Burden tennis

Burden tennis is an intellectual parlor game, wherein the players “hit” the “burden of proof” across the net from one side to the other.  We see this expressed as “the burden is in your court” or “the burden of proof is yours”, with often both sides making similar statements.

Burden tennis can be a fun game to watch, but it is sometimes wiser to avoid being a participant.

Note:  I did not invent the term “burden tennis”.  I saw that being used on the net somewhere many years ago.  But it seems like a good term.

This post is really a reply to Patrick’s post in the moderation thread.  I’ve started a new thread, because the discussion really doesn’t belong there.

As far as I know, the expression “burden of proof” comes from law.  With the assumption that the defendent is innocent until the charges are proved, the burden of proof is initially with the prosecution.

Even in courts, the standard of evidence is “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” for criminal trials, and “the preponderance of evidence” for civil trials.  Both of those standards fall short of “demonstrated fact”.  And both are ambiguous in meaning and ultimately up to the subjective judgment of the jurors.

I largely agree with hotshoe_ about this.  The frequent demand for facts sometimes gets out of hand.

If I had required factual evidence for everything that my school teachers said, I would never have graduated out of kindergarten.  The demand for evidence seems to come from the idea that “knowledge is justified true belief.”  I see that as an absurd definition of knowledge.  Children do learn from stories such as “Little Red Riding Hood” even though they know it is fiction.  They aren’t learning facts.  They are learning ways of interacting with other people and with the external world.

If I open a newspaper (either print or online), I may come across a sudoku puzzle and a crossword puzzle.  Solving the sudoku puzzle is completely a matter of facts and logical reasoning.  But solving a crossword puzzle has very little to do with facts.  The clues are often ambiguous, and deliberately so.  We never know if we have the correct answer to a specific clue, where “correct” means “intended by the puzzle author.”  But, when we are done, we see that all of the answers fit together in such a way that it is highly likely that we have the correct solution.

In what follows, I’ll use the terms “sudoku evidence” and “crossword evidence”.

Sudoku evidence: demonstrated facts that lead to a logical conclusion.

Crossword evidence: things all fit together in such a way that the conclusion seems highly likely (or “consilience”).

When I deny that “knowledge = justified true belief”, I’m really suggesting that the bulk of our knowledge is in the form of a wealth of causal connections into the world such as would allow us to make good decisions based on crossword evidence.

Most of what we do and learn in life depends on crossword evidence, rather than sudoku evidence.  At this forum, we sometimes see Frankie/JoeG asserting that there is no evidence for evolution.  Presumably he is talking about sudoku evidence, and he might be right about that.  But there’s a wealth of crossword evidence.

So, back to the burden of proof.

My own view is that the burden of proof lies with the one who wants to persuade others.  When hotshoe_ says “Now I accept that as a consequence you may choose not to believe that I have stated a fact” she is saying that she is not particularly concerned whether others are persuaded.  So, on my view, there is no burden of proof.  And if others do not accept what she said, there is no burden of proof on them either.  There can be a lot of useful and informative discussion without playing burden tennis.  And most of our decision making in ordinary life is based on crossword evidence.  Likewise, science is very much dependent on crossword evidence.  Mathematics mostly depends on sudoku evidence.  However, setting up a new and useful axiom system can depend on crossword evidence.

Open for discussion.

802 thoughts on “Burden tennis

  1. hotshoe_:
    Because everyone knows YOU are the one paying for the server at TSZ just like you’re paying for that hypothetical big shindig, and therefore of course you should control what goes on the “invitation”.

    Oh wait, you mean, you were just trying to do Lizzie a big favor by writing down what should go on HER invitations?

    Yeah, I’m sure she needs that!

    Everyone here is free to make suggestions to the site owner.

  2. keiths:
    Pretty much everyone at TSZ seems to understand that

    a) it’s better to be honest than dishonest;

    b) it’s better to be intelligent than stupid;

    c) it’s better to make substantive arguments than it is to engage in baseless emoting;

    d) it’s better to think before posting rather than blurting things out in the heat of the moment and being unable to back them up later; and

    e) it’s better to be someone who can and will support his or her claims than it is to continually evade that responsibility.

    With the exception of (b) (people don’t have control over that), this list would make an excellent addition to the rewritten rules. I hope Lizzie incorporates it.

  3. hotshoe_: But you feel like you’re going to vomit if you have to see him standing there a minute longer, happy as a clam, not suffering any social sanction whatsoever for his transgression. Why, he’s anathema!!!

    LMAO

  4. DNA_Jock:
    I think it will make it easier for the polite guests to come to their private conclusion that the brother-in-law is an asshole.

