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The Burgess Story Essay

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The Burgess Story

"I don't like to say bad things about paleontologists, but they're really not very good scientists. They're more like stamp collectors.
- Luis Alvarez, Physics Nobel Laureate -

Luis Alvarez evidently had some very definite ideas about what a good scientist does, and it is especially telling that such a comment comes from a physicist. What could Alvarez have had in mind when he made this remark? He may have been making a mental comparison of the approach commonly used in physics -- that of laboratory experimentation -- with the way the study of paleontology is conducted, A paleontologist is very much a historian -- someone who is involved in the "reconstruction of past events ... based on narrative evidence of their own unique phenomena" (Gould 278). In Alvarez's eyes then, good science is characterised by the experimental approach of experiment, quantification, repetition, prediction, and restriction of complexity to a few variables that can be controlled and manipulated" (Gould 277). This seems to me too narrow a definition. Such an approach can hardly be used in fields such as paleontology, which study the occurrence of one-off events such as evolution. In cases such as these, what standards can we use to determine whether something is admissible as good scientific practice? Philosophers of science such as Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn have each come up with their own ideas of what constitutes good science. Can they perhaps shed some light on other possible definitions of good science? Can these other definitions of good science be generalised to all disciplines of science?

Popper and Kuhn have proposed strictly theoretical ideas -- It remains to be seen whether a concrete example of scientific resear...


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...se pressures? The critenia for good science is jmportant so that the scientist remembers not to cave in to these pressures, and the layperson remembers that scientists can be fallible.

Works Cited

Gould, Stephen Jay. Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History. New York: W.W. Norton, c1989.

Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.

Kuhn, Thomas S. "Logic of Discovery or Psychology of Research?" Criticism and the growth of knowledge: proceedings of the International Colloquium in the Philosophy of Science, London, 1965. Vol 4. Eds. hnre Lakatos, Alan Musgrave. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970.

Popper, Karl R. Conjectures and refutations: the growth of scientific knowledge. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963.

Feymnan, Richard P. "Cargo Cult Science"


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