From Fortean Times, no. 81, June-July 1995, p. 54.

Triply Inadequate

I was quite disappointed to read of Joe Nickell's response to a question about why he hadn't conducted experiments to test the "candle effect" explanation of Spontaneous Human Combustion [FT79:43].

He replied that: "You don't waste time proving a negative."

This response is triply inadequate. Firstly, it is possible to prove negatives--every positive claim has an equivalent negative claim. What is difficult (though not necessarily impossible) to prove is a negative existence claim or a universal negative. Secondly, "proof" is best left in the realm of logic and mathematics. In science what counts is the weight of evidence. Thirdly and most important: the claim that the "candle effect" is the explanation of SHC is not a negative claim!

Skeptics need to realise that just because an explanation is consistent with established science doesn't mean it is necessarily correct--evidence is still required to support it.

Jim Lippard
Phoenix, Arizona