The Frontstretch: Fans And Media Need To Remember Occam’s Razor by Jeff Meyer -- Friday July 5, 2013

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Fans And Media Need To Remember Occam’s Razor

Voices From The Cheap Seats · Jeff Meyer · Friday July 5, 2013


Since we are not all created equally when it comes to thinking, I will answer the question of WTF is Occam’s Razor for those who think it is the latest hair removal device offered from Gillette. Or, to paraphrase the insufferable Bill Weber, (Remember him?) I looked it up so you don’t have to! (Along with a bit of history and examples!)


The term “Occam’s Razor” comes from a misspelling of the name William of Ockham. Ockham was a brilliant theologian, philosopher, and logician in the medieval period. One of his rules of thumb has become a standard guideline for thinking through issues logically. Occam’s Razor is the principle that, “non sunt multiplicanda entia praeter necessitatem” [i.e., “don’t multiply the agents in a theory beyond what’s necessary.”] What does that mean? If two competing theories explain a single phenomenon, they both generally reach the same conclusion, they are both equally persuasive and convincing, and they both explain the problem or situation satisfactorily, the logician should always pick the less complex one. The one with the fewer number of moving parts, so to speak, is most likely to be correct. The idea is always to cut out extra unnecessary bits, hence the name “razor.” An example will help illustrate this point.

Suppose you come home and discover that your dog has escaped from the kennel and chewed large chunks out of the couch. Two possible theories occur to you. (1) Theory number one is that you forgot to latch the kennel door, and the dog pressed against it and opened it, and then the dog was free to run around the inside of the house. This explanation requires two entities (you and the dog) and two actions (you forgetting to lock the kennel door and the dog pressing against the door). (2) Theory number two is that some unknown person skilled at picking locks managed to disable the front door, then came inside the house, set the dog free from the kennel, then snuck out again covering up any sign of his presence, and then relocked the front door, leaving the dog free inside to run amok in the house. This theory requires three entities (you, the dog, and the lockpicking intruder) and several actions (picking the lock, entering, releasing the dog, hiding evidence, relocking the front door). It also requires us to come up with a plausible motivation for the intruder — a motivation that is absent at this point.

Either theory would be an adequate and plausible explanation. Both explain the same phenomenon (the escaped dog) and both employ the same theory of how, i.e., that the latch was opened somehow, as opposed to some far-fetched theory about canine teleportation or something crazy like that.

Which one is most likely correct? If you don’t find evidence like strange fingerprints or human footprints or missing possessions to support theory #2, William of Ockham would say that the simpler solution (#1) is most likely to be correct in this case. The first solution only involves two parts — two entities and two actions. On the other hand, the second theory requires at least five parts — you, the dog, a hypothetical unknown intruder, some plausible motivation, and various actions. It is needlessly complex. Occam’s basic rule was “Thou shalt not multiply extra entities unnecessarily,” or to phrase it in modern terms, “Don’t speculate about extra hypothetical components if you can find an explanation that is equally plausible without them.” All things being equal, the simpler theory is more likely to be correct, rather than one that relies upon many hypothetical additions to the evidence already collected.

Or, to explain the explanation… Keep It Simple, Stupid! (KISS principle)

The reason I bring all this up is because…

Carl Edwards was one of sixteen drivers and teams caught with illegal roof flaps Thursday night in Daytona.

Teams found with modified roof flap spacers: Sixteen teams, at Daytona were found to have modified roof flap spacers (lighter) during NASCAR inspection. Teams listed include: #1-McMurray, #2-Keselowski, #9-Ambrose, #11-Hamlin, #13-Mears, #15-Bowyer, #16-Biffle, #17-Stenhouse, Jr., #18-Busch, #20-Kenseth, #21-Bayne, #22-Logano, #43-Almirola, #55-Waltrip, #56-Truex, Jr. and #99-Edwards. The modified/confiscated roof-flap spacers are on display at Daytona in the NASCAR hauler. NASCAR’s Kerry Tharp addressed media on confiscated roof-flap spacers – “Spacers not in compliance with those kits.” The roof-flap kits are supplied to teams for NASCAR by one company (a Roush company) and are not to be changed.

As you might expect, the furor and conspiracy theories are already flying by fans and media personnel alike on the likes of Facebook, Twitter and racing blogs. Most notable of those is the fact that of the offending teams, only one is a Chevy and none belong to Hendrick or Childress.

In an effort to give you all a big KISS, here is the most likely explanation as I see it;
it is highly unlikely that each kit is sent to teams each week. Teams likely have a supply of these kits on hand and order them on an “as needed” basis. Some teams may have more on hand than others.

