One of the subjects that comes up in introductory philosophy classes is something called “Russell’s teapot.”

It derives from an argument made by the philosopher Bertrand Russell. Were he to say that there’s a tiny teapot orbiting the sun — Russell, obviously, was British — a teapot too small to be seen by telescopes, it would be difficult or impossible to prove him wrong. But that doesn’t mean that the default assumption should be that the teapot exists. It’s not up to other people to prove Russell wrong; it’s up to him to offer credible evidence that the teapot exists before he’s taken seriously.

With that in mind, consider this tweet from the president of Arizona’s state Senate, Karen Fann (R).

She’s responding there to the former recorder of Maricopa County, Adrian Fontes. Fontes, who was voted out of office in November, is criticizing the “audit” of votes underway in the county, an effort approved by Fann and her Republican colleagues in the state Senate. As we’ve reported, the poorly organized vote-tabulating effort has an obvious intent: treating as legitimate even the most obviously deluded theories about fraud in the 2020 election. The best-known example by now is the effort to try to detect bamboo in the ballots under the intensely dumb theory that votes were flown in from Asia to be included in the Maricopa County totals. But this is not the only bizarre theory being entertained.

Anyway, you see the Russell’s teapot fallacy at work in Fann’s tweet. It is not up to the state of Arizona to be in the business of “proving or disproving” voters’ concerns, regardless of how goofy or obviously unfounded those concerns might be. It is, instead, to be in the business of treating as serious serious things. It is to be in the business of making sure that voters understand that the assertions about fraud lack any real basis and, further, to point out — as Fontes and others have — that there have already been official validation efforts that have offered no reason to think that fraud occurred.

Consider a counterexample. I could say that Fann’s own election in 2016 was a function of an alien bacteria that controlled voters’ bodies and forced them to vote for her even if they didn’t want to. I could point to chromatographic images that I argue show the composition of the bacteria and provide affidavits from voters who believed themselves to have been affected in this way. One response to this would be to demand that every person in her Senate district be subjected to an MRI aimed at detecting the residue of these alien visitors. Another, better response would be to ignore me. There’s no reason to assume that what I’m claiming is true.

Unless, of course, you really wanted to believe that it was. Unless you really disliked Fann and knew no one who’d actually voted for her. If you found it simply impossible to believe that anyone could have voted for Fann in good faith, you might not necessarily assume my brain-bacteria theory was true but you might be more willing to have it explored as a theory. And that’s the space into which much of the Arizona “audit” falls.

The problem is that once you start treating unserious things as serious, you yourself look increasingly unserious. Arizona officials have begun working to distance themselves from the effort, with one Republican in the state Senate telling the New York Times earlier this month that it “makes us look like idiots.”

“Looking back, I didn’t think it would be this ridiculous,” state Sen. Paul Boyer (R) said. “It’s embarrassing to be a state senator at this point.”

He’s not alone. Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates (big name in the news this week!), also a Republican, reinforced that the effort was a net detriment.

“First of all, you do need to get to a point where you say, ‘Okay, we’re done. We have sufficiently addressed concerns that might be out there in the community.’ And I feel like we had gotten to that point,” he told Politico.

“I believe that this is only appealing to a certain segment of the Republican Party,” he added, noting that “there are many Republicans who are horrified by what’s going on.”

It’s worth at this point quickly articulating why Republicans (and, Gates claims, nearly all independents) might be horrified. The “audit” is being coordinated by a firm called Cyber Ninjas, whose name can be evaluated on its own merits. It has no experience in election audits, and its founder Doug Logan has publicly embraced unfounded fraud conspiracy theories. A document he created was elevated by former president Donald Trump’s onetime attorney Sidney Powell, whose own attorneys were forced to defend her against defamation claims by arguing that “reasonable people” would not have believed what she said in the first place. Logan stood by the claims made in his document when asked earlier this month, though many have been disproved.

The team behind the vote counting is also tweeting things such as this.

The “Katie” at issue is Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat. She’s been an outspoken critic of the effort, for various by-now-obvious reasons.

Over the weekend, the official Maricopa County Twitter account offered lengthy arguments against the seriousness of the “audit,” using the hashtag “#RealAuditorsDont.” One example:

The individual shown is former state legislator Anthony Kern (R) who is on the ballots he’s “auditing” — and was at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6.

You’ll remember that we suggested above that those who are eager to embrace the vote counting in Arizona are those who most want to believe that something untoward happened. And so it is not surprising that no one has embraced the “audit” more closely than Trump himself. Speaking to an audience at Mar-a-Lago earlier this month, he argued that Arizona would be the first domino to fall in somehow undermining the results of the election he lost. Over the weekend, he blogged about it as well, claiming, among other things, that the “entire Database of Maricopa County in Arizona has been DELETED.”

Stephen Richer, the Republican who succeeded Fontes as Maricopa County recorder, was dumbstruck.

“This is unhinged. I’m literally looking at our voter registration database on my other screen. Right now,” he wrote in response to Trump. “We can’t indulge these insane lies any longer. As a party. As a state. As a country. This is as readily falsifiable as 2+2=5. If we don’t call this out …”

That’s the question, right? If Republicans don’t call it out then … what? So far, the smart political money has been on kowtowing to Trump, not on challenging him. Even in his blog post with the false claims about Arizona, Trump praised the far-right One America News network for uncritically treating the “audit” as serious, contrasting that network with Newsmax, which, in his view, has been insufficiently credulous on the subject.

And because it’s important to Trump, it’s important to the wide array of grifters and hangers-on who are the remoras to the former president’s shark. Because the vote counting is misleadingly presented as an election-security effort and because it is instead meant to reinforce whatever questions Republicans have about the election, it’s popular with Trump’s base of support. As always, that’s an opportunity for attention.

What Russell didn’t foresee was a scenario in which the former president of the United States insisted that there was a tiny teapot orbiting the sun and that he demanded that his supporters agree. Russell’s fallacy was meant to address the muddying power of emotion and motivated reasoning, but this situation makes obvious the challenge in doing so.

People want to think the election was stolen from Trump, despite the evidence that it was not. With rare exception, Republican officials have far more motivation to reinforce those beliefs than to challenge them. And so we end up with the situation in Arizona.