The Burden of Proof

You must ask people to prove a claim before they insist you disprove it

June 14, 2021

I guess I'm getting myself on the topic of Linux YouTubers who I rarely think are worth listening to and Derek Taylor falls on that list as well as Lunduke, the videos he makes that aren't related to Linux are the ones I'm most likely to pay attention to. Today he made one of those on the topic of critical thinking. In it he referenced an article that he read back in 1990 titled A Field Guide to Critical Thinking by James Lett.

I decided to take the time to read the article and it I do think it is worth reading but I do not fully endorse it because it works under the assumption that the scientific method is the only method for which a person can learn truth even when applied correctly (it is good for many things but not all things). I'm not going to spend the time to summarize the article and comment on everything about it because It isn't interesting enough for me to do that. Instead I just want to want to focus in on one point, one that I meant to write about a few months ago.

In Lett's last section before he makes his conclusion he states that when it comes to any claim, especially crazy ones, that the burden of proof lies upon the one making the claim. People and concepts are to be treated innocent until proven guilty. You should not find yourself playing defense until you have failed at playing offense. When debating people it is often incredibly tempting to disprove every point your opponent makes but if you do that before they've given their proof then you've already lost, it is quite possible that they had no good proof at all and by failing to grill them on that you lose your golden opportunity to show that your opponent is a fool.

This is a strategy that I learned from Louis Rossmann who owns and runs a computer repair shop in New York City and has become heavily involved in the right to repair movement. A few months ago he made a video that taught this same point. He talked about how probably dozens of times throughout his career he has found himself in front of a group of policymakers at a hearing and been asked by an opposing lobbyist to prove that repairing a cell phone is safe and almost every time that is exactly what he'd do, heck he'd even show videos of children doing repairs on phones and that the work of an independent repair shop posed almost no danger to a consumer.

After years of doing it Rossmann realized that his strategy was wrong and he was falling into a trap. The point that his opponents were trying to make was that we should not be allowed to have unauthorized persons (including ourselves) repair our devices because making those repairs are dangerous to you and the person making the repair. What Rossmann should be doing is asking them to provide evidence of that. Do they have a case of a phone blowing up in the hand of a consumer after having it repaired at an independent shop? Can they argue that repairing your own phone is unsafe when compared to jumping a car? We live in a world where it is perfectly legal for the average person with no training can walk into an auto parts store, buy brake calipers and put them on their own car where a failure in that system could cause a 50 car pile up killing 100 people, how is this okay but replacing the battery on your own phone isn't?

Another claim that is made by anti-right to repair lobbyists like to make is that unauthorized repair people could steal your data and leak your private information to the world yet they can provide no instance of this happening while there are multiple account's of Apple's own authorized technicians doing this.

Whenever we enter a debate we should always be prepared to show others how researched and smart we are, but we can't jump on our first opportunity to do that. We have to let our opponents have the opportunity to make a fool of themselves first, if they have no good arguments you might not even need to try that hard. Never accept claims without evidence and don't let other people do it either.