Keep Occam’s razor sharp
In random conversations I had around the barbecue during the summer break, the talk sometimes went down a rabbit hole when someone threw in dubious facts. The most obvious fallacies were greeted with mocking shouts of ‘‘fake news’’. Others had me frowning and reaching for my phone to do my own research. That’s where Bjorn Borg came in. As those of us Fitbit wearers were comparing our resting heart rates (mine is 68), someone confidently stated that the Swedish tennis star had a resting heart rate of 18 beats per minute during his tennis career.
Really? I wasn’t buying it. I Googled it. Turns out there are all sorts of claims, many in reputable outlets, about the 11-Grandslam-singles-title winner’s famously low heart rate, which supposedly gave him a physiological edge over his rivals. It was 35. No it was 45. Actually it was 39.
But delving into Borg’s 1980 autobiography, My Life and Game, revealed the truth.
‘‘The myth dates back to when, at the age of 18, [Borg] took a medical exam for military service and was recorded as 38,’’ explains coauthor Eugene Scott.
‘‘It is now about 50 when he wakes up and around 60 in the afternoon,’’ Scott added, writing when Borg was still at the top of his game.
My fact radar is programmed with three settings, all permanently switched on.
First, I remember the shrewd advice of the late great American cosmologist Carl Sagan.
‘‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,’’ the gifted science populariser wrote. Keep that in mind next time you are urged to eat like a caveman.
Of course, the evidence can be voluminous and difficult to navigate. So, second, I look at who is presenting the evidence and where they come from. A professor with lots of papers in quality journals and a long career at esteemed institutions is likely to be more credible than a self-professed expert with some pills to sell.
Third, I apply Occam’s razor which holds that when trying to figure out an explanation for something, the simplest answer is usually the best. Don’t make assumptions, stay sceptical, check the facts and help keep your mates on the straight and narrow.