It was a Sunday afternoon or was it evening? Not quite sure of the time element but I do recall the dent on the rear fender of the car. It was a small indentation, something that I thought might have been the outcome of a parking lot minor mishap. But it gnawed at me for a while and so I decided to investigate it. That little journey took me into the realm of “evidence,” as proof began to reveal itself. Slowly in stepladder fashion, I climbed my way to a new understanding. The hypothesis of the mishap was correct but when and where?
So what is evidence really? Is it a thing, an object, a thought or an imagined corollary without permanence of form in material? Interesting wouldn’t you say? It does have that mind-jangling, asymptotic, confusing ring to it.
Philosophy of Evidence:
Evidence, it appears, is a philosophical construct. Now lets not get too far ahead and collapse this argument by closing our minds. Seriously, stay with me on this one. Evidence can be a bloody knife, a set of fingerprints, a historical construct based on previously accepted principles, a color of an object, a sound wave, a mentioned reasoning in a book, the smell of a plant or a golf glove. You see all these so-called evidences can be used in science, law, biology, medicine, engineering and related fields. So “evidence” by definition has no limitations on the type of construct. It is an informational piece of relevance that is reasoned to agree or disagree with a hypothesis.
So it becomes clear that evidence, is a secondary phenomenon, required to prove a hypothesis. Without one of these you cannot prove one of those. But to generate a hypothesis one has to have a thought construct based on some relevant information that allows you to undertake such an enterprise, doesn’t it?
|Carl Frederich Gauss|
Let us test a hypothesis then to clarify the subject; Man can fly. We both know that is impossible. Yet given the evidence that exists today with thousands of aircraft flights man does indeed hurtle through space albeit in an aircraft designed for such purpose. Yet he himself cannot fly. So the evidence seems to prove the hypothesis that man can fly, yet it does not quite prove that. Does it? Another corollary would be if someone postulated that clouds occur as a result of rain. Well here the reverse is true but the premise postulated is obviously in peril since our observations hold that clouds occur without rain all the time.
Similarly in a criminal case a bloody knife found near the victim does not convict the perpetrator of the crime, unless his fingerprints are found on the knife. Even then the evidence is limited since the context of the fingerprints’ presence on the knife has to be taken into account; the real perpetrator may have stolen someone else’s knife. And on and on the lawyers pick through the haystack to get at the needle.
|Thomas Bayes, Mathematician|
In evidentiary proof of a given hypothesis, rational explanations or justifications are not a guarantee of being correct. It may be rational to think that “reason to believe” and “evidence” are synonymous although the former is a mental construct and the latter may reference material substance. Thus “evidence” which justifies belief may be rational but not proof for a given hypothesis. Similarly being mistaken and doggedly representing reasoned rationality does not determine qualified proof. In the book “Proofiness,” Charles Seife mentions, “Hamlet Evaluation System” utilized by the U.S. Military to justify the purported sham victory in Vietnam that later became labeled as the “Five-o’clock Follies” for their misrepresentation of the actual events.
The term used for judicious and careful thinking and scrupulously obtaining evidence is “Cognitive Prosperity” which implies the holding of large number of true beliefs and relatively few false beliefs is used for individuals who use tedious and time-labored endeavors in uncovering the proofs for a given hypotheses.
"I thought we should require physical determinations, and not abstract integrations. As pernicious taste begins to infiltrate, from which real science will suffer far more than it will progress, and it would be often better for the true physics if there were no mathematics in the world.”
The use of the Probability calculus as the key to all evidence is glazed over by the sweet syrup of statistical nuances whereby manipulation of the numbers can relate proof to some hypothesis. Looking at the Probability of Confidence Intervals in a Gaussian distribution suggests that a 95% probability indicates a defacto proof for any proposed hypothesis, especially in medicine and that the remaining 5% (2.5+2,5) on either side of this normal distribution can be considered outlier and therefore not representative of the factual evidence. Not only this thinking obscures the truth, it also misrepresents the entire evidence. The real truth in mathematical modeling comes from the “law of large numbers” where the “Normal Distribution” will give a 99.7% confidence interval at the 3rd standard deviation, which one might argue is still not 100% and therefore not the real “truth.” In other words the larger the “x” in N=(x) the better the evidence to convict the hypothesis.
“What is Creditable… is not the mere belief in this or that, but the having arrived at it by a process which, had the evidence been different, would have carried one with equal readiness to a contrary belief.”
