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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.