    I’d like to hope that it would also reduce the motivation for the groom, say, to publicly and repeatedly berate him for being an asshole, because that would be rather dickish on his part. Hey, a guy can hope, right?

    Well put. It’s about encouraging change, not mandating it.

  5. keiths: It’s a deadly combination: you make a lot of mistakes, and you find it excruciatingly painful to acknowledge them. It’s no wonder you’ve been so consistently unhappy about skepticism at The Skeptical Zone.

    If the goal is to get people to acknowledge failures let’s be sure to get that in writing as well. I can’t wait to see Patrick and DNA_Jock and keiths admit their failure when this is all said and done. Heck, from where many of us sit, it’s already a failure. Fess up boys!

  6. Patrick: keiths:
    Pretty much everyone at TSZ seems to understand that

    a) it’s better to be honest than dishonest;

    b) it’s better to be intelligent than stupid;

    c) it’s better to make substantive arguments than it is to engage in baseless emoting;

    d) it’s better to think before posting rather than blurting things out in the heat of the moment and being unable to back them up later; and

    e) it’s better to be someone who can and will support his or her claims than it is to continually evade that responsibility.

    I’m curious, Jock: Do you join your brethren here in wanting those added to the “Expectations” too?

    BTW, as Patrick has indicated that we’re all free to contact the site owner, I hope somebody will PM her the entire contents of this thread, so that she may make her decision after hearing all sides of the issue, rather than looking at one sanctimonious email.

  7. keiths: You need to come to grips with the fact that this is The Skeptical Zone, not Alan’s Safe Space.

    And H20 is water. Right?

    I know this place is called “The Skeptical Zone” but I dispute the claim that IT IS THE SKEPTICAL ZONE. For that I require evidence, and reasoning. Perhaps one of you faux-skeptics could start on OP on Skepticism.

    iirc, Skepticism has to do with doubt about the possibility of knowledge. Demands to have claims supported and demands for evidence sort of defeat the purpose.

  8. walto: So, by my count, my side is winning!! Let’s keep the votes coming in!

    How many times can I vote?

  9. Patrick: Well put.It’s about encouraging change, not mandating it.

    Hah. You only stopped plumping for a rule on this matter a couple a days ago–after hotshoe complained, IIRC. And of course, now you want a specific assertion in there about how people who don’t look at the world precisely the way you do are worse people than you are. You and keith (and Jock?) are BETTER.

    Nice way to encourage. I hope you don’t have kids.

  10. Patrick: Skepticism is required to achieve the goals of this site.

    And the goal of this site is OBJECTIVE TRUTH! Even better, ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY!

    How is our collective group-think skepticism going to help us arrive at whether or not that is a worthwhile or even attainable goal?

  11. hotshoe,
    I encourage you to read the Rules page. Lizzie is quite willing to take suggestions from participants here and, if she finds them useful, incorporate them.
    😉
    Lizzie’s site, Lizzie’s rules.

  12. Patrick:

    Well put.It’s about encouraging change, not mandating it.

    walto:

    Hah. You only stopped plumping for a rule on this matter a couple a days ago–after hotshoe complained, IIRC.

    Where did Patrick propose a mandatory rule? Link(s), please.

  13. walto: I’m curious, Jock: Do you join your brethren here in wanting those added to the “Expectations” too?

    Well, with the previously noted caveat about (b), I think those beatitudes go without saying.

    BTW, as Patrick has indicated that we’re all free to contact the site owner, I hope somebody will PM her the entire contents of this thread, so that she may make her decision after hearing all sides of the issue, rather than looking at one sanctimonious email.

    What has she she ever done to deserve that?
    If, OTOH, you could marshal your arguments in a succinct, preferably snark-free, manner, then I am sure she would give them a fair hearing.
    She’s pretty kick-ass in that regard.

  14. Patrick: Everyone here is free to make suggestions to the site owner.

    But not everyone has enough unjustified self-importance to believe that they should do so.

  15. I’m waiting for the list from keiths on how to make himself better rather than what other people need to do to make themselves better.

    But shouldn’t we at least start with the ten commandments? They have lasted a long long time.

  16. Perhaps we can have morning and evening prayers too?

    I mean, when it comes to making others better, religious folks have lots to say on the matter. The more religious the site the better it is bound to be. Right?

  17. Mung:
    Perhaps we can have morning and evening prayers too?

    I mean, when it comes to making others better, religious folks have lots to say on the matter. The more religious the site the better it is bound to be. Right?

    Hahah. Patrick and DNA_Jock aren’t going to get that, Mung.

