Magliozzi's Ignoramus Principle

Joel Newman sent the following letter:

Magliozzi's Ignoramus Principle

On the morning of Sept. 13, I was driving my brand-new Honda Civic down the Interstate, en route to the Charlotte Auto Fair, listening to Weekend Edition on Public Radio. Weekend Edition ended, and your show came on. Since I was not yet thoroughly familiar with my new car, I was reluctant to fiddle with the dashboard knobs while driving at highway speeds. Thus, I did not change the station.

During your show, a woman called to say that she had dented her car, and then allowed her husband to believe that someone else had done it. She asked if she should confess to her husband. You said, "No."

Later in the conversation, it came out that her husband was a Car Talk listener, and that she planned a ruse to prevent him from hearing her conversation with you. With that additional information, you changed your answer, and told her to confess.

I assume for the purpose of the discussion that follows that you were correct on both counts-- that the answer to her question in the abstract was "no," but that the answer to the very same question, when asked "out loud," was "yes." I think that you have stumbled upon an important new principle.

You are probably familiar with Heisenger's Uncertainty Principle--that certain aspects of subatomic particles cannot be measured accurately, for the very process of measurement changes the particles. I believe that you have discovered a related principle (I'd say you've discovered a corollary principle, but I can't quite remember what "corollary" means.) In Heisenger's Uncertainty Principle, the very act of measurement changes the measurement. In the phenomenon which you so elegantly demonstrated on the radio, the very act of asking a question out loud changes the answer to the question.

I propose that you call your principle "Magliozzi's Ignoramus Principle." Snobs who enjoy dropping terms like that will be attracted by the Italianate "Magliozzi" followed by the Latinate "Ignoramus." I predict that this new principle will have many valuable applications, particularly in the field of politics.

I congratulate you on your addition to the store of human knowledge.

Joel Newman
Winston-Salem, N.C.