Skeptico: Lack critical thinking, go to jail

Skeptico: Lack critical thinking, go to jail
Ok Skeptico,
It’s time to admit you were wrong.
Otherwise this discussion is going to bring the whole idea of skepticism and critical thinking into disrepute.

Yes the expert, the defence lawyer, the jury, the judge, and the law were all incompetent in their own various ways and the women should all have been found not guilty in their original trials.
And yes, their original convictions were unfair and that’s a bad thing about which we should all feel angry.


Our emotional reaction to that particular set of examples should not be used to try to add weight to a basically fallacious argument.

In fact the statement that you claim to be disproving is logically unassailable and your argument against it is totally bogus.

Let’s look again at what Sherlock Holmes is alleged to have said: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”

You challenge this by identifying an example where *none* of the conditions of Holmes’ alleged thesis apply.

1 What was “eliminated” in the trials was not “the impossible” but just the merely improbable. (That the estimate of improbability was obtained by multiplying suspect probabilities of manifestly non-independent events is only a small part of what was wrong with that analysis, but that issue is of course irrelevant to the point under discussion(as is also the fact that exactly the same argument could have been used by the defense to prove the “impossibility” of the mothers being guilty!))

2 “Whatever remains” after eliminating SIDS (if in fact that had been done) would have been “anything but SIDS” and certainly not just “murder”. It is not Mr. Holmes’ fault that everyone involved lacked the imagination to consider the possibility that the children had been, for example, bitten by poisonous amazonian spiders (brought into the house in the trousercuffs of their anthropologist uncle whose footprints in the hallway had the unmistakable colour of …)

Of course it is often difficult to come up with an exhaustive list of possibilities (except by using the obvious ploy of negation – though I admit that that would be using logic, which is close to mathematics, which I gather makes you uncomfortable).

But just because it is often difficult to meet Holmes’ criteria in a useful way does not mean that it is never possible.

For example, if a body is found at the bottom of a swimming pool, it is easy to identify an exhaustive set of possibilities regarding the relative times of death and uncovered facial immersion, and the elimination of all but one might usefully establish the actual case.

Science and jurisprudence abound with such legitimate uses of the Holmes’ criterion, and the claim that one (or many) examples of its misuse make it invalid is definitely not an example of good “critical thinking”.


P.S. The value of your posting might be saved by changing “Wrong! – You can never know all other options, and you can never know they are impossible.” to something more appropriate such as “True, but it is often hard to identify all the other options and to show that they are completely impossible.”

One of the signs of a true critical thinking skeptic is a measured use of language. That may seem boring to the young, but with maturity(I am told)it can become just as much fun as shouting till you are blue in the face.

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