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Re: On the subject of "arbitrary" paleontology



In a message dated 5/27/99 2:45:13 PM Eastern Daylight Time, 
Z966341@wpo.cso.niu.edu writes:

<< If a paleontologist observes a number of different animals in museum
 collections, notes various landmarks and characters, and produces a
 cladogram, that is indeed a testable hypothesis.  Other scientists can
 go back and look at what he/she did, this making it repeatable.  If
 they get similar results, the hypothesis has failed to be falsified,
 but can still be at any time.  This hypothesis of relationships also
 has predictive power: it predicts relationships of the animals and may
 suggest where to look for relatives or outgroups. >>

You have said that an interpretation is self-consistent and includes all of 
the available evidence to a high level of precision.  Beyond that, I would 
disagree that having a second scientist look at the same evidence and produce 
a similar hypothesis necessarily proves repeatability.  People try to pick 6 
Lotto numbers no one else has selected in order not to share a prize.  That's 
why if 1-2-3-4-5-6 is ever drawn 1,000 people will share the jackpot.  Human 
logic, even intuition, appears to be substantially standard-issue.  Also, to 
predict 'relationships' of animals means only that the theory can be 
extended, not falsified.
  For contrast, relativity is a theory which can predict events not available 
for study when the theory was formulated.  It can be refuted by accessible 
facts, not just judged by rules like parsimony which themselves have been 
established by consensus or refuted by fossils which may never be found.  Of 
course, very broad issues of classification are probably not the most 
essential part of paleontology.   

<< Where does this agreement come from?  Is it from the secrect society of
scientists, who agree to back each other and ignore contrary data?  No
way.>>

Well, I've read that the history of science does show inconvenient data is 
often explained away as an exception for a while, until the exception becomes 
unavoidable and existing theory changes.  Consider plate techtonics.  Aside 
from delays caused by human nature, I agree with you.
My observations concerned the inherent limitations in the data available to 
paleontology and the efforts to evade these limitations by using many 
sciences and techniques, including inference.  The effort to get the most 
descriptive value out of the comparatively few fossils we have is fascinating 
and successful and very worth doing.  However, the absence of an objective, 
final standard (like the meter, which can be very precisely measured by a lab 
anywhere) to say when reasonable argument ends is frustrating, and that 
frustration does have an effect.