This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

Comment

← Anecdote vs. fact

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Jump to comment 24 by Schrodinger's Cat

Comment 20 by Graxan

I think there is some obvious value to the anecdote as it seems that many of these will contain truthful information, but as I mentioned originally it bothers me that if this is a naturally developed method of passing information along then why does it allow for such massive errors?

I think we need to get rid of the term 'reliable witness', and remove the predisposition to things being 'more believable' just because the witness may have been a policeman, or a military man, or even a scientist.

A classic case that demonstrates just how an entire group of 'reliable' people can get it very wrong is the infamous Rendlesham Forest UFO case. There we had trained military men, generals, etc......people in charge of the nuclear defence of the UK....confuse a local lighthouse for an alien visitation. Many were initially taken in by the story ( and alas some still are ) on the basis of just how 'reliable and professional' the witnesses were. Yet the science journalist Ian Ridpath almost single handedly completely demolished the story and to all extents and purposes proved that all the fuss was over a lighthouse.

I myself was not 100% sure about the case, until I read Ridpath's excellent step by step refutal of the story. The 'reliable witnesses' were in fact not reliable at all. It turns out that the general in charge was not even sure which of two adjacent bases he was on ! He even got the date of the event wrong in his written report. And so on. The whole case is a superb example of how even the most 'reliable' of people can screw up.

Wed, 21 Sep 2011 11:18:10 UTC | #873497