- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 6, 2004

Not so elementary

“Sherlock [Holmes] is insistent that he owes his success in solving crimes to his scientific and logical methods. Among his other accomplishments, he is a trained chemist who conducts important scientific experiments when he is not investigating crimes. He tells Watson that the key to solving crimes is collecting and analyzing data, and that the difference between Watson and him is that Watson merely sees, but he observes.

“Actually, Holmes’s methods are not scientific or logical, and they bear little resemblance to the methods used to investigate crimes. …

“The stories were written when England was still the world’s leading scientific nation. Science had enormous prestige and fascinated the educated public, so [Sir Arthur Conan] Doyle was clever to cast Holmes as a scientific thinker. But really he is a caricature of a scientific thinker. He is cold-blooded, hyper-rational, and a complete loner, and he notices, and records in his memory, everything in his field of perception.

“These are not the defining characteristics of the real scientist. What defines scientific method is a commitment to confronting hypotheses with objective … data that may falsify them. …

“The Holmes stories and the Holmes persona seem to me wildly overrated.”

Richard A. Posner, writing on “CSI: Baker Street,” in the Oct. 11 issue of the New Republic

Her racist hero

“[Last week], a Texas weekly called the Lone Star Iconoclast … endorsed John Kerry for president. …

“As its Web site reports, the paper takes its name from a Waco publication founded in the 1890s by William Cowper Brann, ‘one of the most intriguing writers of his era.’ Brann is also highly admired by … Texas columnist Molly Ivins, who invokes Brann from time to time, especially when flogging Baptists and other religious types.

“In one column, for instance, Ms. Ivins found it ‘a shame we have no William Brann or H.L. Mencken around to mock some of the more patent idiocies advanced in the name of organized religion.’ …

“Ms. Ivins typically refers to Brann as a ‘populist.’ But he was much more than that. He was as vicious a race-baiter as ever walked the Earth.”

Dave Shiflett, writing on “The Iconoclast’s Icon,” Friday in the Wall Street Journal

Which Will?

“The records of Shakespeare’s life aren’t skimpy: There are deeds and court entries, real estate and town papers, his will, reports of performances of his plays, even an accepted example of his handwriting.

“From tributes in the original collection of his plays (the First Folio of 1623), assembled some seven years after his death, we know what his theatrical associates thought of him, and are certain of his contemporary celebrity. But there are no letters, no personal memories, no diary, no confessions or extended memoirs; nothing that explains the wonder of how this hick from a small town north of Oxford, without a university education, got to London to become the leading playwright of his day and managed to write the supreme masterpieces of English dramatic literature. …

“Any Shakespeare biographer has to invent, suppose, imagine, adjust emphases, intuit, mulch the plays for hints of autobiography. …

“It all depends, I guess, on the Shakespeare we prefer to believe in.”

Robert Cornfield, writing on “Call Me Will, Forsooth: The Bard as Ordinary Guy,” in the Monday issue of the New York Observer

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