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Re: science or non-science?
In a message dated 4/18/99 4:35:56 PM EST, firstname.lastname@example.org writes:
<< 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!>>
Glad to see that my challenge stirred you to respond!
<< 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.>>
I don't think we have. We have circled around the issues several more times,
but we really are no closer to understanding dinosaur physiology than we were
in 1980. Better arguments have perhaps been put forward by both sides in the
endothermy-ectothermy debate--so that a current version of "A Cold Look"
would be a fatter volume--but in the end, whichever side you take involves
faith more than fact. And the reason for this is that there is simply no way
to test any of the hypotheses with living dinosaurs. You can say they were
"likely" this or "likely" that, and that, at bottom, is all you could have
said 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. >>
Can you describe another way besides falsifiability of alternatives to
resolve a scientific debate?