General Question

Paradox25's avatar

Is this famous phrase actually a logical fallacy?

Asked by Paradox25 (10223points) June 3rd, 2012

We commonly hear people who identify themselves as sceptics use the phrase “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof/evidence”, as quoted by one of the most famous sceptics of all time, Marcello Truzzi. Truzzi himself later recanted the ideology behind the extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence statement.

Do you think that the phrase “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof” is a logical fallacy, or not? Please explain why.

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23 Answers

Ltryptophan's avatar

I think the correct logic goes like this. If x is a claim, then it requires proof. If extraoridnary claims are claims, then they require proof. By nature, any proof that verifies an extraordinary claim will itself be extraordinary due to the claim it proves. If I claim bouncy balls are made of rubber, then show you the production of bouncy balls, there won’t be much surprise. On the other hand if I tell you I am immortal, then any simple manner in which I defy certain death will by nature be an extraordinary proof of my immortality. It’s the claim that is extraordinary, and the proof of any extraordinary claim must get caught up in this exceptionality.

We’ve always hoped that our loved ones come back to life somehow. Within this is the nature of disbelief, and skepticism. Who can tell us the answer to this riddle?

Bill1939's avatar

I do not know if I will ever see the people that I have loved who have died, but I am willing to accept the possibility. There is no evidence one way or the other that there is life after physical death. Claims that this is or is not possible are equally extraordinary. Such issues are outside of rational knowing. You may choose to accept or deny them, or remain open to the question.

grumpyfish's avatar

@Bill1939 That’s more of a faith vs. knowledge thing, but you clearly understand the difference.

A more common example of where Truzzi’s quip is applied is evidence of ghosts and hauntings. This photo, for example: clearly shows some ghosts or demons or something. It’s evidence, but is it’s not extraordinary evidence—extraordinary evidence of ghosts would require laboratory conditions when taking the photograph (in which case ghosts never seem to make their appearances). Granted a similar thing stymied the understand of where a cat’s purr comes from—cats don’t like to purr in MRI machines.

What I’m saying is that without extraordinary evidence (that is, evidence collected in a controlled environment), extraordinary claims do need evidence that rises to the claim.

Ron_C's avatar

I read up on Truzzi and note that he was voted out of CSICOP because he wanted pro-paranormal people on the panel. The organization figured that there were enough paranormal believers working to spread their views and there was no need to give them additional voice in a skeptic’s organization.

The Truzzi quote still stands and is what I would require to as proof of the paranormal.

bolwerk's avatar

It might be an informal fallacy. It could be generally true, however, even if there are exceptions.

(It’s also very relative. What constitutes an “extraordinary” claim?)

Bill1939's avatar

Even “scientific” evidence does not “prove” a claim, especially in the realm of the paranormal. In modern physics, for example, the search for evidence supporting the existance the Higgs boson or of gravitons will, if found, not prove they are actually real.

According to @wikipedia, “After leaving CSICOP, Truzzi started another journal, the Zetetic Scholar. He promoted the term ‘zeteticism’ as an alternative to ‘skepticism,’ because he thought that the latter term was being usurped by what he termed ‘pseudoskeptics.’ A zetetic is a ‘skeptical seeker.’”

“Truzzi stated: They [CSICOP] tend to block honest inquiry, in my opinion. Most of them are not agnostic toward claims of the paranormal; they are out to knock them. [...] When an experiment of the paranormal meets their requirements, then they move the goal posts. Then, if the experiment is reputable, they say it’s a mere anomaly.”

Ron_C's avatar

I have a little more to say on this subject. I notice that when some scientists’ lives extend past the “sell-by date”. The tend to fall into alternate belief systems. For instance, that is where most of the “scientists” for the Intelligent Design or creationist belief fall.

Of course there there are a number of otherwise intelligent scientists that believe in supernatural occurrences. It is quite possible that mental problems caused this change in Truzzi’s beliefs. I hope that I am put out of my misery before it happens to me.

LostInParadise's avatar

As scientific claims, extraordinary claims require evidence, the same as all other scientific claims. I don’t know what extraordinary evidence means. Where extraordinary claims differ from other claims, is that if I casually say that I took a walk yesterday, the tentative assumption is that I am telling the truth. If I say that I saw a ghost then most people would require some supporting evidence.

Mariah's avatar

@Ltryptophan‘s answer was great, and along the same lines, I don’t see a problem with this phrase.

