What is evidence? Broadly construed, evidence is anything offered in support of a claim, as real, genuine, unquestionable things. There are two types of evidence: empirical evidence and technical evidence. Evidence may be personal or physical. It may be oral (testimonials, sworn statements, etc. ), written (e.g., books, articles), video or digital (anological, legal, medical, financial).
In the process of proving something, typically there are some facts that are more important than others. What is most significant, usually, is the evidence supporting the fact. The strength of the evidence may hinge on how important it is to the parties involved. If the information is strong enough to withstand scrutiny by a competent neutral judge, that evidence becomes the “crystal clear” evidence that is admissible in court. In this way, proof generally refers to findings and opinions that are supported by evidence.
Many have argued that proof can be misleading, especially in the scientific community. Because some test results are invalidated or inconclusive, some theories do not stand up under close scrutiny by the scientific community. Consequently, what is evidence in this sense can be called a paradigm example of how science interacts with claims based on evidence. The interaction takes place in the peer-review and review processes, where review committees look at hypothesis and theories and determine whether or not to recommend publishing or attempting further testing.
As scientists consider different theories and test results, they will apply various scientific methodologies. If a theory is found to be consistent with observed data, the theory is accepted as factual. Similarly, if a hypothesis is found to be inconsistent with observations, the hypothesis is rejected. This process of hypothesis testing then determines which hypothesis is more likely correct and therefore is the basis for establishing what is evidence.
As a result of this ongoing evaluation, scientists examine a range of different results in order to establish what is evidence based on a particular hypothesis. They may use experimental methods, statistical data, or even physical phenomena. Often, they will combine techniques in order to evaluate the subject. In many cases, these methods will involve multiple laboratories in order to evaluate the subject in a uniform and consistent manner.
The systematic study of what is evidence can be used in the court system. For instance, when a suspect in a crime is tried in a court of law, the judge will often request the presence of a scientific expert to testify about any possible evidence presented against the defendant. The judge will present examples of scientific methodologies used to evaluate the subject’s guilt or innocence. The purpose of this testimony is not only to establish or disprove the validity of a particular theory or experiment, but also to aid the judge in deciding the sentence. Without the need for scientific methodologies to support their conclusions, the jury could reach a flawed conclusion regarding the validity of the case.
Unfortunately, not all scientists agree with certain methods of investigation. Despite the controversy that exists over what is evidence, many agree that physical behaviors are an important part of the process. Physical evidence is used to determine guilt or innocence as well as establish the time and place of the event. Without scientific methods of investigation, many crimes could still be solved without conclusive information regarding the actions of the guilty or innocent.
Scientific methodologies like DNA testing and carbon dating can provide significant information regarding dates and events without the need for an expert to witness them. Carbon Dating, for example, provides an accurate record of the oldest samples of human fossils found. Forensic scientists can also utilize these methods to establish whether or not a specific item, such as a shirt, has been worn at the same time and place as another piece. Without scientific methodologies, convictions for arson would still exist in spite of the lack of tangible evidence to tie the perpetrator to the crime. Even when there is physical evidence of a crime, it is not necessary to have a forensic scientist present every step of the way to eliminate other possibilities. Without a concrete chain of events, there are too many holes in the chain to allow a conclusion to be reached without scientific methods.