    You could make your point more explicit.

    Never mind, making it more explicit won’t sink in to those self-anointed “skeptics” anyways.

  18. DNA_Jock: Well, with the previously noted caveat about (b), I think those beatitudes go without saying.

    Yes, in fact, I’d go farther and say they’re considerably better off unsaid. Nobody (except maybe keiths, I don’t know) goes around prefacing all of his or her remarks with “Just so you know, I prefer truth tellers to liars and people of substance to emoters: OK go ahead and say what you want now.”

    I mean, really. Is there no amount of sanctimony and self-puffery that’s too much around here?

  19. hotshoe_: Hahah.Patrick and DNA_Jock aren’t going to get that, Mung.

    You could make your point more explicit.

    Never mind, making it more explicit won’t sink in to those self-anointed “skeptics” anyways.

    Four legs good. Two legs better!

  20. DNA_Jock: If, OTOH, you could marshal your arguments in a succinct, preferably snark-free, manner, then I am sure she would give them a fair hearing.

    I don’t think I could make it succinct, even if I succeeded in going snark-free. There’s a lot to be said that has been said on this thread, and I think some of it is very interesting (petrushka’s disdain notwithstanding) even eloquent. It might take a while to read it all, but I think it would be worth it.

  21. walto: Four legs good. Two legs better!

    Oh dear gods, yes. I don’t know whether to cheer you or cry.

    Those who wish to pretend that this whole argle-bargle is just about what we should be “willing” to see written on our “wedding invitations” …

    have neither the decent manners nor the common sense nor the perspective of history to be trusted in anything.

  22. hotshoe_:

    Everyone here is free to make suggestions to the site owner.

    But not everyone has enough unjustified self-importance to believe that they should do so.

    Come now, I’m sure it doesn’t take any more unjustified self-importance than judging others for doing so.

  23. keiths:
    Patrick:

    walto:

    Where did Patrick propose a mandatory rule?Link(s), please.

    What’s a “mandatory rule”?

  24. Patrick: But not everyone has enough unjustified self-importance to believe that they should do so.

    Come now, I’m sure it doesn’t take any more unjustified self-importance than judging others for doing so.

    You know Patrick’s fave saying, hotshoe: “Judge not, that ye be judged.”

  25. I think I am going to make up my own set of “it’s morally better” rules…

    Here’s my first go:

    a) it’s morally better to not get caught being dishonest, and if you do get caught to have an at least somewhat plausible excuse about how you’re not actually being dishonest, but if you get really desperate you can claim to have been misunderstood and blame the misunderstanding on your accuser. mo bettah

  26. Patrick: Well put. It’s about encouraging change, not mandating it.

    You mean change for the better. ‘Cause we’re all about morality and all. Is there any evidence that this proposed change will actually make us all better?

    Will you three be posting testimonials about how “being skeptical” has made you all better persons?

  27. walto:

    Patrick:

    [hotshoe said] But not everyone has enough unjustified self-importance to believe that they should do so.

    Come now, I’m sure it doesn’t take any more unjustified self-importance than judging others for doing so.

    You know Patrick’s fave saying, hotshoe: “Judge not, that ye be judged.”

    Oh, don’t you just love Patrick’s pompous ass “Come, now, I’m sure … ”

    Come, come, children, listen to Bishop Patrick. Don’t talk back!

    And if he judges you, it’s only because you’ve been very naughty children indeed.

    Brother keiths will be forced to hit you with his ruler again.

    And you’ll be sorry then, won’t you. So do be quiet, children!

  28. Hotshoe sure doesn’t like what she sees in that mirror. Stop holding it in front of her, Patrick!

  29. hotshoe_: Come now, I’m sure it doesn’t take any more unjustified self-importance than judging others for doing so.

    You know Patrick’s fave saying, hotshoe: “Judge not, that ye be judged.”

    Oh, don’t you just love Patrick’s pompous ass “Come, now, I’m sure … ”

    Come, come, children, listen to Bishop Patrick.Don’t talk back!

    And if he judges you, it’s only because you’ve been very naughty children indeed.

    Brother keiths will be forced to hit you with his ruler again.

    And you’ll be sorry then, won’t you.So do be quiet, children!

    For some reason I always get this picture of a rotund fellow who often blurts out, ‘Oho!’ at inappropriate times. No idea why.

  30. The programme of becoming happy, which the pleasure principe imposes on us, cannot be fulfilled; yet we must not – indeed, we cannot – give up our efforts to bring it nearer to fulfillment by some means or other.