Why might any one claim require more evidence than another in order to be believed? I’ll refer to Occam’s Razor, which says that given two possible explanations for a phenomenon, the one that requires us to make the fewest adjustments to our understanding of reality is more likely to be true. It’s a staple of most skeptics’ thought processes.

Why is Occam’s Razor a valid general rule? I’ll use an example. If I tell you I saw a dinosaur, there are a lot of different possibilities; e.g. I lied, I mistook something else for a dinosaur, I’m on some kind of drug, I’m schizophrenic, or I really saw a dinosaur.

If we want to believe that I really saw a dinosaur, we have a lot of questions to answer. Why has nobody else seen a living dinosaur? Where have they been living all this time where they have evaded notice? etc. etc. etc. All of our observations up to this point have supported the idea that dinosaurs are extinct. To accept now that I saw a dinosaur means that this long history of observations was all false. On the other hand, humans have a long history of lying, making mistakes, taking drugs, and being schizophrenic.

So yeah, it should take exraordinary evidence to convince you that our entire world view regarding dinosaurs has been wrong for centuries. More than just the word of one person who could easily have been lying, on drugs, etc. etc. Because those explanations are far more likely.

Paradox25's avatar

This question could relate to anything in science, not just the paranormal. I asked it because if the evidence for something satisfies the requirements used in the scientific method, then why shouldn’t it be at least taken seriously and researched further? This isn’t just about anecdotal experiences, but any type of scientific research.

I do understand what others above have said above, and I do understand what Occam’s Razor is, but I do feel that this used by sceptics of many different subjects to support their own confirmation bias. We did see this example when it came to the Semmelweis Effect too. Sometimes the more accurate answers to a problem aren’t necessarily always the ones with the path of least resistance.

Ltryptophan's avatar

It might also be helpful to add C.S. Lewis’ thoughts from Miracles. If I remember correctly, his concept is that a miracle is instantly absorbed into nature, and all nature must now adjust accordingly. Whether or not miracles do occur is not my point. My point is that if an extraordinary claim ever should find its extraordinary proof neither will remain noteworthy.

This certainly makes me agree with the poster above who said that it’s just the normal scientific method for any unsubstantiated claim.

Mariah's avatar

@Paradox25 I disagree with the premise that Occam’s Razor is overused. For example, the recent business with faster-than-light neutrinos would have overturned a huge amount of modern physics, making experimental error the far more likely possibility by Occam’s Razor. Even so, it’s been being further investigated.

Do you have a particular example in mind of something that has been written off by skeptics that you think warrants further investigation?

Ltryptophan's avatar

Everyone was kind to like my answer, maybe in jest at my way of thinking… I fear that after a certain amount of positive feedback on one comment, continuing to comment starts to be a sort of pseudo-Great Answer/Oscar-wannabe acceptance speech. I am mentioning that because I would rather not come across that way for an instant, in fact, I find individual recognition uncomfortable, isolating, and unhelpful for any reason other than truth identification. That said:

I find it odd that the main thrust of this matter isn’t being covered unless I misread all of the above entries, including mine. The point of this quote is to show that it is for the claimant of supernatural phenomenon to offer with their claims verifiable evidence when they seek new believers, or outside validation. That, short of presenting that evidence, no reasonable being need be signatory to any claim merely on good faith, in prior credibility, or other unfounded, untestable variables not founded in some phenomenal experience.

weeeeellllllll…...right. BUT, somethings we are unable to question yet. We aren’t even at the moment where anyone has started claiming those extraordinary somethings which will be denied. Those proofs are even further away than those claims!! Now, sometimes a thing works and we don’t know how it works. Wild claims are made public hopefully because their “truths” are probably somehow perceived as helpful, at very least to the claimant. If not why would someone sane bother making a bizarre claim out loud?

Like this, look at reason itself. At reasons first entry into our conscious life I’m sure that its first task was not to identify its own makeup. Do you see what I mean? If the quote we are discussing predated reason, would reason find itself a valid claim? Think of it: Long ago some common agreement was made between two men. Maybe they traded a sheep for a copper axe. They were uneducated somewhat, but a deal was struck and both grasped the truth between their arrangement. But as for the proof of what reason is…no, they surely went on reasoning without worrying about proofs for the magical new trick they were accomplishing called advanced reasoning. I guess what I’m getting at is that doubt can be a very successful thief. I’m warning that within this valid quote lies a much more dangerous snare than the foolish acceptance of tall tales it attempts to safeguard us from.

