Critical Thinking & The Citation Needed Fallacy

“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”
Carl Sagan

1.) Introduction – Philosophical Metaphysics, Science & Religion
2.) Critical Thinking & Belief Systems
3.) Citations, Citations, Where Art Thou Citations?
4.) A Lamentation of Academia & The Folly of Referencing
5.) In Closing / Relevant Reading

1.) Introduction – Philosophical Metaphysics, Science & Religion:

The other day, a poster left a comment disputing the value of the writings at Illimitable Men due to the lack of studies and statistical data used to support the views espoused. Now, although I do not think one needs peer-reviewed studies to put forth observations and formulate opinions in relation to them; I am most intrigued by individuals who believe the absence of scientific evidence is sufficient grounds to invalidate a premise, for this is not only lazy thinking, but presumptive.

It is lazy because it permits the individual to dismiss a thing without consciously evaluating an argument based on its individual merits, and it is presumptive because it assumes contemporary science possesses the technological sophistication requisite to test all conceivable hypotheses. The latter is matter-of-factly untrue, for science in all its grandeur and mighty empiricism is as yet incapable of piercing the realm of metaphysics, which continues to defy quantification.

Consciousness remains an enigma to science, and for as long as this remains true, philosophy will remain hegemon of all things metaphysical and thereby spiritual in nature. This is precisely why philosophy exists, for it has repeatedly endured as a form of top-down investigation into the metaphysical substrate of reality for millennia, filling a vacuum of human need that religion embodies, but does not explain.

Religion is the symbolic mythologisation of the human metaphysical spirit into a myriad of stories designed to provide guidance, whereas philosophising is an evaluative process that attempts to make sense of the human soul and its cosmic abstractions via observation and reason. Philosophy is thus, by definition, not engaged in the politics of academic credentialism, nor bound to the empirical method as a means of discovery or conclusion forming.

Scientific materialism excludes the metaphysical, and is therefore hard-pressed to explain the aspects of humanity it cannot empirically reduce to a measurement. This is why people look to philosophy and religion to lead spiritually fulfilling lives rather than science, for empiricism is soulless in that it only claims what is measurable and experimentally replicable to be true, whilst holding what isn’t as untrue, or at the very least inconclusive.

2.) Critical Thinking & Belief Systems:

Ideological frameworks are belief systems that fill the vacuum left by an absence of religiosity, for whether one wishes to believe in God or not, humans have a propensity to seek a single unifying framework with which to make sense of the world. And so if one is to abandon religion due to a loss of faith, they will invariably act to fill their answerless identitarian void by adopting a completely new ideological system altogether.

In devoutly religious societies, the ruling religion embeds its ideological hegemony into the very essence of the nation by codifying its values into the architecture of its institutions: academia, the media, and law being the most prominent. In Saudi Arabia, this ideology would be Wahhabi Islam, under the Third Reich it was Nazism, and in the contemporary west, its the oppression Olympics more commonly known as political correctness but more accurately termed cultural Marxism.

As was stated in Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power, humans have an insatiable need to believe in something, and that something can be anything, but they have to believe in something, and it need not even be positive – only concretised as a suitable explanation for everything in the mind of the adherent. And although the word ‘belief’ has an overwhelmingly positive connotation attached to it, even a nihilist believes. The nihilist may believe “everything is pointless because it is the product of randomness rather than purposefulness”, and yet this is a belief nonetheless.

The intelligent have a propensity to self-develop hybrid systems of belief consisting of aspects from many different ideologies, religions and philosophies, whereas the masses adopt pre-existing ideology wholesale, leaving vast opportunity to mislead and control them via brainwashing, groupthink and social engineering, but I digress.

Where ideology instructs, science finds, and philosophy observes. This publication consists of the latter rather than the former, for where scientific empirical materialism does not provide answers, and ideology requires blind faith, philosophy allows one to pierce the metaphysical and speculate with good sense.

3.) Citations, Citations, Where Art Thou Citations?

Illimitable Men is built on defeasible reasoning, and so although what is written is not deductively valid in the empirical sense, it aims to be compelling enough in its rationality to prompt the reader to think with greater rigour and criticality. Remember, the overall purpose of this publication is not to empirically demonstrate, but to compel to think.

