DO EXTRAORDINARY CLAIMS REQUIRE EXTRAORDINARY EVIDENCE?
No, absolutely not.
First, there’s a definitional issue. What’s an “extraordinary claim” and what’s “extraordinary evidence?” Those terms are almost never defined by the proponents of the slogan, which means they’re free to adjust the meaning at anytime and push the burden of proof higher and higher.
Second, if the slogan were true, we could hardly ever have confidence in a whole bevy of extraordinarily improbable events, like Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.
Or consider a person winning the lottery, who we’ll call “Don.” Let’s say Don tells you he won the mega million lottery. Is that an extraordinary claim? Yes, certainly from a probability standpoint it’s very unlikely Don won the million dollar lottery. But does that mean you need “extraordinary evidence” to believe that it is likely that Don is telling the truth? No, of course not. Regular evidence, like Don’s winning lottery ticket, would suffice.
Third, the fatal flaw is that although the slogan is catchy, it fails to appreciate all of the factors needed to asses the probability that an event occurred. One factor forgotten by the slogan is the likelihood that if the extraordinary event had not occurred, what’s the probability that we’d have the evidence that we currently do suggesting the unlikely event’s occurrence?
So, let’s go back to the lottery for a moment. Consider a pick in the Mega Ball Million, for which the odds are 300 million to one. If the slogan were absolutely true, the evidence presented by the nightly news claiming to have the winning number would be swamped by the improbability that the reported pick was in fact the winning number.
But in assessing the likelihood that the news reported the winning number correctly, one question to ask is, what’s the likelihood that the news would’ve announced that particular number if it were not in fact the winning ticket? If that probability is sufficiently low, it can counterbalance any intrinsic improbability in the reported number itself.
So the evidence that it takes to counteract the low probability of a reported winning lottery number needn’t be enormous or unusual at all, which is why you’ve probably never questioned the reported lottery pick. Rational thinking tells you it just needs to be more probable given the truth of the hypothesis than its falsehood.
So, let’s apply this to the election. One question to ask in assessing the claims of a stolen election is what’s the likelihood that in all contested states, there would be dozens of eyewitnesses attesting to fraud and numerous statistical irregularities strongly indicative of fraud, if election fraud (extraordinary event) did not occur?
Like with the lottery, if the probability is sufficiently low that we would not have dozens of witnesses swearing to fraud and numerous statistical indicators of fraud unless fraud had in fact occurred — then normal evidence of fraud is sufficient to counteract the intrinsic improbability of a stolen presidential election.
Recap: the phrase “extraordinary claims requires extraordinary evidence” is pithy, but logically problematic. In my experience, it’s often used to deceive people during a debate by allowing the proponent to shift the burden of evidence higher and higher without ever fully considering all probabilities involved in assessing the truth of the claim based on the known evidence.