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Re: SCIENCE ANYONE?




Hi guys:

Hate to butt in, but I thought I'd try to clarify a few things about science, if I may be so bold (and this will lead to back to dinosaurs, I promise!).

You have been defining science as:
<Science:~ the view that reality can be apprehended and manipulated
to reach a
consciously formulated goal.>

Or:
<Science ideally is not goal oriented.  Science ideally is you

and I go out in the world and look at stuff and say, "Hey that's
weird, maybe
this is why that is."  And then we test our hypothesis the only
way you can:
trying to demonstrate that you're wrong.>

There are many definitions for science, granted, but perhaps the clearest formulation I have run across and use in my courses is:

Science -- a narrow discipline that seeks to pose answerable questions about the physical universe.

Notice that the definition says nothing about manipulating anything or reaching a goal -- in paleontology, at least with the primary data (i.e., fossils), we can do very little manipulation in the sense of an experimenter manipulating variables, yet we are still doing science. We are seeking to pose answerable questions about dinosaurs in this case. I'm not going to touch phylogenetic systematics -- yet. =)

We also assume a number of things in science:

1. There is a physical universe outside of our minds/bodies.
2. The properties of that physical universe can be tested and understood.
3. Methodological naturalism -- everything in this physical universe has natural causes and effects.


Are these assumptions true? Who knows. We don't deal with truth in science -- only with probability. We may say something is very, very probable, but we can never say with 100% certainty that something is true. In any case, every discipline makes and operates under certain assumptions. Maybe there are supernatural forces, maybe its all in our heads, etc., etc. Maybe, but these considerations fall outside the narrow spectrum of what science is and does.

All hypotheses, laws, and theories in science must be testable, falsifiable, and have predictive power. A phylogenetic hypothesis concerning the relationships of certain dinosaurs is science and is a hypothesis because it can be tested against observations in the fossil record, it can be falsified by new data or old data someone has uncovered, and predicts certain relationships between dinosaurs and perhaps what transitional dinosaur forms between the taxa might look like, etc.

Philidor writes:
"Cladograms will remain hypotheses, inferences forever.  They cannot become
theories, like evolution, which are backed by so much direct
and indirect evidence that they become equivalent to observations.
 This has implications."

Well, not really. A scientific theory has explanatory power -- it is not merely a better hypothesis or law, but an overarching explanation that unites many laws, hypotheses, and observations together. A theory does not become equivalent to observation, because it can always be falsified and tested -- it's power is how well it explains seemingly unrelated phenomena within a given field. The power of evolutionary theory is that it explains a universal genetic code, a sequential fossil record, the groups-within-groups pattern we see in nature and in the fossil record, etc. -- there has been descent with modification from a single common ancestor.

Suggesting that cladograms are simply inferences and can never be theories, IMHO, misses the point of cladograms. Yes, they are hypotheses, and their power lies in predicting new avenues of research -- this is healthy for paleontology. They are not merely inferences, they are testable, falsifiable predictions based on fossil data that guide dinosaur research. This is why much of the paleontological community has preferred cladistics over more traditional methods -- because of the testability and predictability of their systematic hypotheses, and their replication by others.

Hope this helped,

Matt (sauropod toes) Bonnan

Matthew F. Bonnan, Ph.D.
Department of Biological Sciences
Western Illinois University
Macomb, IL 61455
(309) 298-2155
mbonnan@hotmail.com
MF-Bonnan@wiu.edu

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