Monday, 15 March 2010

Do I have evidence that Chiropractic is the cause of AIDS?

In an earlier post I argued that the unit of evaluation/quantification of evidence is “all”. Now I turn my attention to its classification as evidence.

In the appeal the BCA's lawyer, Ms. Rogers, said:

(I)f Dr Singh had said "There is no reliable evidence", that is again a very different matter. Of course he could have said "There is no evidence that I think is reliable", but let us go a step further: that there is no reliable evidence. Again, it is very doubtful whether we would be here at all, because it would then be apparent -- if it had said "There is no reliable evidence", "The evidence is not good enough", or "There is no sufficient evidence", or something of that kind -- that that would be the kind of proposition which manifestly signals to the reader that we are in the land of debate and we are in the land of opinion. But, contrary, if we are into the land of "There is nothing". That is what "not a jot" means. It is not a figure of speech: "There is nothing".
From Jack of Kent's blog, Jack got it from Marten Walsh Cherer Ltd.

Ms. Rogers is here drawing a distinction between evaluating evidence and classifying something as evidence. Classifying evidence determines whether or not it is evidence, evaluating evidence grades it once its existence has been established. The distinction is usually cogent. I might give Liverpool FC, mash potato and lager an extremely poor evaluation. This would be a judgement on my part. They would still though have a classification. Liverpool FC are a football team, mashed potato is food and lager is a drink. This is a cold, hard, fact. So Ms. Rogers here puts forward the arguement that even if Simon Singh has given evidence for Chiropratic as an effective treatment for colic, asthma etc. a very low evaluation it is still evidence. Judge it as he may it is simply a fact that the evidence exists. In a way the bad evaluation ensures the classification: surely, it can’t be unreliable evidence unless it is evidence?

Well there is a way. What is a football team, what is food and what is drink? A football team is a team that plays football. Food is a substance that nourishes. Drink is something that can be drunk. You cannot have a football team that does not play football, food that does not nourish and drink that cannot be drunk. You can have a football team that rarely plays football, food that has little nourishment and drink that we call ”undrinkable”. You can’t have non-playing-football-teams, non-nourishing-food and actually-undrinkable drink. If evidence were "stuff that you rely on" then "reliable evidence" would be akin to "nourishing food". "Unreliable evidence" could not be classed as evidence.

Ms. Rogers position on “unreliable evidence” appears to be akin to “horrible food”. Being reliable is a lot like being tasty. Its very important to be reliable/tasty and the more tasty/reliable it is the better. But even if it fails to be reliable/tasty it still is evidence/food even if it may be quite appalling evidence/food.

The question is invited: if "evidence" is not "stuff that you rely on" then what is it? I think that anything other than reliability would either:

1. Establish that I had evidence for "Chiropractic is the cause of AIDS" (or could "knock it up" pretty quick) or
2. Remove the classification of "evidence" from most of what we do claim to be evidence.

This is because every facet of evidence that is universal across evidence, other than relaibility, I can get for "Chiropractic causes AIDS". Pick one and I can get it. Pick one I can't get and there are other things that are clearly evidence that do not have it.

Evidence is claimed to support. I can claim that a pint of beer is evidence that Chiropractic causes AIDS. Evidence is believed to support. I can't believe the beer is evidence, but I may be able to find someone suffering from a mental illness who could. Evidence is the fulfilment of a prediction of a theory. "Chiropractic is the cause of AIDS" predicts that AIDS would have arisen after Chiroractic. AIDS did arise after Chiropractic. Pathetic evidence but, if evidence is the fulfilment of a prediction it is evidence. (If you want to play about with the Raven Paradox you can generate as many fulfilled predictions as you like).

Now I won't get my theory published in Pub Med, I won't get my theory published in any respected journal: but every criminal now in prison was convicted on the basis of "evidence" that never saw journal publication. Of course all that evidence in court was at least reviewed. But it was evidence before it was reviewed, and I can surely get people to review my evidence (nb it doesn't have to be favourably reviewed, the BCA's evidence certainly wasn't.) And on it goes. Food is used to nourish you, and so that is what it is. Evidence is used to help conclude epistemological decisions, to rely on in deciding what to accept, and so that is what it is.

So there we have Ms. Rogers' problem. She wants to split the factual question of whether there exists evidence or not from the judgement of whether that evidence is any good but it is the judgement of the reliability of evidence that establishes (or otherwise) the fact of it being evidence.

As I argued earlier that judgement must be on the totality of the evidence. A reasonable judgement on that evidence is that it is totally unreliable. Anyone making that judgement is forced to assent to the factual assertion that it is not evidence.

(As a little aside consider further what is being said by Ms. Rogers on behalf of the BCA: “it is very doubtful whether we would be here at all”. It’s not clear where “here” is. If it’s “in the court of appeal” then I don’t think the statement can be right. The appeal was, in part, about “bogus” and “happily”. Clearing up “not a jot” would not have cleared up the “bogus” and “happily” questions. Does Ms. Rogers mean “in a case for libel” by “here”? If so then it’s an astonishing admission: that it would not have been libellous (or, at least, not worth suing) on the accusation that the BCA had knowingly promoted treatments with insufficient evidence, with evidence that was not good enough or, even, with absolutely no reliable evidence what-so-ever!)