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Darwin-L Message Log 5:11 (January 1994)

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.


<5:11>From bsinger@eniac.seas.upenn.edu  Tue Jan  4 17:56:43 1994

From: bsinger@eniac.seas.upenn.edu (Bayla Singer)
Subject: Re: Linguistics controversy
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Date: Tue, 4 Jan 94 19:00:05 EST

Making a case (to the public, or to a nonspecialist) against a
superficially plausible 'hypothesis' is even harder than trying to explain
that "it goes against everything else we know in the field."

Those outside a given field are more likely to root for the perceived
maverick, out of sheer irrational "They laughed at Columbus" sympathy.
The kicker in the situation is that every once in a while, Columbus is
right after all; or Wegner (?sp) with his plate tectonics; or <fill in the
blank>.

In the sociology of the professions, it's almost a given that advances
will come from those on the margin, rather than those identifiable as "the
establishment" of a particular field.  Charles Darwin, with his provincial
background and non-U (though well-to-do) status, is a paradigmatic instance.

It's an uphill battle, all the way, both against the patently absurd and
the superficially plausible.  One must present the case, however, and the
proposed "in order for that to be true, the following would have to be
false" seems to me to be a pretty good (though non dramatic) format.

--bayla singer

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