What Is the Burden of Proof Fallacy? | Definition & Examples

Reasoning updated on  March 5, 2024 3 min read

The burden of proof fallacy involves failing to support one’s own assertion and challenging others to disprove it.

Although the person making a claim is responsible for providing evidence for that claim, people often commit the burden of proof fallacy by passing that responsibility on to the opposition.

Burden of proof fallacy example
“It’s obvious that we live in a simulation. Prove me wrong.”

This statement is an example of the burden of proof fallacy because it asserts a conclusion without offering evidence, instead placing the onus on skeptics to disprove the claim.

The burden of proof fallacy is often associated with law, but it can be found in many other contexts as well, including politics, media, and online debates.

What is the burden of proof fallacy?

The burden of proof fallacy occurs when a person presents a claim and suggests that it should be considered true unless someone can prove it to be false. This logical fallacy involves incorrectly shifting the burden of proof from the person making a claim to the person who is skeptical of that claim.

Burden of proof definition

The burden of proof is the obligation to provide supporting evidence for one’s claims in a dispute. This principle is also known as onus probandi, derived from a Latin maxim that means “The burden of proof lies on the one who declares, not on one who denies” (“Onus probandi incumbit ei qui dicit, non ei qui negat”).

In logic, the burden of proof refers to the claimant’s responsibility to provide evidence. In law, the burden of proof also refers to the required standard of evidence (i.e., “beyond a reasonable doubt” in criminal cases and “by a preponderance of the evidence” in civil cases).

Examples of the burden of proof fallacy

Examples of the burden of proof fallacy can be found in many contexts, including discussions of politics, science, religion, health, and history, among other subjects.

Burden of proof fallacy example in politics
A party spokesperson contests election results: “Our candidate lost the election because of widespread voter fraud. Unless you can prove that no instances of fraud occurred, the election results are illegitimate.”

This statement is an example of the burden of proof fallacy because it places the responsibility on the opposition to disprove the accusation rather than providing evidence to support it. The speaker thus sidesteps the responsibility to provide any proof of voter fraud.

Examples of the burden of proof fallacy can also be found in the media. For example, a commentator might make an unsupported claim and challenge those who disagree to disprove it. This tactic undermines the principles of journalistic integrity and can mislead the audience.

Burden of proof fallacy example in media
A news program reports a sensational claim about a public figure based entirely on anonymous sources and claims that the public figure must disprove the allegations or be considered guilty.

This style of reporting commits the burden of proof fallacy because it shifts the responsibility to the accused to disprove allegations without first providing compelling evidence of wrongdoing.

The burden of proof fallacy is closely related to the appeal to ignorance fallacy (or argumentum ad ignorantiam), and the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably. However, a distinction can be made:

  • Burden of proof fallacy: Explicitly shifts the responsibility to prove or disprove a claim onto someone else
  • Appeal to ignorance: Asserts that a claim is true or false simply because the opposite lacks evidence or has not yet been proven

Both are informal logical fallacies, meaning that they arise from errors in reasoning related to an argument’s content rather than its form.

Do you want to know more about common mistakes, commonly confused words, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


Common mistakes

Commonly confused words

Rhetoric

Whoa or woah

Advisor vs adviser

Metonymy

Theirs or their's

Accept vs except

Synecdoche

Ours or our's

Affect vs effect

Verbal irony

Forty or fourty

Among vs between

Irony

Sence or sense

Anymore vs any more

Grawlix


What is an example of the burden of proof?

Examples of the burden of proof principle can be seen in many everyday contexts.

For example, if a person claims, “Astrology accurately predicts personality,” the person who makes this assertion must provide supporting evidence in order to make a compelling argument. This responsibility to provide evidence is the burden of proof.

If instead of offering evidence, the speaker challenges others to disprove the claim (e.g., “Astrology accurately predicts personality, and you can’t prove that it doesn’t”), this constitutes a logical fallacy known as the burden of proof fallacy.

Who bears the burden of proof in an argument?

In a debate, the person who makes a claim bears the burden of proof for that particular claim.

If one party makes a claim without supporting evidence and suggests that it must be assumed to be true unless someone else can disprove it, this person has committed the burden of proof fallacy.

Who bears the burden of proof in an argument?

There are two logical fallacies that involve essentially reversing the burden of proof:

  • Burden of proof fallacy: Presenting a claim with no evidence and explicitly requiring others to disprove it
  • Appeal to ignorance fallacy: Asserting that a claim is true simply because it hasn’t been disproven already
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Magedah Shabo

Magedah is an author, editor, and educator who has empowered thousands of students to become better writers.

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