A Guide to Practical Debunking

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
I think that it is important that people understand the difference between Inductive Reasoning and Deductive Reasoning and why Metabunk relies on Deductive Reasoning in examining claims.

I disagree. I think a lot of what we do here is more commonly abductive reasoning, briefly mentioned at the end of your post. Although I don't think their explanation is very good.

But really "reasoning" is sometimes too high level a descriptor for what goes on. Quite often it's just "fact checking".
 

Critical Thinker

Senior Member.
I disagree. I think a lot of what we do here is more commonly abductive reasoning, briefly mentioned at the end of your post. Although I don't think their explanation is very good.

But really "reasoning" is sometimes too high level a descriptor for what goes on. Quite often it's just "fact checking".

You are right, I had originally in the post not included the Abductive Reasoning part and after further investigation corrected my oversight and included it in my post. Thank you for the clarification, I have fixed my misstatement accordingly. :)
 
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Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Deduction, as in deductive reasoning, is figuring out a conclusion given some facts (premises). The problem with deduction is that it relies on those premises being true. A large part of what we do here at Metabunk is actually examining those premises and figuring out if the premises are true.

For example, a deductive process might go like this:

1) Jet fuel burns at 1500°C
2) Steel Melts at 2500°F
3) Molten steel was found after the WTC's collapse
4) Therefore something other than jet fuel was burning in the WTC, something that burned above 2500°F

The debunking process here is mostly fact checking. We can verify #1 and #2, but there's no evidence of any molten steel being recovered from the WTC site. So #3 is not valid, hence #4 is not valid (not proven false, just not supported by evidence). The deductive steps are trivial.

#3 ("Molten steel was found after the WTC's collapse") is actually something that people infer from eyewitness accounts. The deductive process goes like:

5) Firemen working at ground zero said they saw molten steel
6) Firemen have no reason to lie
7) Therefore there was molten steel at ground zero

Now here we can use deduction (pointing out that thinking you saw something is an inadequate premise for proving what it actually was, something that looks like molten metal is not necessarily steel), inference (eyewitnesses often make mistakes, so this might have been mistakes), and abduction (what's a likely source of someone thinking they saw flowing molten metal, given what was in the building and the heat that fires normally reach? Aluminum, lead, glass? Rank the possible explanations)

Deduction is often lauded as part of the investigative process, but I think it's a bit overrated, it's more a way of formally making an argument than it is a process for figuring something out.
 

Inti

Senior Member.
Two good resources on how to counter conspiracy theories are The Debunking Handbook and The Conspiracy Theory Handbook, by Stephan Lewandowsky and John Cook, which have been available for a while on the Skeptical Science website. Now there is a pair of one page flyers summarising the key messages of those booklets, It seems to me that these support and complement the genral philosophy of metabunk and the other sources mentioned above.


By the way, the authors of these flyers are looking for volunteers to help translate the flyers into other languages, other than English, German and Greek which are already available.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
It's not just the usual set-of-3 goof - they're even annotated with their direction of rotation: all the same way!

maybe it's supposed to signify that 'even if your pieces don't actually fit together, you can fool people as long as they are all going in the same direction. :p (<that's a joke ...for those who don't know)
 

LilWabbit

Active Member

The Primacy of Testability over Parsimony as a Scientific Standard for UAP Hypotheses


Recently Kent Bye took issue with Mick’s “Occamic” hierarchy (or “Occamaric” as mispronounced by Kent) of UAP hypotheses. He wasn't particularly successful in refuting the hierarchy. But it got me thinking that neither is Mick’s hierarchy, in closer scrutiny, all that scientific.

Occam’s Razor is invoked prematurely in both cases; at the outset of (1) advancing the alien hypothesis or (2) debunking outlandish-sounding claims, while both sides claiming to evade the parsimonious guillotine. Pop science and online squabbles amongst avid science-consumers invoke the Razor far more enthusiastically (read: flippantly) than actual science.

In the deep trenches of natural science, Occam’s Razor is neither oft-mentioned nor commonly invoked. Its potential utility comes into play only when there are two or more competing hypotheses that are equally consistent with all available evidence (including equality in their predictive power). With the Navy UAP videos, this condition is veritably unmet.

In fact, meeting this condition is a somewhat rare occurrence in science, and concerns broader and foundational theories more than specific hypotheses in any given branch. Also, it usually concerns basic research more than applied research.

A 'scientific' comparison of the plausibility of rival hypotheses is a far more practical and uncontroversial exercise than the (essentially) fruitless philosophical head-butting on whether or not the Razor applies to ‘my’ favourite theory. Scientific examination is initially disinterested in whether any propounded hypothesis advances too many, too broad or too fundamental new assumptions (i.e. Occam’s Razor, or the parsimoniousness / adequacy of the theory) to explain the evidence at hand. It’s far more interested in their immediate testability (a.k.a. falsifiability). That is to say, their ability to yield relatively effortlessly observable theory-predictions, or to predict the exact behaviour of the phenomena featured in the evidence already at hand. Echoing the point made by @Criticalthinker earlier, predicting testable observations is essentially an exercise in deductive reasoning.

