Doubting dmanisi

P. Shipman

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationArticle

3 Scopus citations

Abstract

Why are some discoveries welcomed, whereas others are received with skepticism? I am prompted to ask this by recent developments in paleoanthropology. On the face of things, the story is an old one: International team finds startling new fossil human, oldest of its type in the region; experts agog. The catch is that the new find now being hailed merely echoes an earlier one in the same place, by many of the same researchers-but the early find was received with a 'wait and see' attitude, if not outright disbelief. What makes the difference? This episode offers an important lesson about how science is done. When we scrutinize a colleague's work, we try to make an objective judgment. We evaluate the work against the holy grails of Replicability and Causality, but these are largely unattainable goals, at least for those working with fossils. Like most scientists, we tend to accord an extra dollop of credibility to studies conducted by colleagues known to have done reputable work. But should the work of the young or the less known be held to higher standards than that of the great matriarchs and silverbacked males of the field? Skepticism is a cheap stance to adopt, for it is easier to cast doubt than to substantiate, especially if new techniques and new paradigms must be forged along the way. Science is a process of discovery, not confirmation. Let us allow for the occasional, delicious surprise that makes us rethink all we thought we knew.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages491-494
Number of pages4
Volume88
No6
Specialist publicationAmerican Scientist
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2000

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General

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