Understatement of the century: I am an argumentative person. This is no truer than when I am on the Internet. (This strip is me.)

I have been arguing in various Internet forums – message boards, chat rooms, and more recently, facebook statuses/comments – ever since I really got into the Internet roughly 10 years ago. And I have very consistently noticed one trend in the most heated of battles that I feel I must speak out about. I call it the “more research” gambit.

I first encountered this way back when I first encountered people who were profoundly anti-vaccination. I was surprised by this even from the beginning – before I knew the core complaints, it just sounded odd – but I quickly came to see that the more I got involved, the more frequently I heard:

You just need to do more research.

Even before I knew this as fallacious reasoning, I thought this entirely unhelpful. If I am to ascertain the truth of something, what research am I supposed to do? What sources provide good information? Where do I go from here if I want to figure out the answer apart from the argument? No one ever followed up with that information. If there was more information out there that would elucidate the arguments of my opponents, they never saw fit to enlighten me with those facts.

But this is a more common occurrence than just the one forum where I first noticed it. I saw it even tonight in a comment on a status about government involvement in healthcare (I really should know better by now). It’s exasperating, mildly amusing, and totally irrational.

Here’s the problem: telling someone they need to do “more research” (or if you’re dealing with someone truly arrogant, you might be told simply that you need to do research in general) shirks the burden of proof. In arguments, the person making a positive claim bears the burden of proof in supporting that claim with reasons, evidence, etc. It’s fundamentally the reason why the accused in civilized courts of law are presumed innocent until proven guilty: the positive claim (charging someone with a crime) demands proof, not the negative claim (the denial of such an act).

When you tell someone that they need to do more research, what you are essentially saying is, “Go look it up yourself; I can’t be bothered to provide evidence for my claim.” No one should be persuaded by an argument where you imply that your opponent is simply ignorant without attempting to correct that ignorance, and anyone who argues thusly should be rightly dismissed as someone arguing merely to win an argument, not to really arrive at a true conclusion.

Remember, arguments are not merely about wasting time trying to persuade your opponent: in the end, hopefully you will come out with a firmer grasp on your own position or a new understanding of the issue. Sending your opponent on a wild goose chase for more evidence, especially with the presumption that your opponent hasn’t already done the research, won’t result in any new or better understanding, and so it should simply be rejected.

So if anyone ever utters that phrase – You just need to do more research – tell them this:

Put up or shut up.

And that’s all there is to it.

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