The testability of the alien hypothesis is scientifically perfectly satisfactory if, indeed, it claims/predicts observable feats of flight that defy current human understanding of physics. Luckily for the debunkers, this is exactly the most commonplace claim. The available evidence, when carefully dissected, simply does not demonstrate such feats of flight. Hence, in order to give any scientific weight to the alien hypothesis, new, confirming, evidence must be provided. Thus far no such evidence exists. Nothing further is needed to scientifically dismiss the alien hypothesis with respect to the current UAP evidence (the Navy UAP videos) but a negative test outcome (falsification). The falsification of one hypothesis does not depend on the verification of the alternative hypotheses. Mick scores 1-0.

In other words, by invoking testability rather than the Razor, the comparison of the hypotheses would still result in roughly the same conclusion, namely the alien hypothesis being the least tenable alternative. Or to be precise, its prediction of humanly presently unattainable feats of flight produces thus far squarely negative test outcomes. These negative test outcomes (i.e. somewhat mundane flight characteristics), generated by evaluating the footage, can be produced in our current experiments even if the exact objects featured in the evidence remain forever unidentified (i.e. scientifically unverified).

Any further debate on anti-gravity, space-time manipulation and warp drives failing to satisfy the Razor, and upending physics as we know it, is simply unnecessary.

It may therefore be worthwhile for Mick, when discussing with whatever audience on merits of the competing hypotheses, to shift the focus from the Razor to testability/successful theory-predictions. Testability, when applicable, is also the more merciless arbiter.
 
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JMartJr

Senior Member
Somebody needs to debunk their cogs:
To be scrupulously fair, since their cogs do not interlock they might be rotating in the same direction, independently of each other and coincidentally.o_O

Not sure what that would be intended to illustrate, though...
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
It may therefore be worthwhile for Mick, when discussing with whatever audience on merits of the competing hypotheses, to shift the focus from the Razor to testability/successful theory-predictions. Testability, when applicable, is also the more merciless arbiter.
I think you are envisioning a different target audience than i am.

Article:
One in five parents were not at all confident in answering the formula for calculating speed (distance divided by time) – a typical sixth-grade science question.

Moreover, only 36 percent were very confident that they could identify the circumference and the diameter on a diagram of a circle.

And less than a third considered themselves very confident in identifying an example of potential energy, such as a stretched rubber band or a raised weight.





Not following this UFO flap closely i never heard of "Occamic Ranking" or [the highly caffeinated] Kent Bye, so i watched that segment of the podcast and not only did i understand everything Mick said, but the way he is choosing to categorize and communicate his ideas is correct to my ear.

Unfortunately i know from the political forums, that if people have such strong biases that they are going to consistently misunderstand your
meaning, there really isnt much you can do about that.

"It looks like planes. not aliens" doesnt sound at all, to me, like someone dismissing any idea of ETs.

This looks like a duck. not aliens.
1626185240720.png

obviously that doesnt prove it isnt an alien. it doesnt prove i am closed to the idea it might be an alien that looks like duck.

In my Occamic Ranking of identifying that pic, i would rank "alien" pretty low on the list. If i find evidence to contradict that (as Mick demonstrated with his GoFast bird/balloon example) I would move it up the ranking list.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
It may therefore be worthwhile for Mick, when discussing with whatever audience on merits of the competing hypotheses, to shift the focus from the Razor to testability/successful theory-predictions. Testability, when applicable, is also the more merciless arbiter.
I think you're overthinking it. The point of Occamic Ranking really to make a list, and sort it. It's going to be ad-hoc. Using the razor is one way of comparing two items, and there might be a more obvious one for any particular pair.

If you have to make a list, then the case is not solved. A certain amount of fluidity in the investigation is needed.
 

LilWabbit

Active Member
I think you're overthinking it.

That's also what my wife tells me at least once a week. She also says "less is more". I know, I should listen to her.

The point of Occamic Ranking really to make a list, and sort it. It's going to be ad-hoc. Using the razor is one way of comparing two items, and there might be a more obvious one for any particular pair.

I do see how your ranking works pedagogically. Given the educational purpose of Metabunk, it makes sense. Maybe I'm just hairsplitting, but a scientifically viable list would only include testable hypotheses relevant to the specific evidence being examined, and hence only a testable version of the alien hypothesis would qualify. Otherwise it's just pure speculation and including it in the ranking serves better as an olive branch.

A testable alien hypothesis for the Navy UAP videos simply reads: The flight characteristics displayed in the footage is the result of alien technology surpassing our current understanding of physics.

With regard to the available evidence, you've already successfully falsified this prediction and, by extension, the testable alien hypothesis. Technically, it should already be stricken from the list, unless of course the list addresses all potential new evidence as well.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
The flight characteristics displayed in the footage is the result of alien technology surpassing our current understanding of physics.
that is a specific claim of evidence. and being such, can often be debunked.

the general question of "what is it?", is where the list comes in.
 

LilWabbit

Active Member
that is a specific claim of evidence. and being such, can often be debunked.

Yet that's precisely what scientifically testable hypotheses are like.

the general question of "what is it?", is where the list comes in.

Yes, and that question can be answered by hypotheses that are either (1) purely speculative (e.g. "aliens, even if it looks like a mallard") or (2) scientifically testable (e.g. "feats of flight unattainable to known human technology"). A clearer distinction between the two is all that I'm calling for in our communications if indeed science education is our goal.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
A clearer distinction between the two is all that I'm calling for in our communications if indeed science education is our goal.

i hear you. that's exactly what i thought Mick clarified in the podcast section i linked above. Although i admit that i already know the distinction, so his word meanings might not be as clear to other podcast listeners without my prior experience.

so i watched that segment of the podcast
 
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