Have you ever imagined yourself as a best-selling author? Detective stories sell well. Let’s give it a try. My story is set in an imposing country home in England. The wealthy owner happens to wander into his wife’s dressing room. She is away on an expedition to the beach. The gentleman notices his wife’s diamond necklace carelessly flung onto the table amidst expensive perfume bottles. Horrified, he swoops down upon the jewelry, only to discover that this is a cheap imitation of the real necklace.  Promptly he calls the local inspector who sends out four detectives.

The detectives snoop around and each presents his theory on the case. Detective Smith declares that the butler stole the necklace and sold it in London. Detective Jones strongly suggests that his evidence implicates the maid. Detective Cooper accuses the daughter’s boyfriend of helping himself to the jewels. Detective Trent indicates that the evidence points to the son of the family who has wasted huge sums of money on fast cars. The gentleman is now thoroughly confused. When his wife returns home, he shares all these distressing details with her. It is then that his wife informs him that actually she lent the real necklace to her sister, Lady Hampton, who is scheduled to attend a royal court event that very evening.

You may imagine that this is a pretty ridiculous story. Why would the home owner not first establish that a crime had indeed been committed? Did the lack of agreement among the detectives tell him something about the dubious nature of their theories? These are all excellent questions! They show that you are thinking critically.

The whole thing reminds me of a remark I read in the scientific literature the other day. The author was Dr. Simon Conway Morris from University of Cambridge in England. This paleontologist is well known for his studies on Burgess Shale fossils. The Burgess Shale, you may remember, is the fossil bed in British Columbia which was made famous by Stephen Jay Gould in his book  Wonderful Life….

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