My first encounter with Carl Sagan was through his 1980 television series “Cosmos.” An accomplished astronomer and prolific popularizer of science, he had a knack for making science comprehensible and intriguing, especially for non-scientists. Always enthusiastic about new ideas but equally skeptical, he famously wrote, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

Sagan reminds us that evidence should affect our confidence in claims made about the world. His standard is not new, but powerful in its clarity and brevity.

Imagine we were walking in Bakersfield on a cold December day and you said, “I think it’s going to rain today because I see dark clouds rolling in.” You’d be making an unextraordinary claim, backed by unextraordinary evidence. I might disagree but wouldn’t think your claim unreasonable.

In contrast, if you asserted on a hot August afternoon, “I think it’s going to blizzard today because I feel it in my bones,” I’d be a fool to agree. Extraordinary claim, flimsy evidence.

When Copernicus proposed the Earth revolved around the sun, his claim was extraordinary because it violated common sense and everyday experience. Over the next 500 years, extraordinary, irrefutable evidence proved his claim correct.

History is filled, however, with unsupported extraordinary claims including ESP, many religious prophecies, and healing crystals.

Recently, QAnon followers, with the tacit support of some Republicans lawmakers, have claimed there is an international Satanic cabal of liberals, including Hillary Clinton, promoting pedophilia, infanticide and child sex trafficking. They believe Trump is the savior who will expose and bring bloody justice to the ringleaders of this immoral network.

Before considering any evidence, how probable does this cabal sound? Have you heard of any other secret cabals like this? People may disagree on politics, but is it likely that Democrats drink the blood of babies?

This extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence. Are there authenticated pictures, recordings or reliable eyewitnesses? Of course not.

This is what conspiracies look like. They illustrate the opposite of Sagan’s standard: extraordinary claims, flimsy or nonexistent evidence.

On Nov. 2 of this year, some QAnon followers waited for JFK’s son to endorse Trump at the site of Kennedy’s assassination. When junior didn’t show, they returned on Nov. 22. The failure twice of the deceased JFK Jr. to rise from the dead was a clear refutation of their extraordinary claim.

Ex-President Trump’s claim that the election was stolen, though not as crazy-sounding as QAnon’s claims, is nonetheless extraordinary. In the nation’s 245-year history, there has never been a stolen presidential election. Prior to the election, state officials touted the security of voting systems. The amount of clandestine coordination among unrelated election officials would have to be spectacular to pull off such a feat. And Biden led in all the polls leading up to the election.

Prior to the election, the probability that Biden’s win would be due to voter fraud was objectively low, though Trump tried to create doubt.

After the election, was the strength of the evidence sufficient to support Trump’s extraordinary claim of a rigged election?

A couple days after the election, Attorney General Barr declared there was no evidence of massive fraud or voter irregularity. Likewise for the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and director of National Intelligence. Secretaries of state across the nation agreed. Sixty court cases alleging voter fraud or ballot tampering were thrown out or found meritless. The My Pillow guy’s cyber symposium quickly fizzled. Arizona’s sham audit found nothing. And after Dominion Voting Systems brought suit for damages, Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and Fox News stopped alleging machine-based stealing.

The Big Lie fits the extraordinary-claim-flimsy-evidence pattern of conspiracy theories.

So which is more likely, that new extraordinary evidence supporting the Big Lie and explaining away all the negative evidence cited above will be discovered, or that Trump’s claim of a stolen election is false, a grift to raise money and soothe a sore loser’s ego?

As many as 70 percent of Republicans still believe President Biden was not legitimately elected; perhaps they are just more open to yet-to-be-discovered extraordinary evidence than I am.

Sagan left us another jewel to ponder at times like this: “It pays to keep an open mind, but not so open your brain falls out.”

Steve Bacon is a professor of psychology and longtime resident of Bakersfield.