Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Byrne-gate and the Fallacy of Negative Proof

Both Labradore and Bond Papers are busily exposing the logical flaws in the Tories' response to Byrne-gate, while Nottawa has made the legal case: http://nottawa.blogspot.com/2009/04/something-to-think-about-iii.html

As Bond Papers notes, Reynolds' statement contains a generous helping of Dangovt's favourite snack, red herrings: http://bondpapers.blogspot.com/2009/04/word-from-bunker-reynolds-issues-red.html

Reynolds conflates a quantitative issue (the amount of money spent on the election campaign) with a qualitative issue (where the money came from). Orwellian News has examined the statement posted by Labradore: http://labradore.blogspot.com/2009/04/first-mechanics.html

This particular section stands out:
"The [1] available evidence indicates no knowledge or involvement on the part of the candidate or party with respect to the actions of Ed Byrne. There [2] is also no indication that the fraudulent actions on the part of Mr. Byrne affected the outcome of the 2001 by-election. Further, [3] there is no evidence that anyone other than Mr. Byrne was involved in a deliberate attempt to manipulate funds or to otherwise fraudulently circumvent the provisions of elections finance requirements in the Elections Act, 1991.

On the basis of the above, I conclude that any impropriety involved in the 2001 St. Barbe by-election was related to the actions of Ed Byrne, actions for which he has been convicted, and are not attributed to other persons involved in that by-election. [4] There is no evidence presently available to support a contention that the outcome of the by-election was affected by these actions and no formal investigation is required."

As any lawyer knows, the burden of proof rests squarely with the prosecution. However, that applies only when a thorough and impartial judicial investigation has been undertaken -- not when a cursory review of the known facts is tossed out as justification for blocking queries.

Given the severity of the potential breach of justice, the lack of initial evidence does not constitute a prima facie case against a full investigation into whether stolen money was indeed used to fund a provincial election campaign.

Reynolds' statement contains 4 attempts of negative proof, otherwise known as argumentum ad ignorantiam. For a pithy explanation, see Fallacy Files: http://www.fallacyfiles.org/ignorant.html

The case against this type of argumentation is simple: a lack of evidence by itself is no evidence.

Until a thorough and independent investigation is completed, we have no way of knowing whether any wrongdoings -- criminal or otherwise -- were committed.

Simply saying that we have no evidence at this juncture is autoepistemic, i.e., self-knowing. As Fallacy Files explains, the form of such reasoning is:
If X were true, then I would know that X.
I don't know that X.
Therefore, X is false.

Given the known facts, the burden of proof is on Dangovt to demonstrate that it has done everything in its power to ensure that elections in NL were not bought with stolen money.

An argument based on negative proof is nothing more than an untested assertion.

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