Friday, October 14, 2005

Over-attributing Causality

One danger in research is the desire to interpret all findings as meaningful. Here’s an interesting example from our campus bookstore…

A colleague of mine, knowing my interest in such things, notified me of a change in the size of our blue exam books, from 8 3/8 x 6 3/4, 12-page to 8 1/2 x 11, 24-page:

“How interesting,” I thought. I began to hypothesize: “I wonder if they had complaints about the old smaller books. I wondered if students filled more than one during exams and faculty ran into problems grading multi-book responses. Or perhaps more exams were requiring more writing. Wouldn’t that be something!” So I wrote to our bookstore manager to inquire about the reason for the change. The answer?

We ran out. We will replentish (sic) and have both sizes.

Ah, of course. How silly of me to forget Occam’s razor: The simplest answer is usually preferable.

1 comment:

a said...

Occam's Razor in plain english: "Out of two possibilities the simpler one will be more plausible."

I don't agree that yours is a very good example of Occam's Razor because you only thought of one possibility. There was a simpler explanation but until you discovered it you were oblivious to the other possibility.

Tofu the Kid