"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence": practical problems using this argument

So we've all heard Carl Sagan's line, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence", a concise popularization of an idea that goes back to David Hume in 1748 if not earlier.

There's a big problem with this idea: How do we agree on a definition of "extraordinary"? From the standpoint of practical debunking, if I say that you are making an extraordinary claim, and you say that, no, it's my claim that is extraordinary... well, what then?

I ran into this issue trying to argue about a false-flag/crisis-actor explanation for a mass shooting incident. Of course I think of this as an extraordinary claim. The CT folks have an entirely different worldview: since they already "know" that all the recent mass shootings and terrorist attacks were staged by the government, it was extraordinary for me to claim that this one wasn't.

Yeah, I'm naive. Some of you long-time debunkers have been running into this for years, I expect. How do you deal with it?
 

deirdre

Moderator
Staff member
How do you deal with it?
Probably depends on the shooting and whether there is extraordinary evidence available already. A newer shooting still under investigation or in a case where the killer is alive and facing trial, the hardcore evidence isnt available to the public yet.

But usually in any case, i personally would just say something along the lines of "Dont try to give me that bs jive talk, if you think the witnesses are lying and the death certificates are fake, then YOU produce some evidence of this."

No matter how you slice it, claiming fake death certificates (add: funerals, extended family, friends, neighbors testimony etc) involving many victims is a more extraordinary claim.
 
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Hama Neggs

Senior Member
So we've all heard Carl Sagan's line, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence", a concise popularization of an idea that goes back to David Hume in 1748 if not earlier.

There's a big problem with this idea: How do we agree on a definition of "extraordinary"? From the standpoint of practical debunking, if I say that you are making an extraordinary claim, and you say that, no, it's my claim that is extraordinary... well, what then?

I ran into this issue trying to argue about a false-flag/crisis-actor explanation for a mass shooting incident. Of course I think of this as an extraordinary claim. The CT folks have an entirely different worldview: since they already "know" that all the recent mass shootings and terrorist attacks were staged by the government, it was extraordinary for me to claim that this one wasn't.

Yeah, I'm naive. Some of you long-time debunkers have been running into this for years, I expect. How do you deal with it?
It's akin to them telling you that you have to prove that chemtrails DON'T exist. All you can do is tell them that there is no evidence that they DO exist and that no one can ever prove a negative. They never accept it, but that's all I know to say because it's true.
 
I see we have another thread here that's closely related: The Majority Illusion (thumbnail summary: there's a weird feature of social networks that can trick you into thinking an idea is very popular when it actually isn't). That's a major cause for feuds over which claim is extraordinary.

But most people are at least dimly aware that facts don't become true by majority vote. If I want to know what 6×9 is, I'm not going to ask preschoolers to vote on it. Everyone realizes they don't have the education to answer the question.

When it comes to advanced areas of knowledge like climate science, evolution, astrophysics, forensics, economics, etc., very few of us are willing to admit we're as ignorant as preschoolers. My opinion is as valid as any expert's, right? So this is the other half of the problem. There's a large and (it seems to me) growing distrust of people with education and expertise. And there are so many convenient reasons to reject the opinions of experts:
  • They depend on the government for funding, so they have to parrot the official views.
  • They only understand science as we know it, and they're ignoring new theories.
  • They're all absent-minded professors, and they're ignoring completely obvious things that anyone can see.
  • They only try to debunk a few arguments, and ignore hundreds of others. (See: Gish gallop.)

This is dismaying. The problem predates the Internet (I actually heard Duane Gish do a Gish gallop in person once -- damn, he was good), but nowadays anybody can appear to be an expert with a few good blog posts.

I just wish that people were more willing to admit their own ignorance. You don't have a college-level biology education? You don't know how DNA works, and you've never studied genetics or statistics? Okay, you are not qualified to have an opinion about the theory of evolution. Don't tell me that evolution is an extraordinary claim when you don't even understand it.

But people get mad if I say things like that. :D
 
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