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On science (was Re: a bunch of other stuff)



This is likely to be my last comment for a while on the application of
science to paleontology.  Hopefully anybody else still wanting to
chime in can wrap up their piece as well.

Brian McCarthy <philidor11@snet.net> still does not like my stand that
doing historical science is in principle the same as doing any other
science:

> One experiment is to infect a volunteer (feeling frightened, cold,
> alone, but game after encouragement) with a virus and observe that
> the flu contracted is the expected type.

That experiment could not be performed for ethical reasons, and we're
left in essentially the same situation you'd be in if I suggested an
experiment you couldn't perform because all the animals on which you'd
like to perform the experiment are dead.  In any case, you seem to be
missing the point that I (and others) have been trying to make.  You
can frame and test hypotheses about, for example, dinosaur color
vision just as you can frame and test hypotheses about, for example,
the viral causes of specific diseases.  There are some experiments
you'd like to do with dinosaurs but you can't because they're extinct.
There are some experiments that you'd like to do with viruses, but you
can't because they're too small or the experiment you'd like to
perform is unethical.  If you want to focus on the fact that there are
experiments you can perform with viruses that you can't perform with
Tyrannosaurs you can do so, but in so doing you'll be missing the
common thread -- it is possible to do empirical tests of hypotheses
about extinct animals.  That is the whole issue.  That is what George
tried to deny:

] there is absolutely >no< empirical way to test >any< of the
] scenarios, hypotheses, theories, and so forth that have been brought
] forth in dinosaur paleontology over the past two centuries with
] respect to dinosaur behavior or evolution, period.

I, and I suspect every professional paleontologist -- and I'd hope all
interested laypeople -- on the planet would like to make sure that
everyone here recognizes that George's statement is out and out wrong.
Note that it no longer matters that George is the person that uttered
the statement.  Ideas by merit, not by source.  The statement I've
just quoted is wrong.  It is not right.  It isn't correct.  It is
false.  It is inaccurate.  It was at best misspoken.  That should be
the take home message of this entire thread IMHO.

On my statement that dinosaurs had color vision:

> The steps used include, no, among the assumptions used are,

Nobody (so far as I know) is denying that there are assumptions made
in drawing conclusions.  Your statements about how to demonstrate
causality in disease sound excessively naive to me -- you should look
into the subject of prions if you'd like a better idea of how bad that
can be.  You also ought to look at Joshua Lederberg's article on the
history of immunology and microbiology in the April 14th issue of
_Science_.  But I digress...

> The AIDS example shows an example of successful indirect analysis.
> How is the analysis supported?  The emphasis is as much as possible
> on examining people with HIV and AIDS, and not by proofs that the
> logic used is consistent with established principles.

Look for the work of Peter Duesberg.  I don't think there's much he
says that I agree with on the subject, but you should at least read
about his work and ideas before making such claims.  

Assumptions are everywhere.  Science is about testing assumptions and
conclusions with empirical data.  Science can be (and is!) performed
on paleobiological subjects.

-- 
Mickey Rowe     (rowe@psych.ucsb.edu)