Tuesday, 15 January 2013
Hooptedoodle #77 - BAAAA! - Scientific interpretation of evidence
Once upon a time, some years ago, they tell me, four strangers were sitting together on the London to Edinburgh train. To pass the time, they got into conversation, and found - to their surprise - that they were all going to the same mathematical conference at the university in Edinburgh.
They also discovered that none of them had ever visited Scotland before, so, as the train pulled out of Berwick upon Tweed, the talking subsided as they all peered out of the window for their first glimpse of what, for them, was a new country. At first there wasn't much to see, but after a little while, through the rain and the mist, they could make out that they were travelling past a very large field, in which there were a couple of trees and a single black sheep.
"How interesting!" said the market researcher, "the sheep in Scotland must be black."
"Well, that's not quite right," said the zoologist, "clearly, they have sheep in Scotland, and black ones are not unknown."
The astronomer wasn't having that at all.
"No, no," he said, "all we know for sure is that there is a black sheep in Scotland. We know nothing about any other sheep - there may not be any."
"Gentlemen, please!" said the microbiologist, shaking his head. "Strictly, all we can say is that there is a sheep in Scotland, and it is black on at least one side."