6.17.2009

The Best Policy

A new paper published in the Journal of Biogeography boldy and controversially implies that the conventional (and empircally validated) view that chimpanzees are our closest relatives is not necessarily correct. The authors are of the mind it is actually orangutans.

This view has not been well recieved, in general, by the rest of the scientific community. Most agree that the evidence doesn't justify the claim, and question the integrity of the journal for even publishing the study. But others point out that although the evidence isn't that compelling, the paper's authors do ask a few valid questions about the methods used to reach the chimpanzee conclusion.

This New Scientist editorial applauds the publication of the paper. The gist: The publication of this paper is what science (at least in theory) is all about.
Science proceeds by questioning its own assumptions and regarding every "fact" as provisional, so alternative hypotheses should be given an airing, if only to reaffirm the strength of the orthodoxy. Science that pulls up the drawbridge on new ideas risks becoming sterile. The journal recognised that and should be applauded for its decision to disseminate this challenging paper.

The scientific method is an attempt to get at intellectual honesty. New facts should necessarily freshen our worldviews. Unfortunately, our airwaves and intertubes are teeming with intellectual dishonesty. Will that ever change?

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