[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index][Subject Index][Author Index]

Re: science or non-science?



In a message dated 4/18/99 4:35:56 PM EST, k.clements@auckland.ac.nz 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?