The Papers: Why We Shouldn't Come to a Conclusion Based on Evidence

This assignment asks you to evaluate the claims and evidence that someone else relies upon to come to a conclusion about some supposedly true-but still debated-issue. In some ways, then, you will adopt the stance of a detective for this paper. Someone has made a claim, and you are out to evaluate the validity of that claim based on the available evidence. The television show MythBusters is a good example of the kind of inquiry you will attempt. However, you won't actually have to strap a dummy to a rocket propelled swing to see if a person really can "go all the way around" on a swing set.

Too bad.

Instead, you will evaluate the validity of the argument's claims and evidence. Another key difference is that our arguments will be aimed at an academic audience.

In order to evaluate the evidence that others base their claims upon, you must first find it. Then, you must interpret it. Facts may seem indisputable. For instance, it is a fact that water boils at 100 degrees Celsius. However, this fact is only true under very specific circumstances. Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius at sea level, or more specifically, at 760 millimeters of mercury pressure. If some person were to make an argument that depended greatly on the fact that water always boils at 100 degrees Celsius, their conclusions might be suspect. A new interpretation of the evidence would point out this error in thinking. This kind of evaluation is your job for this assignment.

So what kinds of things might you write about? The "correct" meaning of a poem, the validity of claims about global warming, or the validity of claims that 9/11 was an inside job all depend upon someone's interpretation of a body of evidence. In the case of a poem, we have the textual evidence of the poem itself, the life of the author, the historical moment of his or her life, the cultural forces that existed during the time in which it was written, and the claims of experts. In the case of global warming, we have mounds of data about global temperature changes, unexplained phenomena, and the interpretations by experts and non-experts. In the case of 9/11, we have eye-witness testimony, missing evidence, news reports, unexplained or classified information, wild claims, and tons of interpretations by experts and non-experts. The idea is to pick some publicly made claim that you want to find out more about, to evaluate the evidence upon which those who support the claim depend for their conclusions, to evaluate the evidence presented by those who do not support this particular conclusion, and to come to your own conclusion in the process.

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