The Ethical Skeptic

Challenging Pseudo-Skepticism, Institutional Propaganda and Cultivated Ignorance

The Burden of Proof (in Gumballs)

Sometimes ‘simple’ is itself the extraordinary claim. A burden of proof may not always reside where we regard it. A claim that something is false, can be just as extraordinary as the claim that something is true. It is important that The Ethical Skeptic distinguish between claims which bear a burden of proof, those that do not, and those which are by their non-sequitur nature, irrelevant.

kids and teacher how many gumballs - CopyI was attending one of my kid’s school parties, a father/student night in elementary school one evening years ago, when an interesting contest arose. The teacher challenged the fathers to all guess how many gumballs were in a jar of gumballs she had on her desk. We all dutifully wrote our guesses down on a sheet of paper and tore it off into a small folded sheet to hand to the students’ homeroom teacher. Once all the slips of guesses were placed into a bowl, the teacher pulled each one out and wrote the guesses on the whiteboard for all to see.  110, 245, 43, 66, 190, and so forth. Number after number came up, and I waited dutifully for my guess of 143 to show. I had made the guess by counting the number of gumballs in the size of one fist. A fist is a common quick measure of volume in situations where one does not have any available measure for volume estimate. 11 Gumballs to a fist, 12 fists to the container – then a little sluff for the neck of the jar, which appeared to be full to the brim. 11 x 12 = 132, plus another 11 I could count in the neck. Thus my guess was 143.

Finally the teacher pulled up a piece of paper and started to read it, then stopped abruptly and smiled. “Well it’s obvious someone overhead me saying how many gumballs we had in the jar, earlier to Ms. Clemmens over here. So we won’t count that submission.” She set, what turned out to be my submission, aside.

The winning dad made a valiant guess of 127 against the correct count of 143 gumballs in the jar. Good job dad. I applauded his excellent guestimating skills and said nothing about the matter. After all, this is just elementary school. What we are taught here, does not matter in the larger scheme of things, right?  Such a drama-in-elementary exhibits an important principle with regard to claims of falseness.

When one makes or implies a claim to falseness, one assumes the burden of proof.¹

Under Ockham’s Razor, plurality should not be introduced without necessity. The homeroom teacher, by accusing me of exercising dishonesty in my submission, had violated Ockham’s Razor. The context of entrant anonymity in no way excused a direct or implicit claim of lying; as this is still the same contention. She had introduced a very complicated idea, by mistaking the challenge to be simple. She had chosen the simplest explanation – no one can guess EXACTLY the gumball count in my jar. As with fake skeptics, she failed to discern the real principle here, that of plurality – or hypothesis stacking – complicated-ness as it might otherwise be known. She chose without evidence, Hypothesis B below, and presumed it because of

Occam’s Razor‘ the simplest explanation – in my base of personal knowledge and critical thinking, the chance of guessing 143 gumballs is too unlikely to be considered as a valid outcome.

Therefore Hypothesis C below, had to be false, in her skeptical mind. Here are the available array of ideas surrounding my ‘lucky’ guess, as they stand:

Hypothesis A – One or more fathers is a psychic – one father reads minds and could ascertain from my thoughts that the gumball count was 143.

This Hypothesis fails Ockham’s Razor for the simple fact that it must first presume that psychic ability exists, that the teacher knows what being psychic even means, that there was a knowledge on my part on how to employ such skill here, that I possessed the desire to falsify a document and impress a crowd, that I was looking for glory as to how prescient I am, that this is the way I impress and provide a role model for my son, and that I held that desire so profoundly that I would apply it in the guess of a gumball count in a jar at my kid’s father/student party.

A highly stacked – or pluralistic – hypothesis

Hypothesis B – One or more fathers is a cheater and a liar – one father listened in on myself and my assistant and ascertained from my statement that the gumball count was 143.

This Hypothesis fails Ockham’s Razor for the simple fact that it must first presume that the submittant cheats and lies, that the teacher is so smart and skeptical, that she can correctly detect this condition in a person and in me, that I possessed the desire to falsify a document and impress a crowd, that I was looking for glory as to how prescient I am, that cheating and lying is the way I impress and provide a role model for my son, and that I held that desire so profoundly that I would apply it in the guess of a gumball count in a jar at my kid’s father/student party.

A highly stacked – or pluralistic – hypothesis

Hypothesis C – One father made a skilled and lucky guesstimate – from a pinch of math and a bit of english, one father correctly guessed a gumball count of 143.