Blanshard, Reason and Belief
Blanshard, Reason and Belief
Proving a hypothesis thus must avail of all evidentiary information both pro and con before being labeled as fact. “Evidence thus must become a neutral arbiter of all proposed theoretical commitments including axioms and hypotheses”.
The objectivity of science is secured by the shared relevant evidence conceived, discovered or brought forth in the discovery process prior to rendering a hypothesis as a fact.
|Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis|
Edward Anthony Jenner (1749-1823) inoculated an 8 year-old child named James Phipps in 1796 with Cowpox blister material to successfully vaccinate him against Smallpox. There are sketchy references that other non-physicians had utilized this vaccinating procedure before him. The hypothesis therefore existed and Edward Jenner was the first to lay the scientific proof as the foundation of vaccination against smallpox and earning the endearing term, “father of vaccination.”
Barry James Marshall
Marie Sklodowska Curie (1867-1934) the first recipient of two Nobel Prizes in Physics and Chemistry discovered radioactivity from Radon. She, based on her inspiration established the use of radiation therapy for cancers. The premise of radioactivity and its potential use to benefit humans was her hypothesis and when the therapeutic use was undertaken, it showed success in patients, proving the hypothesis with proof.
The incredible diligence in the yesteryears towards the etiology of disease has slowly disintegrated into mathematical probability events. Where once absolute proof was a requirement now probability suffices. Cases in point are the various “Epidemiological proofs” that are arrived at with incongruous data. For instance there were initial studies that maintained that carbohydrate diets were heart healthy, finding that a high carbohydrate diet leads to high triglycerides led to mathematical modeling to suggest increased protein was better, except if one’s kidneys cannot process the nitrogen from the proteins, and now we find ourselves with the old commonsensical grandma’s tenet that less is better and fruits and vegetables are extremely important for health. There are further proofs that ingestion and retention of excess fat (obesity), smoking and alcohol usage are deleterious to human health. The changeable thinking shows the gravitas placed on cigarettes, when in 1893, smoking was actually promoted as a treatment for bronchitis. Now we know that it is a curse of/on civilization. We laugh at that original therapeutic premise, yet it was a practical suggestion based on faulty reasoning then. Smoking temporarily suppressed the coughing induced by bronchitis, therefore it was hailed as a panacea.
Evidence based Medicine:
“Evidence based Medicine” is a terminology that has found a haven in medical circles. The intent in the statement is to provide proof for all the guidelines and dicta invoked in the premise of “how-to and what-to” in practicing the art of medicine. Those guides and dicta become concrete with the use of the term “evidence based medicine” and when used in that manner, no questions may be asked. It is a method by some to stifle scientific thought and therefore progress. Medicine is constantly changing because the environment changes too. To place a burden on the practice of medicine with past tense information is deliberately preventing the use of newer methodologies for the betterment of human health. The failure of this logic is in evidence throughout history. Agility and changeable thinking with newer hypotheses and newer proofs will lead to a better outcome. Today is in flux due to the understanding of the past and the unknowns of a hypothetical future.
… Oh, and not forgetting the minor mishap that started this whole thinking, the evidence of a bluish color present in the dented fender matched with a child’s blue colored metal tricycle. Faced with irrefutable evidence of matched colors between the dent and the bike Junior had nowhere to hide. QED.
Parvez Dara, MD FACP
1. Kelly, Thomas, "Evidence", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
2. Blanshard, Brand (1974). Reason and Belief. (London: Allen and Unwin).
3. Carnap, Rudolf (1950). Logical Foundations of Probability (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).
4. Carnap, Rudolf (1966). An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science. Edited by Martin Gardner. (New York: Dover).
5. Fisher, R.A. (1930). ‘Inverse Probability’, Proceedings of the Cambridge Philosophical Society 26(4): 528-535.
6. Goldman, Alvin (1979). ‘What Is Justified Belief?’ in George Pappas (ed.). Justification and Knowledge (Dordrecht: Reidel Publishing Company): 1-23.
7. Horwich, Paul (1982). Probability and Evidence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
8. Silins, Nico (2005). ‘Deception and Evidence’, in Philosophical Perspective, vol.19: Epistemology (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers)
9. Williamson, Timothy (2000). Knowledge and Its Limits. (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
10. Seife, Charles Proofiness, The dark art of Mathematical Deception, pub Viking Press 2010.