As such, arbitrarily requiring citations whenever one asserts a viewpoint implies an absence of evidence is evidence of absence, and further implies that the individual dismissing a set of claims based on the absence of empirical evidence does not themselves hold beliefs that aren’t deductively valid. In practice this is untrue, and nothing more than a lazy way to refute premises one finds distasteful, for it is not the genuine nature of people to form beliefs solely on the basis they are backed by empirical evidence.

People adopt viewpoints because they are either A: likable, B: relatable, C: thought probable, or D: conclusively proven. As such, empirical evidence is a sufficient, but unnecessary condition to generate belief; if this were untrue, there would be no such thing as a muslim, nor a communist.

The citation needed fallacy suggests the individual will only hold beliefs that fulfil condition D to the exclusion of all other conditions. This is false, but is asserted as such because the individual asking for the citation doesn’t like the premise put forth.

You see, as corollary to why people believe in things, they likewise often disbelieve things because they are either A: unlikable, B: unrelatable, C: thought improbable or D: conclusively disproven. So often when one is asked for a citation, condition A of their reason for dismissing your premise is superficially conflated with condition D as a means of rejecting your claim and thereby dismissing you with minimal effort. The request for scientific evidence is not an earnest one, but rather a means in and of itself to dismiss your claims. If you actually provide evidence, such a person will look for a flaw in the study as proof of invalidation and therefore maintain their dismissal, as they prioritise the maintenance of personal narrative over the pursuit of truth.

On the topic of scientific proof, science often disproves things, but rarely does it actually ever prove anything. This is because it is a negative epistemology, its propensity is to disprove by trying to invalidate a claim, not prove a claim. And so when one looks to form beliefs in solidifying their understanding of the world, science at its sincerest can only tell people what not to believe, rather than what to. But belief, which is the micro dilution to faith’s macro devoutness cannot function on negative epistemology alone. To believe, something must be a near certainty, and science specialises in creating doubts, not providing assurances.

So how does one believe? Either via delusion, or because upon evaluating a thing you find it to be rationally compelling. Empirical proof is an often sufficient, but ultimately unnecessary condition for generating belief. Even if one does present studies to support their argument, we must be wary that said studies are meritable and haven’t been commissioned by a company with an economic interest in proving a thing, nor corrupted by the bias of mainstream academic politics.

4.) A Lamentation of Academia & The Folly of Referencing:

I shan’t be so bold as to presume all who come across this writing are aware of what referencing is, so I shall labour to briefly explain it. Referencing is an inextricable and integral part of academic writing, in university, you are expected to validate your claims by citing sources that support the things you’ve written.

Sources can take the form of books, studies, or even websites. You populate your writing with sources by adding small numbers in brackets to the end of each claim, and then in the footer of your work you link the numbered claim to its relevant source. This allows the reader to see if there is evidence available to support a claim (or perhaps more accurately: if anybody else is corroborating your claim), in addition to serving as a repository of reading material for those with a deeper interest in the concept referred to.

Referencing can increase a student’s grade to the point it accounts for as much as 20% of the marks obtainable, although it is more commonly in the realm of 5-15% depending on the subject, module and whim of the professor. The hilarity to this of course is that a mischievous student could opt to write something completely unrelated to the assigned task, yet hypothetically receive 20% of the available marks if they’d properly referenced their claims. This is the extent to which academia values referencing, and naturally, it conditions students to think a thing doesn’t have intellectual integrity if it does not cite sources for its claims.

The flaw in this reasoning is that it discourages novel ideas and disputation of academic consensus in subjects where “the correct answer” is more a byproduct of mainstream politics than it is a chain of conclusions derived from credible evidence based research. If unsubstantiated pseudo-scientific studies are used as evidence to assert the truthfulness of fictional sociopolitical beliefs, and one wishes to contest these points in their work, said studies will be used as “evidence” and the student’s claims are untrue, even if the student’s claims are more firmly rooted in objective reality than the study’s. As such it becomes apparent that, irrespective of truth, studies benefit from a greater presumption of credibility than individuals do.

