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Extraordinary claims etc.

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#1 deSitter

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Posted 01 April 2013 - 11:34 AM

I really detest this aphorism. Here is a succinct refutation of the thinly veiled mysticism it implies...by Jed Rothwell

"This is not a principle of science. It was coined by Carl Sagan for the
1980 “Cosmos” television series. Conventional scientific standards dictate
that extraordinary claims are best supported with ordinary evidence from
off-the-shelf instruments and standard techniques. All mainstream cold
fusion papers present this kind of evidence.

"Conventional standards also dictate that all claims and arguments must be
held to the same standards of rigor. This includes skeptical assertions
that attempt to disprove cold fusion, which have been notably lacking in
rigor.

"Laplace asserted that “The weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim
must be proportioned to its strangeness.” “Weight of evidence” is a measure
of how much evidence you have, not how extraordinary it is. There is more
evidence for cold fusion than for previously disputed effects."

Well said.

Carl Sagan may have been a beloved figure and his heart may have been in the right place - but his mind was addled by cosmic mysticism, and he really did a lot of damage to the culture of science.

-drl

#2 shawnhar

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Posted 01 April 2013 - 11:51 AM

Good point, but...
If plain old reproduceable evidence for cold fusion or life on Mars was available, it would be "labeled" extraordinary by most people, don't you think?
Following the logic above, does extraordinary evidence even exist, if so what is the criteria to label it as such?

#3 llanitedave

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Posted 01 April 2013 - 12:07 PM

It's a non-argument. Sagan's argument is essentially the same as Laplace's: "extraordinary" means "clear and convincing", nothing more.

#4 GlennLeDrew

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Posted 01 April 2013 - 02:10 PM

I take the phrase as being intended to make a clear point for a lay audience. Tying together the nature of the claim and the evidence with the same adjective naturally suggests the requirement for weightier support for the claim. It's a catchy turn of phrase which gets across a point with an economy of words. I'd hardly consider it as having done harm to the cause of science.

#5 Rick Woods

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Posted 01 April 2013 - 03:24 PM

And, it's really true in a sense.

If I came home and found my car missing, the claim "Those damn gangbangers down the street stole it!" wouldn't require nearly the degree of evidence to be considered credible or probable that the statement "Bigfoot came down from a UFO and beamed it up!" would require. I think that's what Sagan was getting at.

Having said that, though, I admit that I'm really tired of seeing it repeated ad nauseum, too. But I disagree with the notion that Sagan was mystically inclined. I think it more likely that he had a good imagination, and felt connected to the universe in a personal way; and he was good at expressing these feelings. We're all like that to some degree, I think.

#6 MikeBOKC

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Posted 01 April 2013 - 03:56 PM

When I first heard that phrase I understood the meaning easily, and still do. Claiming abduction and rectal probing by big-headed aliens does require more real evidence than saying gravity operated yesterday when I dropped an anvil on my foot.

#7 Ira

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 07:28 PM

The Copernican theory when first proposed by Copernicus was an extraordinary claim with almost no evidence at all supporting it. How do you like that!

As far as claims of alien probing go, those are not scientific statements at all. They are irrelevant as examples for or against the aphorism.

/Ira

#8 MikeBOKC

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 07:59 PM

Well if I recall Sagan made the original statement in direct reference to the alien abduction tales.

#9 deSitter

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 09:16 PM

Regardless of the context, it is a fundamentally anti-scientific standpoint. All claims require exactly the same sort of evidence, namely, observations that are consistent with the claim. Call it democracy of evidence.

-drl

#10 Rick Woods

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 11:30 PM

I guess the question is, "...require extraordinary evidence for what?"

#11 Ira

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Posted 03 April 2013 - 02:45 AM

Well if I recall Sagan made the original statement in direct reference to the alien abduction tales.


Really? I didn't know that. In that case, he was making a quip about common sense, not an observation about the scientific method.

/Ira

#12 llanitedave

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Posted 03 April 2013 - 09:29 AM

Yeah, I think this is a tempest in a teacup.

#13 Glassthrower

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Posted 03 April 2013 - 09:41 AM

I'm late on this thread, but I concur with what was said above. Mr. Sagan's heart was in the right place, but that anecdote is terrible. There is no such thing as "extraordinary" evidence. Either it's evidence, or it's not.

