Excerpt: 'Weather's Greatest Mysteries Solved!' by Randy Cerveny

What made Fujita the right man to investigate that crash? In short, Ted Fujita was a researcher cut from a different cloth than the "typical scientist" -- he was a master of inductive logic. Inductive reasoning is the process of arriving at a conclusion from a limited set of data rather than from all possible observations. Commonly, if done correctly, inductive reasoning is considered "an intuitive leap." Such reasoning is markedly different from the traditional type of scientific analysis, called deductive reasoning. Deduction -- the type of reasoning used by Sherlock Holmes in the A. Conan Doyle stories -- involves arriving at a conclusion based totally on previously known facts (called the premises). If the premises are true, the conclusion must be true.

Inductive reasoning is generally considered to be less powerful than deduction because it is much easier to go astray by using induction. The "flaw" of induction, according to many experts, is that the generalization can break down when new facts materialize because induction involves extrapolation from a limited set of observations. If a person says, based on the available knowledge, that all baseballs are white in color, he or she can be proven wrong if a baseball of a different color is found. Conversely, deduction involves arriving at the conclusion directly from the observations. Deduction is a step-by-step process of drawing conclusions based on previously known truths. For example, if all fish in a given pond have gills and you catch a fish from that pond, you can deduce that it will have gills. A fundamental problem with deduction is that, if one's initial facts are later proven wrong, the logical chain of reasoning breaks down.

The trouble with using deductive reasoning for an open-ended system such as our atmosphere is that rarely, if ever, are all of the facts known. Consequently, even though most scientists say that they are using deduction -- basing their theories on a framework of facts -- that framework of facts is, by necessity, limited to only the available set of observations. So, all atmospheric scientists use inductive reasoning to some extent -- but some are a lot better at it than others.

Fujita's genius was his well-honed inductive ability -- in being able to extract a brilliant fundamental principle from a quite-often limited set of facts. One of his colleagues, Dr. James Wilson at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder Colorado, commented upon Fujita's death in 1998 about this aspect of Fujita's scientific personality: "He would theorize how things work, and it often was left to the rest of us to come along and prove his theories." He continued, "There was an insight [Fujita] had, this gut feeling. He often had ideas way before the rest of us could even imagine them." In the well-ordered world of science, such a renegade attitude led to occasional resentment. Interestingly, many scientists don't like flashes of inspiration or gut feelings. They prefer to undertake their scientific investigations in a straightforward -- if rather dull -- step-by-step sequence of testing. Wilson noted that Fujita "was a controversial character at times because of the way he did his science. But there was no question that he had insight that very few people had."

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