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Re: Frosted Popper-Tarts (was Re: Underlying basis...)
Hi, Matt, great to hear from you again!
You've raised some fascinating questions about the difference between the
observations leading to a hypothesis and the testing of the hypothesis. As
I'd formulate them:
1. Is it testing the hypothesis when additional data/observations are sought
to support the hypothesis?
2. Is it testing the hypothesis when inferences are used to obtain
conclusions supporting the hypothesis?
In both cases, the activities seem to be use of existing data/observations to
justify the hypothesis initially.
The type of test we're talking about includes prediction/experiment. As I
understand it, the hypothesis can be falsified if it leads to a prediction of
something which follows from the hypothesis but was not part of the original
observations. The experiment is making that something happen in such a way
that your rooting interest cannot influence the outcome. If the hypothesis
cannot be falsified then it can be regarded as proven. The problem with
testing the past is you can't make it happen any other way, you can't
manipulate it. (But see below.)
The first example is the evidence for the K/T bolide:
<<Take the asteroid-impact hypothesis: first, all we had was high
concentrations of iridum around the world at K/T boundary. Since asteroids
and/or comets tend to have high concentrations it was argued that an
asteroid/comet hit about 65 MYA. But this evidence alone was not enough...
However, more evidence began to mount for a bolide impact, including the
presence of shocked-quartz. Shocked quartz is only known to form at impact
sites. Furthermore, large tsunami (tidal wave) deposits were known from the
Gulf of Mexico region, some of these up into central Texas. But this was
still not enough ...
Finally in 1992, a crater approximately 150 km across was found off the
Yucatan penninsula in Mexico. The age of the crater has been dated to 65
MYA [and the crater fit with the rest of the evidence]...>>
So, isn't this a description of getting enough evidence to justify making the
hypothesis in the first place? I'm not saying that the hypothesis is not
well-supported and true, but what consequence of the hypothesis could be used
to make a prediction which could fail and so falsify the hypothesis?
Your second example concerns gaining evidence about terrain preferences of
<<If my hypothesis is true that two families of North American sauropods,
Diplodocidae and Camarasauridae, had different terrain preferences (i.e.,
tending to stick to certain areas of land, dry or wet), then I should find
differing degrees of phalangeal, metatarsal, and claw mobility in the feet
First, I physically MANIPULATED the feet of various sauropods, and my
observations seemed to suggest that Diplodocids had more mobile feet and
ankles than Camarasaurids. However, I have my biases. If there really is a
different in foot mobility, this should be reflected in the shapes of the
articular surfaces and the bones themselves...
Using a shape analysis program...[and]...ANOVA..., I found that
my...hypothesis... was statistically viable...
In other words, by physical manipulation and statistical manipulation, I
have determined that, for now (until new evidence comes to light), these two
families differed in their foot mobility. This empirical data suggests
(although does not prove) that these two sauropod families may have preferred
to walk on differing terrains, which in turn may have implications for
paleoecology. This is what I am scrambling to get a paper out on.>>
I admire the ingenuity used to make observations which are not available
directly from the physical evidence. (I'd ask about how directly foot
mobility correlates to terrain preference, but I suspect this is not all the
evidence you've educed.) You have justification for your hypothesis, but can
you describe what currently unavailable data would prove your hypothesis
These examples appear to be about obtaining the data/observations needed to
formulate a hypothesis rather than testing it. They do prove the rigor of
paleontology and the other historical sciences, even if that rigor is not
exactly the same as that of the 'experimental world' as Dr. Brochu called it.
I'm checking on Karl Popper as recommended by Dr. Holtz to see how the
appropriate modifications to the 'classic' scientific method (which, if I
understand Dr. Holtz correctly, was actually misunderstood by a substantial
number of people) have already been made. Wish me luck.
A couple of notes:
Where I went to school, the Teachers were called Mr. No need to compliment
with another title, you knew how good they were just by listening, closely!
To me, that's respect. I could never call a Teacher by his first name during
working hours, but I'm switching to Dr. because it's more regular.
Also, the following site shows a comparison between the scientific method and
the Socratic method:
<A HREF="http://www.soci.niu.edu/~phildept/Dye/method.html">socratic method
Shows why us old English majors are so comfortable with both.
Don't be a stranger, Matt!