What is Evidence?

This seemingly simple question sparked passionate debate between faculty, staff, and students during the development phase of this QEP. To provide a starting point for discussion, the QEP has developed a working definition of evidence synthesized from the Oxford English and Merriam Webster Dictionaries; this working definition is purposefully designed to encompass a variety of disciplinary uses and definitions of evidence.

Evidence: basis for belief; something that supports or challenges a claim, theory, or argument.

We encourage faculty to use this working definition as a prompt for further discussion in their classes about the nature of evidence within your discipline. If faculty don't agree with this working definition or believe it does not completely address the nature of evidence in their discipline, good! We hope it will encourage lively discussions about the nature of evidence in their course. While this is neither a perfect nor comprehensive working definition, we hope to spark scholarly thought and inquiry by providing a common starting point for all members of our academic community.

Why is Evidence Important?

The theme "The Nature of Evidence" was chosen by the Emory community because evidence is already an integral part of everything we do. We firmly believe that knowledge, understanding and intellectual confidence depend on engaged and reflective encounters with evidence.

Explicitly teaching about the nature of evidence will enhance students' ability to engage with evidence in a scholarly manner. As our students progress, they will begin to distinguish uses of evidence within and between disciplines; locate, identify, access, and analyze evidence; and build arguments based on evidence.

An engagement with evidence is foundational to four ways that students interact with the world -

Producing Knowledge:

Research produces knowledge through gathering, analyzing, interpreting, and arguing evidence. A comprehensive understanding of evidence, analysis and argument will help to produce better knowledge in all fields of work.

Consuming Knowledge:

We are confronted with more information than ever before through the internet, social media, and other technologies; developing the ability to assess the quality of evidence is key for information literacy in this technological age. Analytical skills gained through the liberal arts and an understanding of evidence will enhance our students’ critical thinking and evaluative skills and make them smarter consumers of knowledge, which is necessary and helpful in any career.

Making Informed Decisions:

Learning the importance of identifying, analyzing, and communicating only the best evidence will result in more informed decisions and result in better problem solving.

Understanding Other People:

Beyond proving a point or arguing a case, evidence helps us to understand the world and people around us. Evaluating all aspects of a situation and considering multiple viewpoints gives insight into the motivations and expectations of the people around you, which helps to inform your actions as an engaged global citizen.