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



In a message dated 5/30/00 5:34:39 PM EST, rowe@psych.ucsb.edu writes:

<< ] 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. >>

Sorry, but you're wrong, no matter how hard you scream that I'm wrong. That's 
just the way historical science is, is all, and it's nothing to get 
particularly worked up over, either.

You can, for example, model dinosaur behavior with a computer and test the 
>model< empirically, but you can never be sure that your model corresponds to 
the way dinosaurs actually behaved. You can measure dinosaur bones till the 
cows come home and formulate incredibly detailed scenarios of dinosaur 
behavior based on these measurements and their mathematical transformations, 
but the ultimate confirmation will continue to elude you. You can 
phylogenetically bracket dinosaurs and thereby argue that certain behaviors 
must have been in their reportoire because they're in the repertoires of the 
bracketing groups, but you cannot >guarantee< that those behaviors were 
present in all, some, or even any dinosaurs. It is all probabilities, 
likelihoods, and shifting paradigms. The best I can grant is that some of the 
probabilities seem very, very close to certainty (e.g., for ornithischian 
herbivory), but that was not the point of my communication.