Third Culture

John Mcreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Tue, 5 Sep 1995 22:29:29 +0900

Ottevanger asks that before we continue our discussion of "Third Culture"
we sort out what we mean by science and the humanities. He asks, in
particular, if we should, a la Popper, make the testability of
hypotheses our criterion for science and consider the humanities the
opposite, i.e., studies which do not yield testable hypotheses.

My own reply is to say
(1) let us agree that science requires hypothesis-testing, but
(2) let us take a broad view of what constitutes testing, i.e., use
of evaluation procedures that include but are not exhausted by
conventional experimental and statistical methods. As a consequence,
(3) much of what is usually construed as "humanities" will fall within
the scope of science.

Interestingly, much of what is new about the "Third Culture" is the
recognition by eminent scientists (mostly biologists and physicists;
also some archeologists and economists) that one can due serious,
testable science on complex systems where historical particulars are
important to the processes under study.

Where this becomes relevant to anthropology is in offering a model of
"science" that is broader and a good deal more sophisticated that the
Popperian straw dog usually belabored by those who consider themselves
either above or incapable of science. The "above" is, arguably, most
often an excuse for the lack of capability. (That argument is, of course,
a bit of nasty innuendo and, probably, should be disregarded.)

The argument is that by looking a bit more closely at what scientists
actually do, we may find things about the ways in which they go about
socially constructing knowledge that we might find useful in assessing
the value of our own particular bits of research. My delineation of
the "public," "serious," "scholarly" criteria is a thrust in this

Over to you.

John McCreery