This hypothesis ‘holds the razor’ even thought it could be considered unlikely to guess 143 exactly – it is the null or favored hypothesis until such time as there is necessity, and a sufficient threshold of plurality evidence is brought forward which showed I ascertained the correct count of gumballs by any mutually exclusive and alternative means.

unlikely-versus-simpleI simply employed a little bit of skill I have used in the field in Africa and Asia, with a bit of math, combined with a bit of estimator’s wisdom (english) to get lucky on my estimated count of gumballs.  Had the teacher selected hypothesis C above – perhaps I could have explained how I did this to the kids – showed an example of measuring concretions being formed into a housing brick in Africa, and how I pulled off the guess.

But, it is better that schools teach the false form of skepticism instead, right? Don’t step outside of the rules of expectations, there is no way to get the correct amount. There are penalties if you do. There is no such thing as a cure for cancer or IBS, if you feel bad it is a panic attack, supplements are all evil, there is no such thing as a spirit realm, there is no such thing as ghosts, there is no such thing as…. – All easy pat, Occam’s Razor compliant answers.

‘Occam’s Razor’ says that the simplest explanation is that 143 is a hard count to guess, and cannot be guessed realistically, right? Something is up, if it is indeed guessed. Implicit in such a claim is a boast that I personally, hold the full domain knowledge of potentiality and likelihood. This is a common Social Skeptic implicit claim. The pitfall of the fake skeptic: I fail to be a skeptic of myself. Well the simple fact is, that

…sometimes, ‘simple’ is an extraordinary claim in and of itself.

Your effort will not be regarded as valid if you do not fit this errant version of ‘Occam’s Razor’ – simple contention – complicated-ness in knowing.  When one extrapolates this claim to Hypothesis B (see The MiHoDeAL Claim and The Appeal to Skepticism Fallacy), to apply to a whole domain of subjects they seek to discredit, under an air of authority as a skeptic – one is performing under Corber’s Burden. Under this burden, the skeptic must therefore always be right. Always. Or tender the appearance of doing so. Such is the enormous burden, the implicit claim, of the fake skeptic.

Which brings up the topic of proof gaming. Let’s examine that common social skeptic bad science method and fallacy, before we move on to our gumball examples.

Proof Gaming

/philosophy : argument : pseudoscience : false salience/ : employing dilettante concepts of ‘proof’ as a football in order to win arguments, disfavor disliked groups or thought, or exercise fake versions of science. Proof gaming presents itself in six speciations:

Catch 22 (non rectum agitur fallacy) – the pseudoscience of forcing the proponent of a construct or observation, to immediately and definitively skip to the end of the scientific method and single-handedly prove their contention, circumventing all other steps of the scientific method and any aid of science therein; this monumental achievement prerequisite before the contention would ostensibly be allowed to be considered by science in the first place. Backwards scientific method and skipping of the plurality and critical work content steps of science.

Fictitious Burden of Proof – declaring a ‘burden of proof’ to exist when such an assertion is not salient under science method at all. A burden of proof cannot possibly exist if neither the null hypothesis or alternative theories nor any proposed construct possesses a Popper sufficient testable/observable/discernible/measurable mechanism; nor moreover, if the subject in the matter of ‘proof’ bears no Wittgenstein sufficient definition in the first place (such as the terms ‘god’ or ‘nothingness’).

Herculean Burden of Proof – placing a ‘burden of proof’ upon an opponent which is either arguing from ignorance (asking to prove absence), not relevant to science or not inside the relevant range of achievable scientific endeavor in the first place. Assigning a burden of proof which cannot possibly be provided/resolved by a human being inside our current state of technology or sophistication of thought/knowledge (such as ‘prove abiogenesis’ or ‘prove that only the material exists’). Asking someone to prove an absence proposition (such as ‘prove elves do not exist’).

Fictus Scientia – assigning to disfavored ideas, a burden of proof which is far in excess of the standard regarded for acceptance or even due consideration inside science methods. Similarly, any form of denial of access to acceptance processes normally employed inside science (usually peer review both at theory formulation and at completion). Request for proof as the implied standard of science – while failing to realize or deceiving opponents into failing to realize that 90% of science is not settled by means of ‘proof’ to begin with.

