Evidence: A Parable

Because it was a cool night, Smith thought it best to stay in and read a book.

At about half-past nine, he looked up from chapter fourteen to find Jones standing there, smiling at him.

"Hello, Jones," Smith said.

"Hello, Smith."

"What brings you to the study this evening, Jones?"

"I was looking for that book of Sonnets," said Jones. He raised and lowered his eyebrows a couple of times, "I have a date tomorrow with Miss Applebaum."

Jones turned his head around the room a few times, spotted the book of sonnets sitting on an end table beneath an empty cup of tea, frowned, and picked it up. He bid an amiable good-night and made for the door, then suddenly stopped, and turned to Smith again.

"Say, Smith..."


"How is your cold coming along?"

"It's persistent!" Smith replied. "In fact, I didn't bother going for a walk tonight specifically because I thought I ought not aggravate it. I'm tired of having the sniffles."

Jones came closer. "I thought that might be the case. Listen, Smith, I heard a rather novel theory at the coffee shop this morning from a man who insisted he hasn't suffered a cold in ten years. It seems one day the pressure in his head became to much for the old chap. So he hired a stable boy to drill a hole, ever-so-small, in the side of head. He says it cured him straight away. He swears he hasn't had a cold since."

"Good heavens!" cried Smith. "Did you see the hole?"

"Oh, no!" Jones assured him, "his hair covered it up. And his hat. If you'd seen him, you wouldn't think for a moment that he had a hole in his head."


"So... What do you say, Smith?"

"What do I say about what?"

Jones shimmied his shoulders a bit and then pumped his eyebrows a few times for good measure. "You're sick. Shall we give it a go?"

"Jones, that's ridiculous," said Smith, "I'm not drilling a hole in my head."

"I'll do it for you."

"Jones, listen to what you're saying. You're saying I'll be cured my cold if you drill a hole in my head. That can't possible be true. I don't even have a headache, and even if I did, it wouldn't have been caused by pressure in my head. I don't have brain-swelling, I have a cold. My lymph nodes--"

"Drat, Smith!" cried Jones. "Every time I have an idea, you pummel me with theories. I'm not talking about theory, I'm talking about treatment. Now, I saw this man at the coffee shop. He was right as rain. I tell you, he was the picture of good health. The pink of perfection! The apogee of, of..."

"Jones, it's not abstract theory," said Smith. "Listen, do you remember the time old Rambles, the family horse, kicked me in the head while I was trying to re-shoe him?" Jones giggled and nodded. "You do remember, don't you. You remember how that wallop put me in the hospital for days. The blood was everywhere."

Jones pumped his eyebrows some more.

"So you see, Jones, if your theory were correct, we'd expect that Rambles would have given me super powers or something. I certainly wouldn't have needed to go to the hospital over it."

Jones lowered his eyebrows, and his shoulders, and skiffed the floor with his foot. "Listen, first of all, Smith a wallop to the side of the head isn't a hole through the skull, is it? So you haven't actually presented any evidence for your theory, no evidence at all--"

"Evidence!" Smith murmured under his breath.

"And second of all, even if we were to consider that to be evidence, then what do you expect me to do?"

"I beg your pardon?" came Smith.

"Well, consider things from my perspective! I see a man at the coffee shop with a hole in his head--"

"But you didn't actually see the hole, Jones!"

"Are you calling him a liar? That is very disingenuous of you, Smith. Here we are trying to discuss a matter of medical science, and you're calling people liars."

Smith blinked.

Jones continued. "Anyhow," he said, "one man claims to have been cured by a special treatment. The other man--" here Jones pumped his eyebrows in Smith's direction, "--if we take him at his word claims that somethings somewhat akin to that special treatment is responsible for landing him in the hospital, despite the fact that, by his own claims, a horse kicked him in the head moments beforehand!"

"Jones, this is preposterous," said Smith.

"Really what we have here, dear Smith, are two points of data. We cannot possibly describe a trend with two points of data. We need at least three to detect a trend."

"By the Central Limit Theorem, you'll need at least thirty," Smith said.


"Jones, the Central Limit Theorem states that--"

"Theory again!"

Smith sighed.

"Look, Smith, I'm not saying you're wrong. I'm saying let's collect the evidence and see who's right."

"But I just told you--"

"Are you afraid, Smith?"

"Afraid that I'll die from having a hole drilled through the side of my head? I should say I very well am."

"You see?" Jones hunched over and jabbed a finger at him. "Abstract theory and abject fear. Every time we discuss anything at all, your position always boils down to one of the two. Theory or fear. It's unscientific, Smith. It's disgraceful. You can't let go of your fear and your theories for even one second while I drill a hole in your head. How else will we settle the matter?"

"I don't think we ought to talk about it anymore," Smith said as he tried to get back to chapter fourteen.

Jones stood in the middle of the room for a moment, seemingly lost in thought. Finally, he turned to leave. He took a few steps toward the door, paused, and then turned again sheepishly.



"I read a study published by Harvard University stating outright that drilling holes in heads--"

"No, Jones!"

Jones' face soured suddenly. "Okay, Smith," he said, throwing up his hands, "what's your idea, then? How do you propose getting over your cold?"

Smith blinked again, then said, "Well, I thought I'd stay in, have a cup of tea--" Jones jerked the book of sonnets close to his chest, protectively, "--and read my book."

"So... nothing," said Jones, conclusively.

Smith raised his eyebrows expectantly.

"Your great theory for cold-treatment," Jones said sarcastically, "is to do absolutely... nothing at all. Well, a fine theory, that! You may judge me for my unconventional ideas, Smith, but at least I'm proposing solutions. All you want to do is nothing. Well, that's not helpful."

Smith looked at him pointedly. "Jones, you're not drilling a hole in my head."

"I'm saying, let's see the evidence!"

"The devil take your evidence!"

But suddenly, Smith felt a rope cinch around him from behind. Someone was there, tying him up.

"I thought you might feel that way, Smith," Jones told him, "so I took the liberty of calling a few stable boys."

Smith bobbed his head toward the ropes tying him down, "Oh, you took the liberty did you?"

"That's right," said Jones. "We all have to live in this big house, you know. Not just you, Smith, but all of us. We have to learn how to get along and solve problems together. We can't let the liberty of one man's desires dictate how the rest of us treat our colds."

"Jones, tell you what," said Smith frantically. "The next time you're sick, I'll help you drill a hole through you're head, what do you say?"

"Oh, no!" said Jones with a few pumps of his eyebrows. "I'm not falling for that!"

"But Jones!"

Smith felt something sharp press against the side of his head. Then, suddenly, nothing.

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