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Overwhelming evidence is a bad thing?

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Yes, in certain ways, says mathematician at the University of Adelaide.

What’s hot? What’s not?/Niklas Bildhauer, Wikimedia

From Science Daily:

The old adage that says ‘If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is’ has finally been put to the test — mathematically. A team of researchers has found that overwhelming evidence without a dissenting opinion can in fact weaken the credibility of a case, or point to a failure of the system.

The team put three different scenarios to the test based on mathematical probability: the use of witnesses to confirm the identity of a criminal suspect; the accurate identification of an archaeological find; and the reliability of a cryptographic system.

They found in each case that there was a point at which “too much of a good thing” actually weakened confidence in the result.

“In our first example, we imagine there are 13 witnesses who all confidently identify a criminal suspect after seeing the suspect briefly. But getting a large group of unanimous witnesses in these circumstances is unlikely, according to the laws of probability. It’s more likely the system itself is unreliable,” says Professor Abbott.

“In our scenario, the probability that a suspect is guilty is strong after three positive identifications by witnesses. But our tests showed that the more positive confirmations you have beyond those three, the more it erodes our confidence that this is the right person being identified. More.

File:A small cup of coffee.JPG The number of people who are quite legitimately quite certain probably won’t exceed three under normal circumstances.

But wait… where did we hear the phrase “overwhelming evidence” repeated ad nauseam? Oh yes,

Asix-week trial over the issue yielded “overwhelming evidence” establishing that intelligent design “is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory,” said Jones, a Republican and a churchgoer appointed to the federal bench three years ago.

Well, we’ll see how that plays out, but one wonders if anyone would have predicted that in 2016, the Royal Society would start to get serious about seeing past Darwin.

Lachlan J. Gunn
Lachlan J. Gunn

Lachlan Gunn and his team were using Bayesian analysis.

But see also: Bayes’ supercool theorem promotes “superstition”?

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Here’s the abstract:

Is it possible for a large sequence of measurements or observations, which support a hypothesis, to counterintuitively decrease our confidence? Can unanimous support be too good to be true? The assumption of independence is often made in good faith, however rarely is consideration given to whether a systemic failure has occurred.

Taking this into account can cause certainty in a hypothesis to decrease as the evidence for it becomes apparently stronger. We perform a probabilistic Bayesian analysis of this effect with examples based on (i) archaeological evidence, (ii) weighing of legal evidence, and (iii) cryptographic primality testing.

We find that even with surprisingly low systemic failure rates high confidence is very difficult to achieve and in particular we find that certain analyses of cryptographically-important numerical tests are highly optimistic, underestimating their false-negative rate by as much as a factor of 280. (Public access) – Lachlan J. Gunn, François Chapeau-Blondeau, Mark McDonnell, Bruce Davis, Andrew Allison, Derek Abbott. Too good to be true: when overwhelming evidence fails to convince. Proceedings of the Royal Society A, January 2016

its not overwhelming evidence but HUMANS confidence that there is overwhelming evidence that is the problem. Evidence is never the problem. its humans that are the problem. Its people who shrew up. why not? if great numbers of people were right or accurate at any point then why would they give prizes to the few who had a insight?? This test is more a test of incompetent human investigation and not evidence. Evolution is wrong because of having no biological evidence behind it to justify it as science or right about great things. The evidence presented is all other subjects and hides the biology gap in the evidence. i always ask evos to give their top three, or one, scientific biological favorite evidences for evolution and always they can't do it. Some bring up trivial things that don't do it. it started with Darwin's claim in his book PUT DOWN MY BOOK IF YOU DON"T ALREADY BELIEVE IN LONG AGES REVEALED BY GEOLOGY. Everyone should of put down his hypothesis as founded on geology too much and not biology at all. That was the collective flaw in the logic. Evolutionism fails because of failing scientific methodology after all. IF thinkers skrew this up too (off the record). Robert Byers
"A minority is sometimes right; the majority is always wrong." -- George Bernard Shaw mahuna
I'm not sure what to make of this. It seems to say that you want a LOW signal-to-noise ratio in electronic systems because drops and spurious out of limits data would give you more confidence that the general interpretation of the signal is accurate. And what about Chemistry? Are you looking to get H20 about 30% of the time when you burn H2 in the presence of O2? Or Physics: SOMETIMES gravity works? In the interpretation of artifacts, I think there is a difference between the classification of a new artifact that is part of set related items and a single carved rock found separately that kinda looks like stuff the guys found on a dig 3 years ago. And certainly don't feel MORE confident about the mainstream interpretation of artifacts found in North America after reading Professor Barry Fell's alternate explanations. In most of the cases he mentions, the mainstream guys don't have any explanation at all. mahuna
It's interesting that suspicion aroused by "overwhelming evidence" would bring ID into question but not Darwinism. Laszlo

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