    – Sigmund Freud

    Struggle on boys, if you must, but the rest of us are not responsible for your happiness.

  31. According to preference utilitarianism, an action contrary to the preference of any being is, unless this preference is outweighed by contrary preferences, wrong.

    – Peter Singer

    How much does my preference weigh in this particular scheme that’s underway?

  32. Man’s highest joy is in victory: to conquer one’s enemies, to pursue them, to deprive them of their possessions, to make their beloved weep, to ride on their horses, and to embrace their wives and daughters.

    – Genghis Khan

    Wouldn’t you guys rather be out conquering elsewhere? I have no horses, I swear it.

  33. Ethical truths are not written into the fabric of the universe.

    – Peter Singer

    That’s why we have the internet.

    – Mung

  34. First they told us how we ought to act (even though “there is no objective moral obligation to answer questions”), now they want to tell us how to think. It’s for the good of us all.

  35. keiths:
    a) it’s better to …
    b) it’s better to …
    c) it’s better to …
    d) it’s better to …
    e) it’s better to …

    So much, in that little word, better. Surely it implies an objective standard toward which something is moving.

    Good, better, best. Never let it rest. ‘Til your good is better and your better is best.

    – St. Jerome

    Are we going to be making TSZ into the bestest skeptical site on the net?

  36. A serious suggestion!

    I really like the idea of everyone setting out their own version of rules. Anyone who has a good idea to present their best effort at a set of rules (or just a rule they think would work) in as clear, concise and elegant style as is possible. Save it as a PDF and upload to somewhere like Dropbox so Lizzie can read through if and when she has time.

    That way she is not presented with a swathe of problems and arguments on her return. She instead only has to consider solutions. She can take the ready-made set and go with it, modify it or compile from a selection – or ignore everything! I know from recent communications she does not relish the thought of a complete rule rewrite.

    I’m thinking the difference between letting Mom come home to a mess after throwing a wild party while she’s away, compared to making a little effort to clean up before she gets back.

    This is about all I’ll have time for currently so please consider. KTHKSBFN

  37. PS

    Glancing at site statistics, from installing the statistics plugin, towards the end of last year, there was a gently rising trend from around 500 unique daily visits to 600 with a peak of 1400 one day in November. There’s been a gentle decline since then. Yesterday we were down to 210. Just for information.

    “Don’t know what you got till it’s gone!”

  38. Alan,

    Don’t be shy. Tell us what your hypothesis is, how you evaluated the data, and what your conclusions are.

    You might also want to publish the raw data.

  39. Alan Fox:
    A serious suggestion!

    I really like the idea of everyone setting out their own version of rules. Anyone who has a good idea to present their best effort at a set of rules (or just a rule they think would work) in as clear, concise and elegant style as is possible. Save it as a PDF and upload to somewhere like Dropbox so Lizzie can read through if and when she has time.

    That way she is not presented with a swathe of problems and arguments on her return. She instead only has to consider solutions. She can take the ready-made set and go with it, modify it or compile from a selection – or ignore everything! I know from recent communications she does not relish the thought of a complete rule rewrite.

    I’m thinking the difference between letting Mom come home to a mess after throwing a wild party while she’s away, compared to making a little effort to clean up before she gets back.

    This is about all I’ll have time for currently so please consider. KTHKSBFN

    I’ve done that pursuant to a couple of previous rules discussion orgies. Never been much interest in my suggestions, so far as I can tell. I think Lizzie and I must have very different conceptions of what fruitful, rancour-free discussion looks like.

  40. I think decent moderation could take care of both. But the rules don’t accommodate that.

  41. I am a moderator on another site having about the same number of posters. Since we solved the problem of robot registration, mods have nothing to do.

    You cannot force people to have good manners. I did not start the thread on drug prohibition out of the clear blue. It’s a generic comment on the ineffectiveness of prohibition.

    If you seriously wish to reduce the frequency of ill mannered posting, don’t respond to it.

  42. petrushka:
    I am a moderator on another site having about the same number of posters. Since we solved the problem of robot registration, mods have nothing to do.

    You cannot force people to have good manners. I did not start the thread on drug prohibition out of the clear blue. It’s a generic comment on the ineffectiveness of prohibition.

    If you seriously wish to reduce the frequency of ill mannered posting, don’t respond to it.

    You obviously have polite people in your other group. So moderation is unnecessary. Here, there is a culture war with a lot of angry people. So if you want decent confab here, moderation has to be more active. That’s how it works.

  43. walto,

    Here, there is a culture war with a lot of angry people.

    I think dishonesty has been a much worse problem here than anger, though the latter sometimes motivates the former.

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