Re: New, useful and testable theories -- sought !

ralph ambrose (
11 Apr 1995 07:00:24 GMT

In <3mc5ma$> (Charles Scamahorn) writes:

>-- why not spend ones time finding theories which are new, useful
>and testable rather than wasting time quibbling over others which are
>old, useless and untestable.
>Charles Scamahorn

That is pretty easy to say for a physical scientist. My own background
in physics makes me inclined to agree with you. However, social
science produces some important questions that require us to be
creative in our definition of the word "science." Even biology
may find it difficult to adhere to the physical science model.

A recent discussion with a sociologist and good friend of mine
helped me to realize this. Since then I have attempted to resolve
the issue for myself.

How often do ethnographers design experiments and test them? (Not to
say that they do not and should not.) Much of ethnography is
devoted to recording culture. Then interpretations are made.
Testing may occure in ethnology. The search for universals is
testable to a certain extent.

Even with this in mind, there is a stagarring margin of error
produced by the fact that the ethnographer may not have made
any observation on the behavioral phenomenon the ethnologist
is "testing" for.

Furthermore, from the strict traditional physical science
paradigm, if it is not observable and testable, it is not in
the realm of science.

But fortunately for the social and biological scientists this
statement reeks of hypocracy. The quark is particularly to blame.
(Please forgive the pun). In sub-atomic particle physics cannot
observe the quark, but observations of other particles seem to
suggest that it may exist and if it does, then physicists have
figured out what it is supposed to look like.

Well, I enjoy the intellectual exercise of finding ways to test
hypothesis in the social sciences. But I must admit the futility
of my persuit of truth at the same time. I call it the duality of