The reversible reference
January 9, 2011 Leave a comment
A nice tip from Historians’ Fallacies: Watch out for pseudo-evidence, facts that are being used to support a claim but which could just as easily have been used to support that claim’s inverse. The book gives the example of one historian who made the claim that the early American colonists regularly threw trash on their streets. How do we know this? Well, the historian argues: New Amsterdam passed a law against littering in 1657, which was enforced on at least one person; and the city instituted weekly trash removal in 1670.
Notes Fischer: “Each of these impressionistic snippets of pseudo-factual information is consistent with a thesis that (1) the streets of New Amsterdam were knee-deep in trash, or (2) the streets of New Amsterdam were kept spotlessly clean by the tidy dutch inhabitants, by means of laws which were enforced and by regular trash removal; or (3) any statement between these two extremes.”