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Pedantry (was Re: Refutations and the Middle J)

--Original Message-- From: Stewart, Dwight <Dwight.Stewart@VLSI.com>
To: 'jjackson@interalpha.co.uk' dinosaur@usc.edu : Thursday, February 11,
1999 03:55 AM

>> -----Original Message----- From: John V Jackson
>> Sent: Wednesday, February 10, 1999 8:07 PM>
>> Of course, since it's really difficult to say anything for certain, maybe
>> nothing can ever be disproven.  But I still feel the concept should
>> remain.

> @@@@@@@@@@@@@
>    I wouldn't go far as to say nothing can ever be disproved, though
>when you are working with data that
> appears to refute an established theory, it can seem that way. :-).
>The scientific method isn't perfect, but it's better than the blind
>authoritarian and superstitious paradigms that it replaced.  Of course, it
>didn't replace them in some circles.

:-)       Actually, funnily enough, I suspect superstition is part of the

>It can be thought of in quasilegal
>terms, where you are looking for a preponderance of evidence.

That's the conclusion I'm coming to.  Absolute proof one way or another may
be desirable, and may occasionally happen, but at the end of the day, that's
not where it's at.

> Being human, we tend to invest emotional energy into
>theories to which we have devoted time
> and energy.  This is especially true when our views are well
>publicized on this or that subject.  For example,
> I was "identified" with a theory in plasma field physics from 1983
>until 1998.  I wrote papers on the subject
> & went to conferences & presented those papers.  A technological
>development allowed us to test this theory in late 1998 & every piece of
>evidence we collected refuted my (and others') theory.  Was our theory
> 100% false?  No, but the "camel's back finally snapped" and I have
>moved on to other things.  To my mind;
> being work is just part of the process.  That's science.  :-)

Yes - it can be a bit of a blood sport, and the human factor simply cannot
be ignored.  However it was nice to see on the list last year how well
people were thought of when they changed their minds.  It might even be
worth supporting something you know to be wrong for a while in order to
later reveal your impressive scientific integrity!  The other thing is that
people who change their minds the quickest in the face of conclusive new
evidence spend more time being "right".  Unfortunately there really is no
true formula for science.  At the end of the day, it reduces to watching the
streams of evidence, and guessing which one is going to end up winning (if
you wait till it's all over before deciding, you're doing history, not
science).  (That's the k-armed bandit - for which we have a pretty good
strategy - which "we" don't apply.)  So - much like betting on raindrops -
but more expensive.

And dinosaur science is no exception (better just get a mention in!)


--Original Message-- From: Philidor11@aol.com Cc: dinosaur@usc.edu Date:
Thursday, February 11, 1999 06:12 AM

>In a message dated 2/10/99 9:22:11 PM Eastern Standard Time,
>jjackson@interalpha.co.uk writes:
><< New evidence comes around and may either support a previous hypothesis,
> > refute/reject it, or be equivocal. >> >>

Tom's actually - I don't think I'd have said "refute/reject"  :-)

(By the way - does anyone know what he meant with that "Point A-T" & "Point
C-G" stuff?  I didn't want to say anything in case I looked iggorant.
Eukaryote base pairs no doubt, but.. why?)

>May I suggest there is a word which indicates a contrary argument but does
>indicate that the concept being considered has been permanently refuted?
>verb   is rebut, and a concept may be rebuted without a decision being
>reached.  The counter-argument itself is a rebuttal.
>Since refute is final, I think rebut is a better opposite to support.
>dictionaries include refute as a secondary meaning of rebut, but don't you
>believe them.)

I'd like to say yes, but I sort of see "rebut" as a definite though
potentially temporary block.  Also, my dictionary gives it as "to disprove;
to refute".  It gives refute as "to disprove; to deny", contra list & modern

I think we ought to return to the old meaning of refute, but have "gainsay"
as the opposite of support.  Or perhaps "counter".


>> (...or rather it should be octopodes); apparently the "pus" bit is
>> Greek for foot, for which the plural is "podes".  Octopi it seems
>> is no more correct than octopusses.
>The 10th Collegiate lists octopuses and octopi (in that order); thus
>octopi is considerably more correct than octopusses.
>> Sorry to be a pendant :-)
>Try harder and you might get to be a pedant ...

>However the delightfuly Scottish Chambers has:
>    pl  octopuses (octopi is wrong).
>(...but then you should see what they say about "Just now"!)
>As I'm neither American nor Scots, and I don't own a proper English
>dictionary, I'll have to continue in ignorance - or just swear blind we
>always use "octopusses" round here!