Lawyer and former FBI agent Asha Rangappa made a noteworthy description “for disentangling truth from fiction” in her Jan. 10 article. While the piece competently addressed events in the political spectrum, Rangappa's three-step series of questions could be aptly applied to any area of interest:
1. What is the evidence for your claim?
2. What is the source of evidence for this claim?
3. What is the reasoning that links your evidence back to the claim?
We should indeed be asking ourselves such questions as we scroll through social media, browse endless articles on one hyped topic or another, or view intelligence-insulting cable television shows shamelessly presented as serious scientific inquiry. We should simply not be granting our time and attention to writers and reporters who avert from the questions posed by Rangappa.
As a wise individual once suggested, we can argue hearsay all day, but facts are quickly established if access is granted to the evidence. The third question above, how the evidence is linked to the claim, is particularly relevant in that context.
“Evidence” may, in itself, be subjective and most anything. The student's lack of turning in their homework assignment is evidence of a mischievous dog. It's just not strong evidence.
The source of the evidence, in that scenario, is the student said so: the student who has a social incentive to deflect responsibility for the missing homework assignment. Therefore, the reasoning that links the evidence back to the claim might be considered shaky at best. The fact that is quickly established in this particular instance is the student is unable to produce a conclusive explanation for why the assignment was not completed.
Sometimes evidence may be a bit more intriguing. Authentic videos are evidence of what is captured in the recorded footage. In such a scenario, the second question listed above, about the source of the evidence, becomes important. How difficult is it to find the original source and verify a chain of custody? How much is the source being obstructed by people who seem to have an interest in outcomes of investigations and swaying public opinion?
These questions are relevant, but in a manner of speaking, may at times even serve as red herrings and lend the video unearned significance in light of question number three. If interpretation is subjective and inconclusive of what is portrayed in the video, many questions become relatively moot. We're ultimately arguing opinions, whether or not all parties recognize that's the case.
The fact-finding process is unforgiving and unambiguous. Beware those who try to massage and contort it. There really can be only two fundamental reasons people avert from respecting universally recognized standards of evidence: they either don't understand them or they're trying to take advantage of those who don't. It's never a good thing if someone's best argument for why they keep demanding you accept unverified claims is they don't know any better.