Standards for debunking


Senior Member.
From the "Welcome" thread:
I hope to add a standard for Mick to consider that is based on two legal principles that finders of fact (judges and juries) use to reach verdicts:

1. In civil cases, the standard of proof is “by a preponderance of the evidence.”
2. In criminal cases, the standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

I believe by adding these two standards to Mick’s already robust and razor-like analysis, we can take the most cryptic, unverifiable and unidentifiable sightings and videos to at least categorize them in a new and perhaps more descriptive way. This could assist in filtering out the 99% BS we see and enable us to cut even further into the “whatever remains, must be the truth” philosophy.
I don't believe this is a new way, though it's certainly an analogy I haven't considered before.

Part of debunking e.g. a UFO sighting is speculating about alternate explanations: it could have been a balloon, a Chinese lantern, etc. At this point, our explanation isn't really better founded than the UFO explanation (except for the fact the we know for certain that balloons and Chinese lanterns exist). We're basically establishing "reasonable doubt" that the observation proves an alien spacecraft.

Sometimes we can do more: maybe we have evidence that a specific flight passed the area at the time of the observation and should have been in view; or we find social media posts of a beach party that did launch Chinese lanterns in time for them to be observed. In those instances, we have "preponderance of the evidence" that it wasn't a UFO.

Debunking "beyond reasonable doubt" is rare in some areas; it happens e.g. when the perpetuators of a hoax come forward and admit it. Or when a hoax is litigated dozens of times and fails in dozens of courtrooms. It's also often possible for science denial.


New Member
True. I shouldn’t say this would be a new standard. I should simply say that these two legal standards will be helpful if we continue to use them.


Senior Member.
True. I shouldn’t say this would be a new standard. I should simply say that these two legal standards will be helpful if we continue to use them.
What do you know about the application of these standards in law that could be helpful for debunkers (or conspiracy theorists)?


New Member
What do you know about the application of these standards in law that could be helpful for debunkers (or conspiracy theorists)?
The civil standard, “preponderance of the evidence,” is a lower standard than that used in criminal cases, which is “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

I believe each standard is useful for conspiracy theories, and can apply on different levels, and each uses Occam’s Razor a bit differently. The civil standard, quite simply, doesn’t cut as deeply as the criminal standard (for good reason—someone’s personal freedom or even life may be on the line), but both might be illuminating when used in conspiracy theories.

Let’s take two conspiracies. First, for example: Did the CIA kill JFK?

1. Is there a “preponderance of evidence” that shows they did?

I would suggest that while there is a preponderance of evidence that Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK, we do not see evidence that the CIA put him up to it; we do not see a preponderance of evidence that anyone set him up to do so.

So we don’t really get past the civil standard here. But just for fun:

2. Can we say beyond a reasonable doubt that the CIA made Oswald shoot JFK?

No—there are many other possibilities and differing forms of evidence, so we cannot say that. We have doubts. And our doubt(s) are reasonable.

Let’s take the criminal standard next for the claim that NASA did not land a man on the Moon:

1. Is there a preponderance of evidence that we landed on the Moon?

2. Does the evidence prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that we did not land on the Moon?
Is there is still a “reasonable doubt” that we did not land on the Moon? We might have a slight, albeit tiny doubt, but that doubt must be reasonable.

There is a preponderance of evidence that we landed on the Moon. There also appears to be no reasonable doubt that we did not. Therefore, we most likely landed on the Moon.


Senior Member.
I think it's easier in the courtroom to see what the actual claims are, and who has the burden of proof. That's something that easily gets lost in infomral debate.

There are some areas of bunk where no established claims can exist, and that's usually when we believe in a negative: there are no UFOs, no psychics, no ghosts, and no cryptid animals; but we can't prove that because maybe they're hiding really well, and we overlooked them. Therefore, in these areas we claim that there is no evidence for these phenomena; then the believers present some putative evidence, and we create reasonable doubt or support an alternate hypothesis; this may depend on the quality of the evidence.

In other areas, we have positive claims: we landed on the Moon, the Earth is a rotating ball, the 9/11 commission report and the Warren commission report are essentially correct, the 2020 election was fair, Covid-19 is a serious pandemic that approved vaccines protect against. These claims are usually doubted; it's rare for an alternate explanation to be fielded. For example, Flat Earth looks like an alternate to the globe, but Flat Earthers don't actually have evidence that water is flat or that a Flat Earth map works for navigation.

Because "preponderance of the evidence" is so hard to achieve, i.e. to establish an alternative and to prove it is more likely, debates with CT believers hardly ever fall into that kind of approach.

However, the difference is that a "reasonable doubt" argument is merely about certainty: it says we can't be certain about this claim, but it doesn't say that it isn't true. Only a "preponderance of evidence" argument is about truth: if you are looking for that, you need to make the effort and at least win on the preponderance of the evidence.

And that's a very common failure of conspiracy thinking: the idea that establishing doubt in a claim means that the claim is not true. It's false reasoning because you can be uncertain of something and it can still be true.
"Does he really love me?" You may have doubts even though he does.
OJ Simpson got acquitted even though he probably did it.
For the biblically inclined, the apostle Thomas is the poster boy for this.
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Senior Member.
Just found this:
Reversed burden of proof: science places the burden of proof on those making a claim, not on the critic. "Pseudoscientific" arguments may neglect this principle and demand that skeptics demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that a claim (e.g., an assertion regarding the efficacy of a novel therapeutic technique) is false. It is essentially impossible to prove a universal negative, so this tactic incorrectly places the burden of proof on the skeptic rather than on the claimant.


Senior Member
In some cases - and I am specifically thinking about 9/11 Conspiracy Theorists, for that is my area of bizarre interest - the proponents of bunk will reject for themselves those two legal standards of proof, asserting that they have no sufficient access to the evidence that would satisfy those standards of proof - because, you see, the perpetrators (the government) is hiding that evidence, and they'd need the power of subpoena to get at it. That's why they call for an "independent new investigation", and try to take their cases to the courts every now then, only to get rejected (because, you see, the DAs are part of "them", and the courts have also been stacked by "them": each time, they get the exit doors of the courtrooms shown to them without even entering the stage of discovery, before they even get to state their case and present their "evidence", that reinforces the belief that they are up against a huge conspiracy involving many branches of government / deep state).

In short, unless and before they get their fair day in court and have their experts present their bunk to impartial juries of their peers, and the court grants them to subpoena the hell out of all agencies they wish to accuse, “by a preponderance of the evidence” and “beyond a reasonable doubt” don't apply to them.