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Towards An Integrated Concept of Evidence


Towards An Integrated Concept of Evidence


Is there a concept of evidence that applies universally? Are there specific or generic techniques for manipulating evidence that can be applied across disciplinary boundaries? These are questions that arise continually in the multidisciplinary research programme “Evidence, Inference and Enquiry: Towards an Integrated Science of Evidence” at University College London, supported by the Leverhulme Trust and the ESRC.

We observe apparently very different concepts, standards, interpretations and uses of evidence in various fields of research and practice. Is there a fundamental common core underlying all evidential reasoning, or is "evidence" just a convenient word that loosely covers many disparate activities in disparate spheres? This project will investigate the possibility of reaching a universal concept of evidence, considering plausible interdisciplinary connections as well as impediments to universality. The work will both build on and facilitate the progress of the many independent projects constituting the programme, and their interactions.

The other projects in the overall research programme cover a wide variety of disciplinary and methodological areas, including medicine, statistics, philosophy, law, forensics, psychology, economics, history, classics, physics and chemistry. The purpose of this pivotal project is to facilitate intellectual liaison between those different projects, and to develop a considered external view of their workings and interactions, assumptions and methods.

Research Questions

Our research will be framed by various guiding questions, including the following:

  • Are there situations in which different communities would have radically different verdicts on questions of evidence?
  • What do disputes within a given community reveal about the concept of evidence?
  • Do different representations of evidence lead to different conclusions?
  • Under what circumstances is it plausible to quantify evidential reasoning?
  • What are the contextual factors that affect evidential reasoning?
  • Who demands evidence? Who supplies it? Who uses it?
  • Who worries about the nature of evidence? Why?
  • Should we seek a unified concept of evidence? What benefits would accrue from such a concept?
  • Notwithstanding differences in interpretation and use, is there a fundamental core of abstract properties and behaviours of evidence that can command general agreement?


Pursuing these issues will necessitate becoming acquainted with the spirit and basic content of each project, and communicating the essentials to researchers on other projects. General themes and methods will be explored with a view to applying them to several different projects at once. We shall seek to develop innovative channels of communication between different projects. Promising pairwise connections, bringing together researchers from both sides in imaginative ways, will be sought and encouraged. Particular attention will be paid to identifying common features – philosophical, logical, mathematical, methodological, etc. – underlying seemingly different understandings and uses of evidence.

Activities and Outputs

There will be small informal workshops to assist the process of inter-project liaison, and larger more formal events addressing broader themes. The ideas emerging from this project will help shape conferences and other events for the overall programme. As well as giving helpful input to the publications produced by various individual projects, we shall produce a series of research papers on the possibilities and challenges of establishing a general concept of evidence. We may also consider publishing a book developing our findings.

Title First Author
Publication Type
29/12/2005 THOUGHTS ABOUT A SCIENCE OF EVIDENCE David Schum Evidence Research report
23/02/2005 EVIDENCE AS A MULTI-DISCIPLINARY SUBJECT William Twining Working paper
13/01/2006 The Schum Challenge: 7 June 2005 various Other
02/06/2006 Are expert opinions telling us both sides of the story? Gianluca Baio Other
07/02/2006 Comments on David Schum's [Thoughts about a science of evidence], with a response by Schum Michael Joffe Other
06/09/2005 A REPLY TO THE "SCHUM CHALLENGE" AT UCL David Schum Other

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