Research Papers


The Quality of Your Evidence

Your conclusion is only as good as the quality of your evidence. Let's say, for example, that your crazy Aunt Martha is an anti-vaxxer (a person who thinks that vaccines are harmful). At Thanksgiving dinner, she warns everyone at the table about the dangers of giving vaccines to children.

You challenge her: "Aunt Martha, what is your evidence that vaccines cause harm?"

She tells you: "I know it's true, because I read it on the internet. Someone said that her best friend's kid got sick after getting a vaccine."

Okay . . . your aunt is not entirely wrong. She has indeed provided you with evidence. It's just that "I read in on the internet," is not very good evidence, at least not compared to the many scientific studies that have proved, again and again, that most vaccines are safe.

For a serious academic essay, you need to pay attention to the quality of your evidence, or you'll be ridiculed by people who want to challenge your thesis.

But sometimes—just as an exercise—it's fun to argue a thesis that you don't really believe in. For example, what if I asked you to prove this thesis:

Would you be able to prove it?

It's going to be hard to find "good" evidence that vampires really exist, so you'll have to resort to the type of junk evidence that people post on the internet.

Or how about if I asked you to prove:

That would be even harder to prove. However, a skilled lawyer might actually succeed in convincing a jury that this statement is true.

So, think like a lawyer. Your job is to put on the best case for your client, regardless of whether you client is actually innocent.

But remember: Evidence consists of the words that other people say. It's not enough to write, in your paper: "I think Trump is an alien because he has orange skin." That's not evidence; that's your personal opinion.

However, if you can find someone else who believes that Trump is an alien from outer space, that does count as evidence—as long as you cite this source properly.

Instructions for the Quiz

Answer the questions.