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Re: science or non-science?

Re: testability and dinosaur physiology

> 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.

As a disinterested scientist viewing the debate from outside I argue 
that progress has been made. I've taught a graduate seminar on dinosaur 
thermophysiology since 1995. In that time the reading list has changed 
considerably in the light of new publications. This seminar is taught 
in a physiology course - it's not eevn a paleontology paper. We could 
argue the toss about areas like oxygen isotopes, but I believe 
demonstrable progress has been made since 1980 in at least the 
following areas: (a) dinosaur presence at high latitudes; (b) bone 
histology; (c) turbinate structure; (d) physiology of extant reptiles 
(e.g. leatherback turtles, varanids, crocodiles); (e) theropod/avian 
phylogeny; and (f) soft anatomy. I agree that we don't have a 
definitive answer, but I think the recent debate has at least veered 
away from the hot versus cold blooded arguments of the past. Jim Farlow 
told me that he's even changed his opinion since he wrote his chapter 
on dinosaur energetics and thermal biology in The Dinosauria in 1990.

Another important difference between now and 1980 has been the 
development of phylogenetic methods for testing evolutionary 
hypotheses (the comparative method). Given adequate phylogenies, we now 
have rigorous methods for historical inference. We are never going to 
get 100% certainty, but we can often get close. While the exact status 
of dinosaur physiology may be untestable, predictions based on 
particular models are testable in many cases. New fossil finds are 
likely to improve this situation further.

> Can you describe another way besides falsifiability of alternatives to 
> resolve a scientific debate?

Popper is largely misquoted on the importance of falsifiability. 
Research programs can be judged on their ability to produce 
interesting and testable hypotheses, not just whether the theories 
themselves are amenable to direct test. Is Darwinism testable? No, but 
few discount its ability to generate interesting and testable 
questions. I agree that the endothermy debate over the years has 
produced more heat than light, but that especially over the past decade 
progress has been made in our ability to infer aspects of physiology. 

Kendall Clements