The Need for Evidence: asking the right questions

© 2018 EGRozycki

edited 9/26/18


It is not a matter of indifference – particularly in doing academic research – whether one “enhances” a description for the sake of provoking reader interest. Embellishment is not a “mere” adornment, but increases the evidential burden on the researcher to provide a basis for his/her claims.

Consider the difference between describing something as

a. “John viciously and criminally assaulted Harry.”

as compared to

b. “John hit Harry.

The evidence demanded by a. depends on answers to the questions

1. Did John touch Harry?

2. Did John intend to hit Harry?

3. Was John’s intent malicious?

4. Was a law broken?

But b. only demands that we answer question 1 and

5. How did John touch him?

The weaker description is the one that requires the lesser evidence. An example of an item that fits the weaker, but not the stronger would be a wild pitch from John bounced and struck Harry. An example of something that fits both descriptions would be John deliberately threw the ball and hit Harry in the head because they had a quarrel.

But there are more subtle distinctions.  Some descriptions are not merely stronger or weaker versions of another. Consider the difference between

c. Sam hit John with a rock.

d. Sam assaulted John with a rock.

Even if c. happened, d. need not have happened: it could have been an accident.

Also, even if c. didn’t happen, d. might have happened: Sam tried to hit John with a rock, but missed. Clearly, the evidence we need to establish claim c is different from what we need to establish d.

One is stronger for needing more evidence, but also different because one can happen without the other.

I. Exercise: For the examples below, indicate the questions whose answers are needed to distinguish between the two descriptions given of the same item. Name items that fit both descriptions, then indicate whether they are related as weaker and stronger descriptions, and how they might be different descriptions.




1a. a red bicycle


1b. A vehicle







2a. An unhappy child


2b. A child who is not smiling.







3a. John learned to sing like that.


3b. John sings naturally like that.







4a. John said, “I am sick.”


4b. John told us he was sick.







5a. John extended his leg. Sam tripped over his foot.


5b. John tripped Sam by extending his leg.







II. Additional exercises: Indicate the questions whose answers would needed to distinguish between the following contrasting cases. Also, tell how they might be somewhat independent descriptions.



            Case A: John is holding his head and groaning.

            Case B. John is sick.

Answer: “How is John behaving?” versus “What is John’s condition?” The visual evidence for Case A could be used as evidence for Case B, also. But, since John could be faking, we might want to know, “What is John’s temperature?”, or “How did he come to be in such a state?” Consider, also, that John could be sick, yet not be holding his head and groaning.


Problem1- Case A: Sam was a witness to the bank robbery.  Case B: Sam was there when the bank was robbed.

Problem2- Case A: Sam was sleeping on the couch. Case B: Sam was lying on the couch.

Problem3- Case A: Sam has a cold.  Case B: Sam sneezed.

Problem4- Case A: Sam speaks Spanish. Case B: Sam knows what adrede means in Spanish.

Problem5- Case A: Sam’s arm went up over his head. Case B: Sam raised his arm.

Problem6- Case A: Sam shouted at Harry. Case B: Sam scared Harry.

Problem7- Case A: Jack walked into the door. Case B: Jack hurt himself.

Problem 8- Case A: Jack plays piano sometimes. Case B: Jack knows how to play piano.

Problem 9- Case A: Jack taught calculus to Sam. Case B: Sam learned calculus from Jack.

Problem10- Case A: Jack reacted to the loud noise. Case B: Jack heard the crash.

Problem11- Case A: Jack left his money behind. Case B: Jack lost his money.

Problem12- Case A: Lorraine paid Sam for his work. Case B: Lorraine reinforced Sam’s behavior.

Problem13- Case A: Lorraine likes to drink coffee. Case B: Lorraine is drinking coffee.


 See. also, "Data-Driven:"  a slogan to distract from organizational disagreement?