A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies

reader comments: ad hoc hypothesis

20 Sep 1996
As a skeptic I was delighted to find your dictionary on the net. Just as I was about to conclude that the net is full of useless crap. (I'm a neophyte and I persevere. Obviously there is a great deal of useful information and entertainment here.) I think I understand that you are often playing the devil's advocate. Some of the items you debunk do not necessarily deserve the offhand dismissal you tend to dish out. Chiropractic for example does seem to have some validity, but not the all pervasiveness that some exponents would argue.

Anyhow, re your article on ad hoc hypothesis: When you, for example, posit that in cases of hands on healing, chiropractic etc. that the subject may have improved without any intervention at all, are you not indulging yourself in a little ad hoc hypothesis? Perhaps this is called fighting fire with fire. I suppose this only points out how difficult it is to counter assumptions that start from a premise that cannot be tested empirically.
Doug Harper

reply: Well, let's say I thought I caught you stealing a watch from a shop. You say you didn't steal it. I ask you to empty your pockets. You agree and pull out a watch. I say, "Aha, I was right. You stole the watch." You reply that you did not steal the watch, but you admit that it was not in your pocket when we went into the store. I ask you to explain how the watch got in your pocket and you say that you used telekinesis: you used your thoughts to transport the watch out of a glass case into your pocket. I ask you to repeat the act with another watch and you say "ok." But try as you will, you can't make a watch magically appear in your pocket. You say that there is too much pressure on you to perform and there are too many bad vibes in the air for you to work your powers. You've offered an ad hoc hypothesis to explain away what looks like a good refutation of your hypothesis. I have not offered an ad hoc hypothesis about anything. I don't call this fighting fire with fire, but fighting the implausible with the probable. Accepting a simpler and more plausible explanation in terms consistent with universal human experience, rather than a farfetched explanation requiring belief in occult, supernatural or paranormal forces, is called applying Occam's razor. It differs considerably from ad hoc hypothesizing.

ad hoc hypothesis

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