Each year my adopted city puts on Springtime Tallahassee which includes a 10K race (and now a 1 mile and 5K). I ran the race for the first time in 1994 and it was a disaster for me. Each year since then has also proven to be a disaster, with the worst being the year that I fell off my roof and tore my quadriceps tendon the Thursday before the race. Other years included such incidents as a pulled muscle in the race, a major sinus infection, what was probably pneumonia, a Yamaha related back injury and so on for each year. This year I was exhausted, sick, and had a bad knee, back issues and hip problems.
Since I teach critical thinking for a living, I am aware of causal reasoning and the associated fallacies. I am also not inclined to believe in such things as curses. Except in the case of me and Springtime. Since this provides an exercise in causal reasoning, it seems worth running through the matter. Again.
One way to dismiss the idea of the Curse of Springtime is to point out that it could be a case of the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy. This fallacy occurs when a person infers that A causes B because B follows A, and they do so without proper justification. In order to avoid the fallacy, one must consider that the connection is merely a coincidence.
Thanks to the problem of induction, it is impossible to show that anything is certainly not coincidence. However, the usual remedy is to apply the method of difference. This method involves considering cases in which an effect occurs and which it does not and finding the difference. A key part of this is that the suspected cause can be tested. In cases in which such tests cannot be literally run as tests, one looks for repetition and difference—the idea being that if B happens regularly and consistently with A and not so without A, then a causal connection would be suspected and subject to additional consideration.
In the case of the alleged Curse, the correlation of Springtime to unfortunate events impacting my running is 100%: it has happened every year since 1994. While I do, obviously, have other unfortunate events in the course of the year, they do not line up consistently with other races. As such, there seems to be more at play than coincidence.
But, of course, to leap to accepting the Curse hypothesis would be too quick. Perhaps there is a factor that occurs this time of year that causes me to have unfortunate events that has nothing to do with Springtime. That is, I must search for alternative explanations. For example, people seem to often have sinus infections or illnesses at the same time of the year regularly. As another example, perhaps this time of the semester always finds me exhausted and thus more prone to illness or injury. There are, however, a few problems with these alternative explanations.
One is that the date of the race and its location in the semester has changed (this year, FAMU changed its calendar so it is a week behind last year) over the years, yet the unfortunate events always line up with the race. Second, there is considerable variety to the unfortunate events: sometimes it is an illness without injury, sometimes it is injury without illness, sometimes I am fine until I have some sort of serious accident that is not caused by being tired, and so on. That is, there seems to be no constant factor other than the Springtime 10K.
The obvious problem is, of course, that it makes no sense that a future event (the race) could cause such effects. As such, the only rational explanation is that it is just coincidence—year after year after year. This is, of course, not impossible. However, with each passing year the idea of the Curse of Springtime seems ever more plausible.