Monday, September 04, 2006

Scientific hypotheses versus scientific laws

I've always wondered why it is that a scattering or group of people confronted by the same set of facts will usually come up with such hugely different explanations regarding what the facts represent, whether the facts relate to politics, literature, history - or even the physical sciences.

What's caused the latest round of my "wondering" is a discovery in Indonesia over which paleoanthropologists are apparently squabbling "like fifth graders" (according to Time magazine). Or, in the words of Britain's newspaper, The Independent, these scientists are "at war".

The discovery is that of skeletons (though only one of them with a skull) of nine midget-sized humans who lived between 18,000 and 12,000 years ago.

What the paleoanthropologists are quarrelling over is whether this is one of the most significant paleoanthropological discoveries of the last half century (as it would be if the skeletons represent the discovery of a "new human species") or whether this is merely the discovery of a group of prehistoric humans that suffered from certain deformities.

The full story is at:,1518,434604,00.html

The Der Spiegel online story concludes: "How can it be that staid scientists working on the basis of the same measurements reach diametrically opposed conclusions? Who's right? There is a depressing sense in which the little man from Flores is revealing the truth about the paleoanthropologists: It seems as if his bones can provide evidence for whatever hypothesis promises research funds, fame -- or both." Sphere: Related Content

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