In practice, studies are often revered by collectivist students, low-grade teachers and laymen alike as undeniable proofs of a thing, and referred to as such irrespective of if the study in question is even credible. Alas, in the social sciences in particular, a study is more a hallmark of status, pedigree and credentialism than it is a sign of any real evidence. And this is not only a sad indictment of academia, but likewise, the corrupt nature of the peer review system it heralds; for studies are meant to serve as scientific proofs or disproofs of investigation, not units of ideological credibility ostentatiously masquerading as empiric scientific truth.

Corroboration is thought to increase plausibility, but what if one cherry picks what they cite and ignores or simply dismisses the studies that disagree with their position? If you have studies that are for and against a thing, will you ever possess a true answer, or will you simply pick the answers that confirm your biases? Is it constructive to occupy an infinitely pedantic stalemate where one side’s starting premise of “this is true” cherry picks studies to support its position, whilst those with a starting premise of “this is false” arm themselves in much the same way, only for each side to dismiss one another and conclude nothing?

Doesn’t the fact science is unable to come to any hard conclusion on so many topics highlight its limitations? In the presence of both supporting and opposing studies, is it not rich then that one’s position ultimately comes down to the subjectivity of the studies they prefer, and not the objectivity of the data? And are you not then simply “saying what you think” in much the way a philosophising observer does, except rather than infer with earnest from observation, you partake in a convoluted system of research and peer review prone to corruption born out of prestige preservation and political posturing?

Is it healthy for one to live in constant doubt because nothing is really ever proven, but more things are suggested and interpreted by the data. Likewise even when you interpret the data, there is a metaphysical subjectivity to what you think the data means. Is there empirical methodology to quantify the validity of one’s interpretations, or does one weight the opinion using further subjective metrics like “expertise” and “perceived authority of the opinion holder?”

Is the corroboration of studies an inextricably plausible phenomenon, or can you simply have a house of cards where nonsense corroborates nonsense due to the shared ideological dispositions of so-called independent researchers? Are independent researchers truly independent when their minds metaphysically inhabit the same ideological space? It is notoriously known the social sciences have low replicability (and funnily enough, its most psychometrically valid variable, IQ, is its most disputed), so I’d think not.

Even if one’s starting premise is completely unmarred by prejudice, we now go into the infinitely pedantic exercise of quibbling over the validity of a study due to its sample size, testing methodology, or how long ago it was performed. And if it doesn’t fail on any of these metrics, we can opt to attack it for its lack of replicability, for even if other studies support the same conclusion, perhaps their samples were different, or used different experimental methodologies, and so the study wasn’t truly replicated and therefore yet further doubt can be cast on whether any of the findings hold even the slightest validity.

It is in this way one may proceed in their neurosis of never reaching any meaningful conclusion about anything, and yet due to the academic prestige inherent to citing certain names from certain years and quoting ‘experts’ from certain books, this makes them more superficially credible than an independent thinker divorced from the political neurosis of academic credentialism.

Is this not then, really just an exercise of the most futile befuddlement? To debate and to confuse with contradiction ad infinitum is not, as far as I’m concerned, the height of intelligence. And if one is to accept science is always in the process of disproving itself, then it is safe to assume that nothing is really true; for what is currently believed as true is merely contemporarily true, an approximation of truth held as true due to its proximity to truth, but not a truth in the purest and most absolute sense.

5.) In Closing / Relevant Reading:

I do not believe occupying this continual landscape of epistemic uncertainty and inconclusiveness in a system rife with political bias, inadequate research methodology, low replicability and low data validity that passes for evidence bestows it the credibility it assumes carte blanche. As such, “citation needed” is becoming little more than the most fallacious of thought terminating cliches.

In addition, where scientific empirical materialism does not provide answers, philosophy pierces the metaphysical by observing universal patterns to form rationally compelling conclusions about the nature of the human psyche – such is the purview and purpose of philosophy, as well as this author’s humble writings. Where science flounders, philosophy begins, for just because you cannot empirically prove a thing you observe and deduce to be true, it does not mean one’s observance nor interpretation of their observance is false.

In the attempt to know the unknowable by understanding the unprovable, rational evaluation is a compelling form of evaluation, for there is a disconnect between the metaphysical and materialist worlds, and philosophy serves as the bridge between both.


Thinking, Fast And Slow