If, as the press release states, the parts in question are “lighter,” it is obvious to me, seeing as how teams from all three manufacturers were affected, this was probably a simple production error where specs were not met or checked. A sane mind can in no way possibly think it was some effort to “cheat.” Had only Ford teams been in violation, then I might allude to the fact that someone “has some ‘splainin’ to do!” That is not the case.

Another possible explanation is that NASCAR has approved changing the specs of the part for future competition and a batch of “future” parts were inadvertently sent out to teams in the last shipment. In either case, it is obvious that most of the big Chevy teams have not ordered or requested the part lately and must have had more of them on hand. Or, to cover all the bases, it could be a combination of the two.

Either way, anyone who advocates that any kind of cheating or conspiracy is going on in this case, should be laughed at and not taken seriously and if they persist, possibly taken out and… and … well, done with whatever it is you feel annoying and idiotic folks like that deserve!

The same holds true for NASCAR should they choose to penalize any team for this “non-advantageous” infraction.

Stay off the wall, (and hoping you didn’t blow off anything important yesterday!)

Jeff Meyer

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Today on the Frontstretch:
NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
Five Points To Ponder: NASCAR’s Take-A-Breath Moment
Truckin’ Thursdays: Top Five All-Time Truck Series Drivers
Going By the Numbers: A Week Without Racing Can Bring Relief But Kill Momentum


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07/05/2013 06:15 AM

Ha! Now that was an interesting way to get your point across! Now Jeff ..I will say I do agree with seems highly unlikely all 16 teams..under a variety of stables and together in a secret meeting..and decided to alter their roof flaps for the same race! Now the question is…will NASCAR see the simple solution..or will they roll those black helicopters out of the hanger and fly them to the tune of 25 point penalties ?!?! Truth IS stranger then fiction!

07/05/2013 07:14 AM

In other words, use the simple spring action mouse trap rather than the Rube Goldberg version.

07/05/2013 10:15 AM

Well, Jeff, you can bet that with Roush being the offending organization who manufactured and distributed the offending parts, NASCAR will hammer the Roush teams especially hard, particularly given that one Roush car is in second place in the points. NASCAR might also hammer the Gibbs teams, considering that Gibbs is the number one threat to Hendrick’s domination, and in particular, Kenseth (a former Roush driver) is a serious threat to Jimmie “Whine-King” Jihnson’s sixth NASCAR-kiliing championship. I fully expect the entire Roush organization to be hammered so hard that it will kill an already dying company.

I’ll bet Amy Henderson is laughing!

07/05/2013 10:19 AM

Well thought article. but didn’t, by your way of long explanation, violate Occam’s razor?

07/05/2013 12:10 PM

It would be SO funny if we found out every non-Hendrick team was working together to win against the 48. That would be awesome.

But an easier way would be to just have a different driver put the 48 into the wall at the start of every race. How cool would THAT be? Talk about bringing the fans back….

RADIO: “Oh, my brakes just didn’t work for some reason.”

Vegas could put up bets on which driver would take out the 48 for THIS week. And it would be fun to see how nascar reacted to it…how would they message the rules to allow the 48 to still get in the chase for another championship? LOL.

Hey, we can dream can’t we?

07/05/2013 12:43 PM

Nice explanation and very true. Little black helicopters anyone?

Then again, this is NASCAR. The entity that writes its rule book in pencil so it can be changed at a whim.

Sammy, I rather like your “simple” solution for the 48. With, of course, no injuries to drivers as my caveat.

Jeff Meyer - FS staff
07/05/2013 01:13 PM

To Bob,
My explanation starts at
“Or, to explain the explanation… Keep It Simple, Stupid! (KISS principle)

The editors just didn’t put the whole bit from the website in italics.

07/05/2013 03:11 PM

Yeah that’s pretty much my opinion. Hard to believe that a total of 31 cars from all 3 manufacturers across 2 series would break the exact same rule. Glad there are some sane people out there.


Contact Jeff Meyer

Recent articles from Jeff Meyer:

Voices From The Cheap Seats: The Tale Of Two Tires
BSNews! Bruton’s Plans Extend Beyond Bristol’s Track
Top Ten Reasons Fans Failed To Show Up At Bristol Sunday
BSNews! NASCAR CEO Given "Special" Award Amidst Lavish Fanfare
Fan Coun-ci-What? Just What Is It That NASCAR Wants To Study?

Want to know more about Jeff Meyer or view his complete article archives? Then hop on over to his archive and bio page.