Lancashire Times
Voice of the North
Christopher Jackson
Features Writer
9:13 AM 22nd April 2020

Occam’s Razor Or Trial By Experts?

With a million and one expert opinions on when, how or if the lockdown is lifted it has become a subject brimming with metaphors and aphorisms, like paralysis through analysis.

It seemed sensible for the Government to defer to the scientists, but dare I say it, which scientists? Because these experts differ in the extreme on the right way forward. Time to inject some light humour - what does expert mean? Etymologically speaking Ex - means has been, and Spurt (sic) is a drip under pressure. A tad harsh I guess, but the more we hear from the myriad experts the less clear things seem.

In deferring to the experts, one is left with the distinct feeling that our political masters are labouring hard about what to do next. Undoubtedly, the stakes are high, and all outcomes seem unknown. Boris is now apparently more cautious given his personal experience, whilst the Chancellor allegedly subscribes to the view that the cure might have a worse impact than the virus.

Time to perhaps consider the ancient concept of Occam’s Razor. William of Ockham was a Franciscan Friar of exceptional learning. He developed the idea that, expressed in layman’s terms, ‘the simplest explanation is likely to be the correct one’.

Given this whole matter rests on a medical emergency, our politicians would do well to consider Theodore Woodward’s dictum ‘When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses not zebras’. Or even that old maxim - ‘if it quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck, it’s probably a duck’.

Sadly, such clinical logic is unlikely to be evident in the COBRA meetings. A combination of political egos and scientific oneupmanship is more likely to perpetuate confusion, with ideas ricocheting around the room, but no conclusions being drawn. Huge goodwill and effort from the scientists, but each with one eye on his/her future reputation. To cut to the vernacular, the prospects of looking a plonker from smug hindsight must be an inhibitor.

I personally relate to Wittgenstein’s version which states ‘If a sign is not necessary then it is meaningless. That is a fine example of Occam's Razor.’

If we apply this to the likelihood of a second wave - if the lockdown is relaxed - then it is self evident we will get a second wave, and thus the hand ringing is meaningless. Indeed the simple question is - we know it will occur so is the upside worth it? To maintain the lockdown for many more weeks seems illogical to me, since we cannot eliminate the virus by doing so, and all we do is defer the second wave, whilst it is irrefutable that a long lockdown would damage the economy utterly.

It’s a tough call. I know where I stand. What about you?