No, Not Proof, Evidence

What was that I was just saying the other day about people translating ‘evidence’ into ‘proof,’ thinking the two words are interchangeable, just plain confusing the two? You’d think at least science journalists would know the difference, wouldn’t you? Well you’d be wrong, apparently.

Sir Patrick said scientists used peer review “almost exclusively” to publicise findings. But he said researchers could still attract publicity “for highly questionable results even when they offered no evidence that their research had been checked”. This was evident earlier this year when the Raelian sect announced the births of human clones. The only proof the sect’s US-based company Clonaid produced to support its assertion was a photograph of one of the children alleged to have been born in Japan.

See? You’d think it would be obvious, wouldn’t you. The juxtaposition is right there, evidence in one sentence, proof in the next but one. You’d think it would be all the more blindingly obvious given the nature of the example – given the fact that supporting an assertion (and a highly improbable one at that) is precisely the subject at issue. You’d think the writer would notice – that if a photograph of a child hardly qualifies as evidence that said child was cloned, the idea that it’s proof is even more nonsensical, so nonsensical that, hey, wait, I have the wrong word here. But no. No, clearly people really do think the two words are interchangeable, think it so automatically that they don’t even know they think it. But it’s so basic! The difference between the two, and between the claims for the two, is so extremely basic! And yet apparently most people aren’t even aware there’s a difference. Which means that most people don’t have a clue how science and inquiry work. Which is a pretty alarming thought.

2 Responses to “No, Not Proof, Evidence”