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In "A Scandal in Bohemia," Sherlock Holmes says to Dr. Watson, "It is a capital mistake...

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ohnoashleyyy | Student | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 26, 2009 at 9:33 AM via web

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In "A Scandal in Bohemia," Sherlock Holmes says to Dr. Watson, "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data."

Explain why this is an ironic statement.

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James Kelley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted October 26, 2009 at 11:34 AM (Answer #1)

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You might see this statement as ironic in a general sense because the scientific method requires at least some theorizing (in the form of a hypothesis) before the data is collected (such as through a controlled experiment).

The statement might also be seen as ironic in a sense more specific to the Sherlock Holmes stories because, as I recall the stories, the title character is theorizing all the time when he has little to no data at hand. He is often portrayed as the "armchair detective," who solves mysteries by using the power of his mind and often by hardly lifting a finger (or foot) to collect data.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted March 27, 2010 at 8:28 AM (Answer #1)

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This statement is essentially saying that a person must not make assumptions.  Instead, a person must wait until they have evidence.  I suppose you could say it is an ironic statement because, you can argue, Holmes makes assumptions about Irene Adler without having data to back them up.  These assumptions cause Holmes to lose the battle between him and Adler.

Holmes just assumes that he is smarter than Adler.  He assumes that he has fooled her with his tricks.  But he has not collected any data to find out if she is too smart to be fooled.

In the end, it turns out that she was too smart.  It is ironic, then, for Holmes to scold Watson for this when Holmes is going to be defeated by that very mistake in this story.

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asburton | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 13, 2010 at 1:49 AM (Answer #2)

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The answer they are looking for can be found in your study guide, on page 252. It says there..

Note that Holmes tells Watson, "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data." Ironically, it is Holmes's failure to adhere to this rule later in the story that causes his failure- a unique event in Holmes stories. What assumptions does Holmes make that lead to his failure?

 

Hope this helps!

 

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quddoos | Valedictorian

Posted October 15, 2013 at 12:52 AM (Answer #2)

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This statement is essentially saying that a person must not make assumptions.  Instead, a person must wait until they have evidence.  I suppose you could say it is an ironic statement because, you can argue, Holmes makes assumptions about Irene Adler without having data to back them up.  These assumptions cause Holmes to lose the battle between him and Adler.

Holmes just assumes that he is smarter than Adler.  He assumes that he has fooled her with his tricks.  But he has not collected any data to find out if she is too smart to be fooled.

In the end, it turns out that she was too smart.  It is ironic, then, for Holmes to scold Watson for this when Holmes is going to be defeated by that very mistake in this story.

The answer they are looking for can be found in your study guide, on page 252. It says there..

Note that Holmes tells Watson, "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data." Ironically, it is Holmes's failure to adhere to this rule later in the story that causes his failure- a unique event in Holmes stories. What assumptions does Holmes make that lead to his failure?

Hope this helps!

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William Delaney | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 31, 2014 at 12:02 AM (Answer #4)

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Sherlock Holmes is noted for his powers of deduction. But in the statement quoted in the posted question, he is showing that he also relies heavily on inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning is based on the accumulation of data, and therefore it is the kind of reasoning most often used in science. Holmes frequently displays his interest in scientific experimentation by conducting elaborate and sometimes bizarre experiments in his own rooms. He is often described as working with chemicals and laboratory equipment. He also makes comments to Watson and others which show that he has acquired scientific knowledges of all sorts of things related to his unique profession through his reading of scientific books and treatises, and he has published many scientific treatises himself. When he makes deductions they are usually based on the evidence that is right there before him. When he has no evidence he will not theorize until he has acquired as much as he needs, usually through personal observation. In his most famous story, "The Hound of the Baskervilles," he sends Watson to Baskerville Hall in order to acquire data for him. But Watson proves to be inadequate to the task, and Holmes has to go to the area in secret to see for himself.

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