Proving a negative

Discussion in 'Politics, Religion, Social Issues' started by pseudobrit, Mar 29, 2004.

  1. pseudobrit macrumors 68040

    pseudobrit

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    #1
    Emphasis mine.

    Interesting that Rummy, when it's Pakistan, now thinks a negative can't be proved. Only a year ago he demanded that Saddam prove one.

    Talk about a flip-flop. We've given a pass to Pakistan even though they've admitted to selling nuclear technology.

    link
     
  2. skunk macrumors G4

    skunk

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    #2
    I think that unless Pakistan PROVES they didn't do it, you should invade. Self-defence if you ask me.
    Oh, and if the Administration was complicit, invade yourselves, too....(and leave the rest of us alone).
     
  3. IJ Reilly macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #3
    I don't understand why people so often say they can't "prove a negative." Of course they can, and it's done in science routinely. It's called a "null hypothesis."
     
  4. toontra macrumors 6502

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    #4
    "Null hypothesis" sounds like Bush's foreign policy!
     
  5. zimv20 macrumors 601

    zimv20

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    #5
    this is the first i've heard of a major news outlet picking up greg palast's assertion (he wrote the New Yorker article). i'm glad someone's bringing it up, 'cuz it's an utter and complete outrage, if true.
     
  6. skunk macrumors G4

    skunk

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    #6
    Outrage, schmoutrage. I'm in danger of getting "Outrage Fatigue"....
    But seriously, how long can these guys keep this crap up? :mad:
     
  7. bryanc macrumors 6502

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    #7
    Um, not quite...in science, we don't prove hypotheses. We *falsify* hypotheses. What you have to do in order to support an hypothesis is to falsify the null hypothesis.

    However, it is sometimes possible to prove a negative. For example, for organisms whose genome has been sequenced, we can say such-and-such a sequence does not occur in the genome (i.e., we can demonstrate the negative, that mice don't have a CECR-1 gene). Still, unless you know everything about a given realm of possibilities, it is very rare that one can prove a negative using empirical evidence.

    Hope that clarifies.

    Cheers
     
  8. mactastic macrumors 68040

    mactastic

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    #8
    I was wondering about that too, my understanding of the null hypothesis (albeit limited) was that it is not so much proving a negative as it is proving that statistical deviations for a given group of samples are or are not the result of random chance.
     
  9. skunk macrumors G4

    skunk

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    #9
    Well, I'm glad we got THAT cleared up! :)
     
  10. IJ Reilly macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #10
    Rare perhaps, but it is an established principle of deductive reasoning to disprove explanations of a phenomenon in order to arrive at an explanation that might be the true cause.
     
  11. zimv20 macrumors 601

    zimv20

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    #11
    more to the point, it's extremely difficult to prove that you are not in possession of something, and prove that you never said a certain phrase.

    scientifically, one must search all space and review all speech ever uttered by the person, respectively. the burden of proof falls on the accuser.

    in this case, greg palast provided empirical evidence and eyewitness accounts that the pakistanis were "allowed" to evacuate bin laden et. al. i'd expect rumsfeld to discount that evidence, rather than throw up his hands and say it's not possible.

    that he does so lends support to palast's claims, imo
     
  12. IJ Reilly macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #12
    I don't think this is an example of trying to prove a negative so much as it might be trying to prove the impossible or the absurd; i.e., you might find it equally difficult to prove that you did utter a certain phrase.
     
  13. zimv20 macrumors 601

    zimv20

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    #13
    as was mentioned, trying to get saddam to prove he had no WMD

    could be, yeah, unless it's been published. or as i am often able to do w/ my pot-smoking friends, is get them to remember something i said by reminding them of where we were and what we were doing, or even what we were talking about to lead up to it. always makes me laugh to see that expression of recognition.

    of course, it's wholly different when the party is trying really hard to *not* remember...
     
  14. mactastic macrumors 68040

    mactastic

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    #14
    It's like the cops or prosecutor asking you to prove you didn't commit the crime they are charging you with. In that situation an absence of evidence either way will convict you. Your odds of conviction go up if the cops are cherry-picking from what evidence does exist, or outright lying.

    Somehow I don't think Dubya, or the right wing, would find it a fair proposition to prove they didn't lie to the country about the war intelligence. I'm sure their response would be that someone needs to prove their guilt instead.
     

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