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science or non-science?



I was going to write in and make the comment that lamniform sharks were 
not ectotherms (lamnids ARE endotherms - see Block, B.A. and J.R. 
Finnerty 1994 Endothermy in fishes: a phylogenetic analysis of 
constraints, predispositions, and selection pressures. Env. Biol. 
Fish. 40: 283-302), as suggested in one submission, but I relented. 
However, in the next message I was faced with the notion that "since 
there is no way to take the temperature of a living dinosaur at 
periodic intervals for several days or weeks, the endothermy/ectothermy 
debate cannot be resolved. Since neither hypothesis is falsifiable, the 
whole debate is unscientific." I couldn't let this one go!

I agree that much of the debate on dinosaur physiology has been 
unproductive, and that arguments from both sides have tended to 
polarise the issue. However, much of what is discussed in this list 
relates to the behaviour of extinct animals. Does that mean that the 
discussion is unscientific? I believe that we have learned a lot about 
dinosaurs through this debate. By comparisons with living animals and 
the use of modelling techniques we can test many hypotheses about 
dinosaur physiology. Recent discoveries have considerably improved our 
capability in this regard. We may never know the exact answer for a 
given dinosaur species, but we have certainly moved a lot closer to an 
understanding than when "A cold look at the warm-blooded dinosaurs" was 
published in 1980. There is a major difference between falsifiability 
and "resolution" of a scientific debate. Many (but not all) believe 
that falsifiability is an important criterion for science. But 
resolution of a scientific debate involves the final answer. I don't 
think this is a likely outcome in any scientific endeavour, whether it 
involves extinct organisms or not.

Kendall Clements


----------------------
Kendall Clements
k.clements@auckland.ac.nz