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RE: Peering at review

At 11:02 PM +0000 10/22/02, Matthew Bonnan wrote:

However, as scientists, we should use our imaginations to devise testable hypotheses inspired by the data we have at hand. Using your example of ceratopsian horn length, how might we figure out how to determine within reasonable limits the "true" length of ceratopsian horns? Does mammalian horn growth tell us anything about reptilian patterns? What sort of test or experiment could we devise to figure this out? Is there a consistent ratio? A morphological signal or character we've overlooked? Are dinosaurs doing something different with horn growth, and, if so, how would we look for that?

Testable hypotheses are important in evaluating theories, but sometimes there are two steps involved. First comes the theory -- e.g., Jack Horner's proposal at SVP that ceratopsian skulls were sheathed in keratin. It's based on some evidence, but doesn't make specific predictions that can be tested. The testable hypothesis to assess that theory may come later from a different person. Especially with fossils, some theories are more testable than others, and it may take a while to figure out the tests. (Short of luckily stumbling upon the right fossil of, say, a feathered dinosaur.)

-- Jeff Hecht