I argue that many of our greatest advances were blind steps, leaps of faith, and that in them we transcended the confines of reason. We didn’t reason ourselves into who we are, and it may not be reason that takes us to our next step. So, despite the fact that the statement may be logically accurate, I don’t see why it should be held as the final word on the weight of experiences and their application.

These comments I believe address the spirit of the quote.

LostInParadise's avatar

Once again, all claims require evidence to back them up. Claims that were once considered extraordinary have been firmly established, like Copernican theory and evolution. The pursuit of science often requires thinking outside the box. The idea of proof, which would lead eventually to scientific method, comes from ancient Greece. Before then there was no concept of miracles, because there was no concept of natural law. Everything happened at the whim of the gods.

Scientific method requires a major assumption, namely that if you do something 1000 or so times under controlled conditions and get the same result then we tentatively assume that a truth has been established. Is this reasonable? Might God, without notification, decide to have things float up instead of fall down? Until such time that scientific laws no longer hold, it makes sense to trust scientific method, which is self-correcting and in possession of a perfect track record.

AdamF's avatar

@Ltryptophan “I argue that many of our greatest advances were blind steps, leaps of faith, and that in them we transcended the confines of reason.”

Sure…any great idea originates lacking sufficient supportive evidence to convince the majority, otherwise we’d all originally accept the claim, and it could hardly be considered much of an advance (this is precisely how science begins each leap…testing hypotheses). It takes the rare individual(s) to spot the potential of an overlooked truth, and then convince others. But I don’t think the quote negates that idea in the least.

All it says (to me at least) is that we’re better off as a species not chasing shadows, and there are far more extraordinary claims out there that are bullshit, than are true (simply because there are infinite falsehoods, and finite truths). And if something is true, and has widespread relevance to humanity, then it can be demonstrated to be true. And if it can’t be demonstrated to be true, then how does the claimant get to be so confident that it is true? Furthermore, if any claimant expects others to believe something extraordinary because they “say so”, or based on flimsy supportive evidence, they he/she is actually advertising to others that their own threshold for believing something is likely questionable, and skepticism with respect to their claims is entirely justified.

Perhaps you can provide an example where you think expecting extraordinary evidence for an extraordinary claim could ever stand in the way of an “advance”. Or frankly, why you think that reason acts a confine (rather than a springboard) for great advances.

Paradox25's avatar

@Mariah This article provides a great example of what I’m trying to say here. This is one reason why I have a problem with the Null Hypotheisis as well, since it typically sheilds current accepted paradigms from criticism, and creates a religious type bias in research. You can’t use the Null Hypotheisis if you want to partake in any type of research in which a new phenomena may be discovered.

Wiseman clearly tried to nullify the results of that research, rather than actually look at the results which the evidence supported. This is not real science, nor any type of real scientific research, and trying to hide behind the Null Hypothesis (default position) to try to ignore what the actual results were from that research was intellectually dishonest, putting it mildly. Maybe we don’t yet have a theory on why this phenomena (telepathy) occurs, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the answer lies in some old outdated concept either. We need more honest researchers in science, not more believers or debunkers. Yes, there is dishonesty on both sides here. I have many more examples, but I’m going to stop with that one. Sorry for the late replay.

Mariah's avatar

@Paradox25, thanks so much for providing me with an example of what you’re talking about. I am currently reading it, and plan to reply to you once my computer is back from the shop. Right now, it would just be way too much to type out on my phone keyboard. XD Poke me if I forget!

Paradox25's avatar

Adam, I’ll try to address some of your issues above. First off I’ll try to tackle the issue of where I stand on the Null Hypothesis. My wording above was poor in trying to describe where I stand on it, but what I was really trying say was that the Null Hypothesis should never be used by itself to disprove an alternative hypothesis, at least by itself. I don’t oppose using the Null Hypothesis, and actually I find it to be a very sensible way to bring us closer to the truth, even when it is rejected and the alternative hypothesis wins out.

I suppose that we could look at ancient times where most people believed that the earth was flat. Obviously at that time the concept of a Null Hypothesis didn’t really exist, but the flat earth model could have been considered to be the status quo opinion at the time. Clearly that model was wrong, but the null still helped us reach the truth. There is a big difference between using the Null Hypothesis to reach a fact vs using it (NH) to try to disprove an alternative hypothesis.

