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Darwin-L Message Log 2:163 (October 1993)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.


<2:163>From hantuo@utu.fi  Sun Oct 31 07:13:47 1993

To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
From: hantuo@utu.fi (Hanna Tuomisto)
Subject: scientific and popular explanations / human evolution
Date: 	Sun, 31 Oct 1993 15:17:03 +0200

It has been noted by some people already that the distinction between
scientific and popular is a difficult one to make, and I fully agree.

In my opinion part of the difficulty is that the word "popular" has several
meanings. I'm not saying that the word "scientific" is unambiguous either,
but at least people tend to agree that it implies that the explanation
given has been evaluated as the best of available alternatives, and that
natural laws and statistical principles have been taken into account.
Anyway, the word "popular" has at least two meanings: 1) easy to
understand, and 2) not well substantiated. The first alternative does not
contradict the "scientific" in any way, whereas the second does. Therefore
we can have popular texts that are scientific, and popular texts that are
not. The latter includes the UFO-stuff etc that have been quoted in this
discussion before, while the former includes scientific texts that have
been written to make a particular field of science accessible for educated
laymen and scientists who are not specialists in that field.

The dichotomy scientific vs. popular was brought into discussion after John
Langdon had quoted a review of the book "The Aquatic Ape: Fact or Fiction"
as follows:

>"One of the major uses of this book that I see is in seminars considering the
>difference between scientific and popular explanation."
>
>The Aquatic Ape hypothesis, I believe, falls into the latter category.

I have not read the book review, so I do not know in which way its writer
interpreted "popular". It is clear, however, that John Langdon interpreted
it according to the second alternative. Most other critiques of AAT seem
either to interpret it in that way also, or to confuse the two meanings of
the word. I have seen quite a few arguments against AAT (and especially
against Morgan's books) that go like this:

Morgan writes in a style that is easy to read and understand, i.e. her
books are "popular". Because "popular" is the opposite of "scientific", the
theory she advocates must be wrong.

I'm adding this as number 8 to my list of possible non-scientific reasons
why people reject AAT.

Hanna Tuomisto      e-mail  hantuo@utu.fi
Department of Biology     Fax   +358-21-6335564
University of Turku     Phone +358-21-6335634
FIN-20500 Turku, FINLAND

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