#14 deSitter

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Posted 03 April 2013 - 11:49 AM

I'm late on this thread, but I concur with what was said above. Mr. Sagan's heart was in the right place, but that anecdote is terrible. There is no such thing as "extraordinary" evidence. Either it's evidence, or it's not.


The problem is, it's thrown out whenever anything that is not part of the canon is proposed, as a catch-all rejection based on nothing.

-drl

#15 llanitedave

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Posted 03 April 2013 - 08:45 PM

Fine, Danny. I'll be perfectly happy to accept ordinary evidence for your pet cold fusion claims. Andrea Rossi doesn't seem to want to supply any.

#16 Jason H.

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Posted 03 April 2013 - 11:49 PM

Regardless of the context


The context is relevant in this case. Here is a clip showing the statement in context (please consider watching the whole clip after he says it the first time)

http://www.youtube.c...h?v=mRaXvPQ-ayk

All Carl's saying (as a popularizer in lay terms) is that there's claimed (sucky) evidence (which was the norm), and then there is extraordinary (relative to the normal baloney offered) evidence. Pictures and movies of UFO's, hoax material and oral statements are offered by claimants as kind of evidence, however it's not sufficient to support the claims made. It doesn't seem to me WHEN SEEN IN CONTEXT that he was referring to Laplace (although I'd guess that Laplace also wasn't thinking in on-off duality, that there's 2 kinds of evidence, regular and extra-ordinary, when he said "The weight of the evidence should be proportioned to the strangeness of the facts."; on the contrary, I take this to mean that some things are readily self-evident, others more complex.)

As was implied earlier by someone else What are the facts? It affects the kinds of evidence needed to establish true or false, which might be extra-ordinary (i.e. beyond the normally accepted standards of evidence for easily persuaded layperson average-Joe "believers" that is.)

Carl and Laplace were O.K. guys science-wise SFAIK (at least that's the un-extraordinary hearsay evidence I have :lol: ) It's my understanding that one could find no better scientist than these examples. And really, Carl Sagan inspired so many into science and the real scientific method, I think he deserves a break from peers to have the freedom to describe things in a greater range of language that a layperson could understand, that the regular so-called evidence (accepted by simpletons) of the time was not sufficient for science.

Jason H.

#17 Pess

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Posted 04 April 2013 - 06:59 AM

WOW

If you claim your house is white and show me a blurry picture of a white house--I'll beieve you have a white house.

If you show me a blurry picture of something floating in Loch Ness and claim Nessie lives there. Well, I'm going to need a bit more.

That's all Dr. Sagoon said.

Pesse (Does it really require a visceral response/) Mist

#18 ColoHank

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Posted 04 April 2013 - 08:31 AM

And if you show me a sharp image of something floating in Loch Ness, claim it's Nessie, and you own Photoshop...

#19 Jason H.

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Posted 04 April 2013 - 10:21 AM

"That's all Dr. Sagoon said.
Pesse (Does it really require a visceral response/) Mist"

I wish that I were succinct enough English-wise to provide a twitter-length response to the Carl-bashing; please don't mistake the length of the response as visceral (actually the visceral part was purposefully omitted; I treat with respect most people in this forum, especially the creator of this thread; just trying to present a compelling argument against the premise of the thread.)

Jason H.

#20 Mister T

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Posted 04 April 2013 - 12:08 PM

Photoshop File Edit Tools
Insert
UFO
Nessie
Sasquatch
Yeti
WMDs

:shocked:

#21 Glassthrower

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Posted 05 April 2013 - 11:05 AM

I've read several of Sagan's books and grew up watching him on TV in the 1970's. I always looked up to him as a kid and he played a big role in generating an interest in astronomy within me. I always have a fond place in my heart and mind for Sagan.

Having said that, famous people often become remembered for things they never actually said, or things they said were taken out of context. Sometimes, the original meaning of the message is lost in the translation or repeating of the anecdote/quotation. I'm not sure if this infamous quote by Sagan falls into one of those categories or not. But I do know this - I cringe when I hear that quote, because it's often thrown out by default as an easy way to express skepticism without providing any relevant substance to that skepticism. It's quick and easy to say, but not many people who use it really think about what it means or what context it was originally used.