I’ll try to address what I’m trying to imply relating to certain bias in science. Obviously there has always been a strong bias in science to oppose anything that hinted of mysticism. I suspect that this was one of the reasons that the Many Worlds Interpretation replaced the Copenhagen Interpretation. You’ve mentioned above that if science was willing to embrace ideas as wacky as Relativity and Quantum Theories, that science would be willing to embrace the phenomenon that I’ve mentioned above. Again, not likely, due to the bias in science against anything that hinted of immortal egos and/or mysticism.

I realize that you and other sceptics do not accept the experimental results from the research done on the topics I’ve mentioned due to ‘flaws’ in the experiments, but again these are assumptions in themselves. Many brilliant scientists disagree with the sceptics on this, some of them were nobel laureates, and others were very well known and respected, not cranks. I’m rather amazed that many sceptics write off the experimental research performed on mediumship, telepathy, clairvoyance, etc. The cross correspondences are also strong circumstancial evidence suggestive of the possibility of immortality, or at least the survival of our egos beyond physical death.

My biggest complaint isn’t being sceptical of the various phenomena that I’ve mentioned, but rather the attitudes of many who classify themselves as ‘sceptics’ relating to these matters. Some people are so far removed from the idea that the mind may be more than a brain function, that their distaste of this topic is very similar to that of some adherent religionists. Seriously, I’ve heard many people say that no amount of evidence would convince them, while others just write it off as complete nonsense or pseudoscience. What I’ve found odd is that many of these people did not even attempt to look at the data and experimental research relating to this matter. How can any alleged ‘critical thinker’ make the claims that they do when they didn’t even research a good deal of the material that I have? There are many sceptics that I’ve come across who had never even heard of the cross correspondences.

There are many phenomena out there that have not even been proven to exist, or have any real evidence to back them up, and yet I don’t hear many sceptics writing these things off as nonsense like they do with anything that hints to mysticism. There is no real evidence for mtheories, but many sceptics do not use the harshness of their criticisms on these matters as they do with things that relate to anything associated mysticism. Mtheories may be mathematically strong, but according to quantum theory it is also mathematically possible for matter systems to interpenetrate each other without mutual interference, as people like Wolf, Penrose and Pearson have pointed out. I brought the latter point up because most data that I’ve come across relating to the alleged nature of the hypothetical descriptions of spirit world seems to correlate with that model vs that of the various mtheories floating around out there. It is not the scepticism itself which bothers me, but the religious type opposition to even the possibility of some of the phenomena I’ve mentioned being a potential fact.

I’m also frequently amazed at how many of these sceptics, who claim to aspire to science or understand the scientific methods rely on the James Randi challenge (Randi is a nonscientist) more than the research of many respected scientists. Randi has a long history of turning down potential threats to his challenge, though I do suspect that many of the big names who’ve avoided his challenge to likely be frauds though such as John Edwards and Sylvia Browne. Personally I don’t even believe that sceptics would be conviced regardless of someone passing his challenge. Like I’ve also said, Randi has turned down many applicants. Randi and his people call the shots, thus I’m sceptical of Randi. I don’t expect to convince anybody on here to share my beliefs, but rather see where people like me are coming from, and why. I’ll end this rant of mine with this quote by a famous scientist: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” —Max Planck.

ETpro's avatar

@Paradox25 The Null Hypothesis never disproves an alternative hypothesis. It just stands unshaken till an alternative hypothesis comes along and proves, in rigorous double-blind testing, that it does a better job of predicting future observations than the Null Hypothesis does. When you stop to think about it, that really isn’t asking an undue amount of proof from the competing hypothesis.

AdamF's avatar

@Paradox25 A few specific points.

“There is a big difference between using the Null Hypothesis to reach a fact vs using it (NH) to try to disprove an alternative hypothesis”

It all comes down to evidence and the burden of proof. If there are two competing hypotheses trying to account for the same observation, then the one for which best accounts for the specifics of the observation, and/or best makes testable predictions about future observations wins. In those cases where a claim stands well outside out current understanding, then for our understanding to shift, requires that the evidence be rock solid for the claims being made, and eventually, for others to replicate the findings. These aren’t barriers for supernatural claims, these are barriers for all unsubstantiated claims.

“Obviously there has always been a strong bias in science to oppose anything that hinted of mysticism.”

