Science With My Doctor
So she set out a plan: “You’re taking two pills twice a day. Start by dropping one of the morning pill. Try it for a week and see how you feel. If you don’t notice any effect, drop another one from the afternoon. Keep doing this until you aren’t taking any. If you get to where you are feeling symptoms, you’ll know that you’ve found your threshold.
The Scientific Method
An observation is made.
A question is asked based on the observation.
A hypothesis for the question’s answer is made.
The hypothesis is tested and determined to be true or false.
A conclusion is derived based on the tests and the evidence.
You you have a problem: is this hunk of something really gold? You hypothesize that it is. To test your hypotheses, you compare your chunk to the known characteristics of gold. You won’t know if you have pyrite or not and comparing your chunk to the characteristics of gold might not even tell you if you have gold, but it will tell you if you don’t have gold. Science is tricky.
This is similar to when your mom decided that your little sister is lactose-intolerant. She noticed that every time your sister has ice-cream for dessert; she ends up with a stomach ache. Your Mom makes an observation and asked a question: is the girl lactose-intolerant? She has her daughter abstain from her ice-cream habit for two weeks. She does and has no stomach ache. This isn’t proof that she is lactose-intolerant: there are a dozen reasons she might be sick from eating ice cream. But she’s found a correlation, and that important, too.
Is evolution falsifiable?
It is. The evolutionist J. B. S. Haldane was famously asked the same question and responded that “rabbits in the Precambrian” would disprove evolution. What he meant was that any gross error in the geologic column would show that descent as we understand it hadn’t occurred. Richard Dawkins agrees and argues that fossil mammals in the Precambrian would “completely blow evolution out of the water.” The philosopher Karl Popper referred once to evolution as unfalsifiable. Anti-evolutionist still bring this up as scripture. Popper later complained that he was misinterpreted, arguing that evolution is difficult to disprove when compared to sciences like chemistry or physics. The falsehood of the statement “pouring salt into water turns water to a blue color” is easily tested: pour salt into water and watch for the color change. That animals are genetically related is more difficult to assess, especially with the time scale involved
One of the most exciting finds in recent years using the scientific method was the story of Tiktaalik that Neil Shubin outlines in his book Your Inner Fish. In the opening chapters, he talks about making plans to find what they are hoping to find: an evolutionary intermediate between something living in the water and something that lives on land. He knows the task is daunting: 99% of earth’s species are extinct and fossilization is rare. To maximize the effort, he looks for three things:
Shubin and his team start filling in the blanks. He knows that all early animal life occurred in water. We have tons of evidence of fish but no land animals to around 385 million years ago. Around 365 million years ago, we find fossil evidence of amphibians and reptiles. So Shubin needs rock around 375 million years old to find this intermediate. With this information, he begins thinking about rock. We know that igneous (volcanic) and metamorphic rocks aren’t conducive to fossilization. Volcanism melts everything and metamorphosis squeezes and squishes and breaks everything. The great bulk of fossils are found in sedimentary rocks that are laid down over time by silt in oceans and river beds. Now Shubin knows two things: he is looking for sedimentary rock formations about 375 million years old.
Is there anywhere these rocks exist exposed for exploration? In an exciting part of Shubin’s tale, they stumbled unexpectedly upon a map showing exactly what they were looking for. The map was of North America to the Arctic and delineated three distinct areas where sedimentary rocks of this age (Devonian) are located. One was in Greenland, one in Pennsylvania, which Shubin had been exploring for years, and one was in the upper reaches of the Arctic. For reasons outlined in the book, the group chose the Arctic to search for their land-grabbing fish. They analyzed, studied and gathered information, then made their prediction: if this thing can be found, then this is one of the places we should find it.
To summarize Shubin’s work with Tiktaalik:
Tiktaalik is found exactly where the science says it should be.
It’s a great read.