Observation vs Claim Blurring – the false practice of calling an observation or data set, a ‘claim’ on the observers’ part.  This in an effort to subjugate such observations into the category of constituting scientific claims which therefore must be now ‘proved’ or dismissed (the real goal: see Transactional Occam’s Razor Fallacy).  In fact an observation is simply that, a piece of evidence or a cataloged fact. Its false dismissal under the pretense of being deemed a ‘claim’ is a practice of deception and pseudoscience.

As Science as Law Fallacy – conducting science as if it were being reduced inside a court of law or by a judge (usually the one forcing the fake science to begin with), through either declaring a precautionary principle theory to be innocent until proved guilty, or forcing standards of evidence inside a court of law onto hypothesis reduction methodology, when the two processes are conducted differently.

The Burden of Proof (exhibited in the oft-applied gumball analogy)

Which brings up the whole subject of the Philosophical Burden of Proof, which differs from a legal burden of proof regarding innocence.¹ When is a claim under the burden of proof, and when is it not? And when does a claim enjoy a lack of burden of proof simply because it is non-sequitur? In general, when one makes a claim to veracity (not a call for sponsorship and research – that is different) – in other words, one makes a claim that they are correct – the burden of proof falls upon them.  If I spot a big hairy man-like ‘thing’ in the forest and then make the call for more research on the observation – I am NOT MAKING A CLAIM. Rather simply calling for research – as I have no claim, save for being shocked by observing something paradigm shattering for which I have no explanation. This could be a person putting themselves in danger inside a costume, or it could be similar to what others of credible background have observed.  It is not a claim.  A claim, is a claim to empirical or analytical authority – that all must now accept as establishment of fact, reason, rationality or critical thinking – that which I am contending is substantiated by the evidence.

But with regard to the gumballs in our classroom anecdote above:

gumball analogy - CopyClaims Which Bear a Burden of Proof – regarding the gumballs to the right

  • There are 143 gumballs
  • There are an odd number of gumballs
  • There are an even number of gumballs
  • There are only red white and blue gumballs
  • There are no green gumballs
  • There is something besides gumballs in this mix
  • People who have observed green gumballs are liars
  • People who claim to have seen green gumballs are suffering memory suggestiveness
  • Observations of green gumballs are only anecdote
  • There are not an even number of gumballs
  • There are not an odd number of gumballs
  • We cannot see some gumballs currently

note that bullet points 2 and 3 above stand as an example of plurality under Ockham’s Razor

Claims Which are Non-Sequitur – they fail or skip large parts of the scientific method and cannot yet be contended or even asked

  • There are not 143 gumballs
  • The mix of red white and blue gumballs remains the same throughout those we cannot see
  • People who believe in green gumballs are credulous
  • We see an even number of gumballs, therefore the total of all gumballs is even
  • There are all sorts of gumballs of varying colors
  • There are only gumballs in this jar
  • People who attend church believe in green gumballs
  • Observations of green gumballs are pareidolia
  • Gumballs taste rancid
  • Gumballs can only be observed by a specific gumball expert team
  • Gumball skeptics are critical thinkers
  • Science does not have any evidence for green gumballs
  • Gumballs are pseudoscience
  • Gumballs are inter-dimensional and therefore hard to find
  • Dead body gumballs are necessary before I look beyond the visible ones
  • Skepticism tells me there are only red blue and white gumballs
  • The universe is so large that there must be green gumballs
  • Richard Dawkins has disproved all non red white or blue gumballs
  • Green gumballs do not exist
  • I hold the unambiguous definition of what is a gumball
  • Science holds the unambiguous definition of what is a gumball
  • There are no gumballs
  • There are no more red gumballs than what we see here, the rest are all blue and white

Claims Which are No Longer Under a Burden of Proof – established by empirical observation

  • There are 17 blue gumballs visible
  • We see an even number of gumballs (and recognize some dissent)
  • There are at least three colors of gumballs
  • Reality does not contain an empty set of gumballs
  • There are more than 0 gumballs
  • Gumballs are seen by more than one credible observing authority

In the end, is it not easier to skip a claim to knowledge and let the data accrue on its own, before one begins to invest in large grand scenarios of skepticism or launch into fanciful pathways of non-sequitur entertainment?  Or perhaps – best put, let ideas falsify themselves through accrued verity – not personal brilliance and experience.

Such is the nature of Ethical Skepticism. Man, now I am craving gumball.

TES Signature


¹  Philosophic Burden of Proof, Wikipedia; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophic_burden_of_proof

August 25, 2015 - Posted by | Argument Fallacies, Institutional Mandates | , , , , , , , , ,

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