Martin went into semi-retirement, there just wasn’t enough fodder?).

    David …

    Like

  2. December 28, 2009 9:11 pm

    David

    Thanks for your comments.

    The Australian newsaper ran a long series trying to dump on media watch. Does that count?

    Uncle Ray Martin is very busy fixing his perfect hair to worry about the facts of his story.
    If they ever created a Blogger Watch then we could have a weekly 2 hour special.

    How can you keep a straigh face when every one copies and pastes what everyone else writes and then calls that evidence.

    Like

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