What is Evidence?

In a series of meetings related to epistemic concepts, this week let us talk about another important scientific concept to which many make appeals, but how many well understand it?  

What is the nature of "evidence"?  Often these days one hears talk of "reason" and "science" as holding "degrees of belief in accord with the available evidence" etc.  Just what do they mean?  

How does the institution of "science" use this concept?  

My current favorite is as follows, we can use this as a jumping off point, if you have another please bring it up!  

Evidence: A piece of information/data whose presence or absence effects the likelihood of a hypothesis.  

With this definition we see a "relativist" conception, that evidence is evidence only in relation to a particular hypothesis.  Any data point may or may not be evidence at any time, given some community's treatment of it as relevant to a hypothesis.  What do you all think?  

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  • Aileen

    Just wanted to RSVP for next meeting for Michael and I as I have a flu
    and don't want to give it to anyone else (although I don't have any evidence I have a flu, just symptoms (!). We really enjoyed last discussion.

    November 7, 2013

  • Steve S.

    I'm still left with one question: What is Evidence?

    November 6, 2013

  • Dave D.

    So evidence affects (I presume, rather than effects?) the likelihood of (the correctness of) a hypothesis. Is there also a likelihood associated with the evidence being what it seems (e.g. via senses, another hypothesis), or is that built into the other likelihood somehow -- i.e. Is my hearing of evidence just evidence of evidence?

    I have now heard of evidence of neutrinos traveling faster than light, and of distance healing (sort of). If/when there is enough contrary information/data, do these then cease to become evidence?

    If a hypothesis is a prediction of results under given conditions, then must evidence include information/data about both the initial conditions (or inputs) and results, to test it? For example, it seems that most evidence of supernatural effects consists of just weird results, with the implication that no initial conditions or inputs to any existing or possible natural hypotheses could result in them.

    November 4, 2013

    • Steve S.

      Perfect - only philosophy could provide 3 evidences in 1 short sentence. Can you hear unsound evidence? BTW it appears from the psi literature that all supernatural effects can can be explained by quantum mechanics.

      November 5, 2013

  • Steve S.

    Harland wrote: "Evidence: A piece of information/data whose presence or absence effects the likelihood of a hypothesis." I would like to make a Harlandesque amendment - insert "perceived" before likelihood.

    And remember Popper's example of data confirming a hypothesis, yet providing belief for its negation.

    1 · November 4, 2013

    • Harland

      Thanks Steve, I do indeed like this amendment.

      November 4, 2013

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