The SCIENCE of Anthropology

Gary Goodman (sap@TANK.RGS.UKY.EDU)
Mon, 13 May 1996 22:29:48 EDT

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"The aim of science is to seek the simplest explanation of complex
facts. ...Seek simplicity and distrust it."
--A. N. Whitehead, The Concept of Nature

>>Anthropology is as much a science as any study of nature relying upon
(nearly exclusively) Field Observations, like animal behavior studies
in the wild, much of experimental physics at the cutting edge, or
Astronomy and Cosmology (yeah repeat the Big Bang I dare ya!).<<

"Science is a system of ideas, a body of statements about the material
universe. Only logical consistency and especially the evidence of our
sense can serve as a check, a way of assessing the accuracy of our
ideas about the world around us. It is a procedural norm of science --
though, curiously enough, a dictum honored most often in the breach --
that when one's thoughts about the way things are supposed to be
conflict with what seems to be the actual truth of the matter, we
reexamine those notions which led us to erroneous predictions...."
--Niles Eldridge, [curator American Museum of Natural History] Time
Frames, 1985, pg. 22

>>Sixteen Postulates:

1. Science is logical (utilizing the appropriate form of logic),
reasonable, and rational.

2. Science makes well-defined claims based upon the best available

3. Scientific hypothesis must be falsifable.

4. Scientific experiments should be repeatable under similar

5. Science requires that claims be examined by qualified peers.

6. Science views unexplained gaps in theories or evidence with

7. Science requires caution both in performing experiments, and in
examining and evaluating evidence.

8. Science requires efforts at objectivity, both in control of
variables and of biases.

9. Science does not accept coincidence or unlinked or unproven
correlations as proofs.

10. Science does not accept undocumented anecdotal evidence as good
proof by itself.

11. Science demands extraordinarily good evidence for extraordinary
unconventional claims.

12. Scientific favors parsimony: that the simplest adequate explanation
is preferred.

13. Science assumes that the Laws of Nature are universal, if relative.

14. Science demands the honest use of the scientific method and
truthful reports.

15. Science demands every effort be made to control or assess all

16. Science needs the uninhibited exchange of ideas and greatest
possible discourse of the material.<<

[Various sources -- edited by GDG]

"The purpose of science is to find order in the chaos of natural
phenomena. Science attempts to represent nature as simply and
accurately as possible with natural laws--descriptions of how nature
behaves. Note that science describes the how but does not attempt to
explain the why of nature; it makes no attempt to establish the true
and absolute "nature of things." This latter activity belongs to the
province of religion. Science, then, is a method, not a subject. It is
a method for the organized investigation of nature.

.... The laws of science are the rules of the game that nature seems to
play. Some of these rules are extremely well established and appear
never to be violated. We cannot, of course, consider them absolute and
binding on nature; yet they are so consistent that we believe them
almost religiously, and predications based upon them are, to all
intents and purposes, "established facts." ...Science, however, deals
with other postulates that are by no means so firmly established....

Although science does not ascribe an absolutism to its laws, it does
not follow that one theory is as good as another.... To the general
public, uneducated in even elementary science, and used to many
technical miracles, the scientific-sounding jargon and forceful
arguments of cranks are often convincing.

Of course scientists do make mistakes--and frequently... But wrong
tracks and conflicting views are almost always at the frontiers of
knowledge where progress is made by the trial and error process of the
scientific method. Moreover, "established" ideas are under continual
review and, if necessary, revision; but they are not likely to be
rejected entirely.... the burden rests on new theories to predict the
results of tests or observations more accurately than the old ones."
--George Abell, Exploration of the Universe, 1969.


G. D. Goodman


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