How to make facts

A guy named Edward Snowden was interviewed on the Joe Rogan Experience recently, and here is something he said:

This is the context: You say you know, and — you know, let’s put it the other way: maybe you do know. Maybe you are an academic researcher, maybe you’re a technological specialist, maybe you’re just someone who reads all of the reporting and you actually know. You can’t prove it, but you know this is going on. But that’s the thing in a democracy: the distance between speculation and fact. The distance between what you know and what you can prove to everybody else in the country is everything in our model of government — because what you know doesn’t matter; what matters is what we all know … and the only way we can all know it is if someone can prove it, if you can prove it … and if you don’t have the evidence you can’t prove it.

JRE #1368 1:51:50 – 1:52:35

Could we please sit back for a moment and ponder that suggestion in the context of science and the scientific method? Science can’t prove anything, but what Mr. Snowden is suggesting is that evidence can — and that it’s the only thing that can. I realize that many scientists as well as numerous lawyers may very well shake their heads and scoff at such a simplistic confusion of the term “evidence” from two completely different fields, two completely different traditions, two vastly separated realms of knowledge.

Yet what about the millions of men and women in the streets? What does the twitter universe tweet out across the world ad nauseam? Facts, evidence, and insurmountable floods of gossip — wrongdoing, rightdoing, likes, dislikes, regurgitation of suppositions, and whatnot other similar processed foods for thought.

We live in a land plagued with schizophrenia: on the one hand modern scientists maintain that nothing in the universe can ever be proven, but on the other hand modern journalists provide reams of evidence on a daily basis to prove to the public some facts as undeniable. This daily digest of tidbit proofs is leading to data flooding and causing catastrophic psychological indigestion for the countless global masses.

Is it possible in this day and age to reconcile these opposite world views, to bring about a little hope for coherence in our data and media diet? Why don’t we presume innocence before bombing the world to smithereens? Why can’t we acknowledge that we don’t know? Why not refute the notion of undeniability (is that even a word — how about “incontestability”)? Is there in fact no such thing as a self-evident proof?

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