That quote wasn't in Brocas Brain was it?

#22 Rick Woods

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Posted 05 April 2013 - 12:29 PM

But I do know this - I cringe when I hear that quote, because it's often thrown out by default as an easy way to express skepticism without providing any relevant substance to that skepticism. It's quick and easy to say, but not many people who use it really think about what it means or what context it was originally used.


Exactly! It's become a hackneyed cliche by inappropriate overuse.

#23 Joad

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Posted 05 April 2013 - 01:30 PM

As people have said here, the phrase needs to be taken in context. It refers to situations like this:

ordinary claim: it's sunny today.

ordinary evidence: I take a time/date stamped photo and post it to the site. I could be lying, but the claim doesn't require extraordinary support.

Now take a different case:

extraordinary claim: I have built a small contraption that appears to violate the second law of thermodynamics by producing energy through some sort of cold fusion reaction.

ordinary evidence: here is my contraption, and look! it is generating energy.

problem with ordinary evidence here: since the gadget appears to be violating fundamental laws of physics, it is necessary to allow a complete analysis of the gadget to determine whether it is indeed generating energy (and how it is doing so) or whether something else is going on. In one sense that is only ordinary evidence, but when the inventor of the gadget does not allow such analysis and claims that a simple unanalyzed demonstration of the gadget is sufficient, the refused evidence becomes extraordinary.

#24 BillFerris

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Posted 05 April 2013 - 08:23 PM

There is a saying in the medical profession which goes something like this, "When you hear hoof beats on the high plains, think horses not zebras." In other words, when you hear hoof beats on the Colorado Plateau, it's probably horses. It could be zebras but that is highly unlikely. I understand this to be sage counsel that a doctor treating a patient with itchy eyes should first eliminate the common, everyday causes of that symptom before turning their attention to some exotic, rare disease. While it is possible the patient may have Duhring Brocq disease, it's more likely that they're suffering from seasonal allergies.

I don't know if that's what Carl Sagan had in mind when he said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," but I suspect it's what people have in mind, today, when they use the phrase. And if that is their meaning, I think the "hoof beats" saying conveys it, better.

The Sagan quote can be interpreted a number of ways. My personal take is that it was Sagan's way of justifying the role science plays in society. In a very real sense, every scientific claim is extraordinary. In other words, scientific claims are beyond ordinary claims. An ordinary claim would be that the sun will rise in the morning. The morning sunrise is an everyday occurrence for most people. Predicting it will happen, again, tomorrow is no big deal. Claiming that the sun rises every morning because Earth rotates on its axis at 1,000 miles per hour goes beyond the ordinary. Nobody feels the Earth rotating at this tremendous speed. Other than the Sun's motion across the sky--which could be explained by the Sun orbiting a stationary Earth--there is no obvious evidence to support such a claim. So, if the person making that claim is not prepared to support it in with evidence that goes beyond the ordinary, evidence that is extra-ordinary, they have no grounds for complaint when the public-at-large treats the claim with utter disregard.

Science's role in society is to be that rigorous method of fact-finding and evidence-gathering which can be used to support claims about nature which are beyond our ordinary, everyday experience. It's not that only some scientific claims are extraordinary; all science is extraordinary. That's why the scientific method was developed and why it has value. It gives us a tool for making and supporting claims that go beyond every day experiences.

Bill in Flag

#25 Ira

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Posted 07 April 2013 - 08:56 AM

... An ordinary claim would be that the sun will rise in the morning. The morning sunrise is an everyday occurrence for most people. Predicting it will happen, again, tomorrow is no big deal. Claiming that the sun rises every morning because Earth rotates on its axis at 1,000 miles per hour goes beyond the ordinary. Nobody feels the Earth rotating at this tremendous speed. Other than the Sun's motion across the sky--which could be explained by the Sun orbiting a stationary Earth--there is no obvious evidence to support such a claim. So, if the person making that claim is not prepared to support it in with evidence that goes beyond the ordinary, evidence that is extra-ordinary, they have no grounds for complaint when the public-at-large treats the claim with utter disregard....
Bill in Flag


Well, then, Copernicus and Galileo had nothing to complain about. They had damn little evidence. (Well, Galileo had a bit mor than Copernicus...)

/Ira






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