There are layers underneath that claim that I want to address. I think what you see is the accumulative result of the scientific process, not a bias in science itself against alternative explanations. I have a hard time thinking of anything we accept natural explanations for today, that didn’t once upon a time come coupled with a truckload of metaphysical/mystical/supernatural baggage, that furthermore, was often believed by many scientists of their day. Think of antiquated views on the causes of sickness, spontaneous generation origins for some life, lightning, earthquakes, origin myths, etc. So what is defined as supernatural versus natural, has shifted dramatically through time, simply because science has repeatedly found that mystical explanations were redundant when natural processes account perfectly well for the observations. To hammer the point, we could have lived in a world where science found that witches putting hexes on people accurately accounted for why some people get sick and others don’t. But we don’t. That’s not a bias of science against witchcraft, but a bias of reality against witchcraft.

Second, any claim that involves repeated mystical/supernatural causal interactions with the natural world, can be tested by science with respect to cause and effect. The point being that something which makes mystical claims about the underlying process in no way prevents the pattern from being detected. Which is why we find scientists testing whether water has memory, astrology affects personality, prayer improves health outcomes, or telepathy works, despite the fact that we have no idea how any process could drive such patterns if discovered.

That said, I don’t doubt that many scientists (not all) are skeptical of mystical claims that they don’t personally adhere to (I’ve met enough scientists who believe in things like astrology, Iridology, reiki, or “Jesus died for my sins” to pretend for a second that scientists are consistently evidence-based thinkers). But highlighting the “mystical” part of the equation misses a vital point. Scientists are more skeptical of every claim they don’t personally adhere to. That’s why science works. Because every time I try to publish something, no matter how mundane, there’s another couple of brains on the other side of the editor’s desk who are going to do everything they can to punch holes in my methodology or the justifiability of my conclusions. And even if I pass this gate, and get published, my work can readily be negated by any other publishing scientist for as long as people read my publications. Meanwhile, I do the same thing in return every time I get a review request for a journal, and everytime I publish a paper which negates someone else’s findings.

My point is that science is harsh to every idea, and the more novel the idea the more harsh the challenge. But the demand for rigor in science is there for a good reason, to filter out the bullshit and let in provisional approximations of the truth. So if you claim X is true, rigorous scientific scrutiny is an ally, not the enemy. Because once established to these standards people can tentatively accept that X is in fact how the world works. Telepathy has nothing to fear from science, if telepathy is real.

“Many brilliant scientists disagree with the sceptics on this, some of them were nobel laureates, and others were very well known and respected, not cranks.”

You do realize that that’s an argument from authority. Look, just because you can get a Nobel prize for having a brilliant idea, doesn’t mean every idea you have is brilliant, or even remotely plausible (let alone utter bullshit). Nobel prize winners can be cranks, these aren’t mutually exclusive categories. For example, Francis Crick: ”[I am] inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa [because] all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours—whereas all the testing says not really.” Likewise, Nobel prize winners have expressed support for homeopathy, AIDs denial, astrology, the views that antibiotics cures autism, while others have claimed climate change is a hoax. In short, Nobel prize winners saying and supporting outlandishly stupid ideas are a dime a dozen. In science, it doesn’t (or at least it shouldn’t) matter a damn who believes a claim is true, it’s the quality of the evidence provided for the claim that matters. If with all their connections and financial support Nobel prize winners can’t get well designed studies published which make the scientific world take notice of the potential for things like telepathy, then this says more against the validity of telepathy than it does for it.

Anyways, If I continue Im going to repeat stuff I’ve said elsewhere….if I haven’t already done so. I don’t accept that the evidence for the phenomena you believe in is remotely adequate. You seem to. My advice is that supporters of “mystical” phenomenon need to spend more time doing great science and less time complaining about how unfair it all is.

Scientists get their own ideas hammered enough by fellow scientists to have any real sympathy for such complaints.

Thanks for the conversation!

Ron_C's avatar

I believe that I am a true skeptic. The only way to prove UFO’s to me is for one to land in my backyard and for them to take me on a sight-seeing tour of the galaxy. For me to believe in Christ, he’d have to appear to me and show me his marks. Further, he’d have to perform some miracles like curing my dog’s arthritis, and change ordinary tap water into some really good wine. Even after that I wouldn’t believe he was god, just a cool friend that does some extraordinary magic tricks. Think I would have to see him, after I died, and be escorted to heaven for me to really believe Jesus is a god.

fredTOG's avatar

@Ron_C I am with you on that.

ETpro's avatar

@Ron_C & @fredTOG Hear, hear. But I am persuaded that if the true creator of this entire Universe were to appear to any of us with the intent of proving to us that S/He is the creator, we could be persuaded.

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