Straightening Out Skeptics on Ockam’s Razor

The skeptics mantra is “Ockam’s Razor.”  They hold it up in support of the idea of parsimonious evaluation of data–the conventional method of choosing an answer where conclusive evidence is lacking.  I often hear skeptics characterize the Ockam’s razor test as accepting as true whichever is the simpler answer to the question.  In other words, we don’t have enough evidence to tell, actually, so let’s go with the easiest one.  Really?  In real life, this is a bad plan.  Trust me.  See references below on that.

But more to the point, what William of Ockham (1286–1347) actually said was “Among competing hypotheses, the one that makes the fewest assumptions should be selected.”   Not the same as what is usually quoted, is it?  Fewest assumptions, people.

See http://arxiv.org/pdf/cs/9605101.pdf;  http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=645327.649540;  http://www.andrew.cmu.edu/org/cfe/ockam-foundations.html; http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Talk:Occam%27s_razor

I think we can all agree that it’s good to maintain a doubtful frame of mind about stories that seem outlandish, unlikely,  or wild.

WTF:    Marcello Truzzi said “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” or some such thing.    Accompanied by a smug look, probably.    But wait a damn minute, not so fast.

That’s a nice pat answer to claims you don’t care for, but opinions about what is outlandish do not belong in scientific inquiry.    All ideas and theories should require the same proof, and different standards should not apply to ideas or theories based on anyone’s preexisting opinion of those ideas or theories.

Extraordinary proof  for extraordinary claims does not comport with scientific thought.

Skepticism is the proper attitude toward an idea or theory before sufficient proof is had, but must be abandoned after proof is brought forward.  Today, it’s as ridiculous to roll your eyes at the idea that ulcers can be caused by bacteria as it will someday be to sniff primly at the idea that North America harbors at least one great ape.

Bigfoot will someday be listed along with continental drift, plate tectonics, warm blooded dinosaurs, and germ theory count among the ideas once scorned by the science establishment.

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