Re: Anthropology and Prediction

Michael Thomas Carson (mcarson@HAWAII.EDU)
Sat, 9 Sep 1995 02:36:02 -1000

I appreciated John McReery's comments about predictive science.
Particularly, I like what he said about HOW we predict things.
He mentioned that we usually make our best-guesses to explain situations,
while more remote possibilities are kept in mind. If our first
explanation fails, then alternatives are explored.

I'd like to emphasize this point a little more. We can make
generalizations, noticing correlations between phenomena. For example,
we can correlate population growth and agriculture or perhaps social
stratification. But we do not create full EXPLANATIONS for these
correlations until we have discovered anomalies or exceptions to the
generalizations. In other words, we can try to explain why a correlation
is NOT maintained under certain conditions, thus leading to a better
understanding of the causal mechanisms involved in the correlation
generally observed in most other cases.

The problem I see is that researchers could be answering some significant
questions if they were only to be aware of each other's research. One
person's findings might be very different from another person's findings
elsewhere. These differences offer the opportunity to reach an
explanation in the same ay that an anomaly helps to explain its
associated generalization. I hope this doesn't sound too confusing.

Anyway, I think anthropologists are doing a great job working towards
prediction in human behavioral sciences.

- Mike Carson