Sherlock Holmes Would Stink as Detective Today

Criminology teacher takes down the world-famous crime-solver
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 26, 2014 4:41 PM CST
Sherlock Holmes Would Stink as Detective Today
Benedict Cumberbatch portrays Sherlock Holmes in "Sherlock," a fast-paced, witty take on the legendary Sherlock Holmes crime novels, set in present day London.   (AP Photo/PBS, File)

Who hasn't been annoyed when Sherlock Holmes deftly solves a crime with a "what the...?" answer and calls it "elementary, my dear Watson"? Criminology teacher Noah Charney is apparently among us, writing in the Daily Beast that Holmes' thinking just wouldn't work in real-life cases. Case in point: Holmes' famous conclusion in the Arthur Conan Doyle story The Silver Blaze that a dog failed to bark one night because a "midnight visitor was someone whom the dog knew well." Something not happening implicates the crook—cool, right? Not so, says Charney.

In fact, Holmes' "abduction reasoning"—an inference based on known facts—is really an assumption. Maybe a stranger fed or drugged the dog, or the dog was just irrational. Today, with large databases and mathematical modeling, inductive reasoning is considered far more reliable. Charney makes his point by asking you to guess the next number in this sequence: 2,8,16, x. You guessed 32, right? Wrong, he says: The sequence was actually based on a mathematical dilemma called Moser's Circle Problem, in which the next number is 31. Point being: "Look at the problem from one angle only, and you risk getting it wrong." Perhaps more importantly, BBC's new Sherlock series has made Holmes "sexy again," reports Rolling Stone. "The most attractive person in the room is not always the best-looking; it's the most interesting," says one of the show's co-creators. (More Sherlock Holmes stories.)

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