Evidence-Based Fetish

I often remark that the fashion of demanding “show me the evidence” is really just a fetish.

Another adage many bandy about is “correlation is not causation“.

The point is evidence is neither causation nor necessarily a relevant fact either.

Causation is understanding of relevant processes and applicability of relevant evidence, if any. Where there is no direct evidence, life must nevertheless go on making decisions. In the grey areas between the two, a good correlation to aim for is the position of trusted authoritative experts and meta-experts in aspects of related topics. But that’s not as snappy as either of the other two catchphrases.

The most recent example is those damned Finnish cardboard baby-boxes. If there ever were any correlation, it would surely be caused by the common evidence that people who care enough about potential cot-death of their offspring care enough to explore available choices. It’s the care that is the common cause. Thought we’d kicked the cardboard boxes into the long-grass 5 years ago?

Talking of care, what about trust and respect? As well as the disrespectful spat between @WMaryBeard and @NNTaleb over each other’s credentials and evidence, contrasted with Papineau vs Dennett exchange (previous post), I noticed these two pieces on the significance of evidence and trust. Another fetish I constantly call out is the demand for transparency, as if everyone has the right to know anything and therefore the right to see everything. A, it’s not true, see understanding and applicability above. and B, transparency reduces trust in the authority of any source. The Transparency Trap and Game Theory Without Trust.

Need to know” is a good adage too.


Also published on Medium.

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