In terms of most topics evidence emerges from available facts or data that corroborate its existence and whether or not it is valid. Our society appears to have become obsessed with evidence – so what is evidence?

Social media has opened up a wealth of opportunity for debate in recent years. From science and politics to medicine and climate change, nothing escapes scrutiny.  If somebody tweets an opinion or states a fact, the response is often “Evidence?”

Scientists, politicians and doctors use expressions such as “there is no evidence to suggest……..” or “the evidence confirms………..”

However evidence is far from straightforward.  For example, there may be no evidence to suggest that the world is going to end tomorrow. But it doesn’t mean that it won’t. Perhaps the evidence hasn’t yet been found to suggest that it will.

What is evidence related to research?

Looking at research, which used to be beyond reproach, now there are factors at play which makes some research dubious.  We need to look at who paid for the research and if there would be some benefit in coming to a specific conclusion. It’s likely that a company seeking to sell its products might fund research that showed those products were better than a competitor’s.

Over many years, scientists told us that butter was bad for us. This caused thousands of people to switch from butter to spreads made from vegetable oils. Studies that had been carried out revealed ‘evidence’ that butter contributed to heart disease. In 2017 we learned from other scientific research that butter was actually better for us than spreads made from vegetable oils.  Hence the evidence produced years ago was flawed and new evidence ‘proves’ it. So one might ask the question “who funded the research stating that vegetable oil products were better for our health?” Or we might conclude that our knowledge has improved during the past decade.

And then there is the research that relies on interviewing 1-2000 people.  As a result we see headlines claiming that more than 60% of people prefer red wine to white.  In reality 60% of the 1-2000 people interviewed preferred red wine, not the entire population.

Sometimes we will be told that no evidence exists to suggest something.  This could easily mean that no research has been done on a particular matter, therefore no evidence will exist. If research had been done perhaps there would be some evidence.  We should not accept the lack of evidence as proof of anything until we find out whether there has been any research or investigation into it.

Brexit – leave or remain?

In the Brexit debate between Remain and Leave, Remainers often ask where the evidence is that leaving the EU will be better for Britain.  There is no evidence, only speculation, since Britain has never left the EU.  Indeed no country has ever left the EU so there is nothing to compare it with.

 How lie detector tests contribute to evidence

In determining the presence or lack of deception lie detector tests focus on the physiological responses to questions asked of a subject.  Polygraph technology records changes in those responses when a person lies.  Blood pressure, heart rate and perspiration are some of the functions that may spike as a result of dishonesty.

Used in criminology, the polygraph provides part of the evidence that may lead to a conviction.  It won’t be used in court but will often lead an investigation in directions that might not have been considered by detectives.

So when we consider what is evidence and what isn’t, it’s made up of facts not speculation.  There is no speculation with lie detector tests.  Questions are asked by polygraph examiners that mainly require ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers.  In this way the path to finding the truth is infinitely more efficient than any other method available today.

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