User:ClareParlett/sandbox/Approaches to Knowledge/Seminar Group 11/Evidence

This is for UCL BASc Approaches to Knowledge ( Seminar Group 11.

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  1. How is evidence defined? Is this useful?
  2. What did you learn about Evidence and Economics?
  3. How does Evidence in the Humanities differ to that in the Sciences? Is one form of 'evidence' better than another?
  4. How should the content of this page be organised?






The definition provided by the Oxford Dictionary claims that evidence is "the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid", [1] But can we apply this one definition to multiple disciplines? Can this single definition encompass all perspectives of what is considered as 'evidence'? If there are many approaches to evidence, can we find its 'true' definition?

The interdisciplinary nature of evidence implies that we can view 'evidence' from multiple different perspectives. A recent lecture by Oliver Rutherford portrayed these different disciplinary approaches as an avenue of collaboration. For instance, it will later be discussed how we can combine the academic fields of economics, international development and education to gather evidence regarding how best to reduce poverty levels. But what this depiction highlights is that evidence has many forms and there are multiple ways to gather evidence. A common argument stems from questioning the authenticity of such forms of evidence and whether we can in fact trust their source. Meggie

Epistemology vs Methodology


Methodology [2] is the "systematic, theoretical analysis of the methods applied to a field of study. It comprises the theoretical analysis of the body of methods and principles associated with a branch of knowledge. Typically, it encompasses concepts such as paradigm, theoretical model, phases and quantitative or qualitative techniques".

According to the Oxford Dictionary, Epistemology [1] is defined as "the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion". [3]

Different disciplines categorise themselves within these different approaches to evidence. For instance, scientists use a methodological approach when it comes to their research. This can be divided into quantitative research, which consists of testing a hypothesis and is used in the sciences, whereas qualitative research methodology is used greatly in social sciences and involves a more interpretive approach. On the other hand, in epistemology, "evidence is often taken to be relevant to justified belief" and is generally used in disciplines like philosophy.

Oliver Rutherford highlighted that research on any topic typically occurs in mono-disciplinary silos, due to the contrasting assumptions of epistemology and methodology. One could argue that evidence only relating to one discipline does not account for the the full complexity of the issue, thus implying that what we then do with this evidence will not narrate the 'whole picture'. Furthermore, it is important to question whether it is actually epistemology vs methodology that we are discussing? Should we be examining evidence from the perspective that these contrasting approaches are almost 'complementary' and that in order to gather evidence, we must consider both? Meggie


The simplest definition of truth might be: what we say or think is true when we can see it in real life. For example if you say “the table is blue” it is true if you see that the table is blue. However a lot of true things we nowadays know are true have been proven with hard evidence in the past. And therefore, some things are only considered as “truth” thanks to the evidence. For instance, a lot of theories in chemistry have had to be proven before being recognized as true. We can say truth relies on evidence. However there are times this isn’t true. Subjective truth doesn’t need to be confirmed by an evidence as it is proper to a person. For example, if x is hungry we don’t need evidence to consider it as a truth and not a lie. The mathematics Kurt Gödel said « Either the human mind is not a computer, or there are some truths we can never prove to be true, even though we can see they are true ».

Evidence and the Disciplines


Evidence in the Arts


Does Art really need Evidence? Art expresses feelings and therefore the experiences of the artist who created the art. It is a representation of a sentiment the artist has felt in a situation which isn’t always represented in another way. Therefore, a piece of art such as music, painting or dancing is only a expression of something that truly happened; but art doesn’t represent the truth totally and doesn’t need evidence to be created. Opposed to scientist who try to investigate everything they do to prove it and therefore use hard evidence; artist express their reality with intuition. However, some artist ultimate goals are to reflect truth in their art and therefore need evidence.

Evidence in the Social Sciences


An ethnographer may encounter many challenges in the pursuit of evidence while working with different cultures and societies. J.Monaghan displayed a clear and real life example of this struggle in the first chapter of his book “Social and Cultural Anthropology. A very short introduction”. Ethnographic fieldwork is often governed by chance and it is by chance that J.Monaghan had witnessed a dispute while he was conducting ethnographic research amongst the Dou Donggo people in Indonesia. The dispute revolved around a young man’s conviction of a crime he did not commit. He was falsely accused of having physically assaulted a girl and punished for it, although people in the village were aware of his innocence. But what it seemed to be a case of assault carried a greater and deeper significance directly related to the culture in question. How would an historian, sociologist, criminologist interpret it? To many academics, this case would have been invisible since no written records, oral accounts, official statistics methodologies or surveys have been carried out. Nevertheless: “If the case had been recorded officially, researchers (including anthropologists) who rely on such data would probably assume the case of La Ninde was one of simple assault, leading to conclusions about Dou Donggo society that would be seriously incomplete, if not misleading”(5). The role of an anthropologist should be to investigate beyond superficial evidence in order to better understand a society and avoid any kind of misinterpretation of its culture and practices.

Is evidence relative? Does it differ from culture to culture Find more info about this topic. Nora

Evidence in Science


In his book, Frozen Earth, Macdougall [4] gives a history of the development of the Ice Age theory which can be useful at shedding light on the accumulating nature of evidence in the Earth System sciences, and more broadly in the sciences in general. It clearly shows the way a scientific theory changes as new evidence is accrued.

In this example, Macdougall focuses on how the presence of seashells caused difficulties for the Ice Age theorists. He states that through the evidence of seashells, 'critics of the Ice transport hypothesis... claimed it was conclusive evidence that the ocean was involved'. This 'conclusive' evidence, when seen within the context of its time, very much gives weight to the opposition of the hypothesis. In the light of the evidence we have now, we widely accept the Ice Age theory, but 'before their origin was understood, the shells were a serious difficulty for those who argued that drift and erratics were ice age deposits'. This is a fine example of how specific scientific evidence, for example the existence of shells in continental regions, can only lead us towards a 'truth' when combined with other relevant evidence.

-Talk about the long time it took to accept some theories (i/e continental drift/evolution) -Mention how the evidence can be skewed to favour a certain POV -Hypothesis vs Theory?

Evidence and Economics

Evidence in humanities


Evidence in Film


Evidence and interdisciplinarity




(5) J.Monaghan & R.Just (2000), "Social & Cultural Anthropology. A Very Short Introduction."

  1. Oxford Dictionary Definition
  2. Methodology [2]
  3. The Definition of Epistemology
  4. Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Macdougall, Doug. 'The Evidence.' Frozen Earth: The Once and Future Story of Ice Ages, 1st ed., University of California Press, 2013, pp. 45–64. JSTOR