Species as "Hypotheses"

Nico Mario Franz nmf2 at CORNELL.EDU
Tue Jul 13 18:00:12 CDT 2004

Hi Rich:

   what you're doing (at least to some of us here) is throwing around
terms like "hypothesis", "theory", "concept", "definition", with the
expectation of a clarification, when it's clear that (1) you do attach
a more or less particular meaning to each of them (e.g. to be a
scientific hypothesis, something must have qualities A, B, C,...), and
(2) you're not spending enough time to explain to us what that meaning

   To think of a definition in a narrow, stipulative, necessarily
truth-preserving way - a la PhyloCode - is but one way to think of
definitions. That corner in the universe is much smaller than some seem
to think. Same is true for "a hypothesis must be falsifiable to be
scientific." What this really shows to me is (1) a failure to recognize
a greater range of sufficiently valuable positions out there, and (2) a
disregard for the idea that if we are too narrow and make the meanings
of terms too precise, we may give up more than we gain. These two
assumptions are what I'd want to see "justified" first.

   The testable part of a species concept/hypothesis/theory/definition can
be loosely seen as: you perceive there to be (and name) a natural
entity, with certain (described, exemplified) boundaries, and whether
by accepting that entity and its boundaries others can advance their
knowledge, is an empirical question.


Rich Pyle wrote earlier:

So...when one says that a species is an hypothesis, what, exactly, is the
hypothesis?  How would one falsify this hypothesis?  What would be the
corresponding null hypothesis? Could this hypothesis ever mature into a
full-blown "theory"? (e.g., maybe Homo sapiens has achieved the status of
theory, whereas, say, Centropyge fisheri is still just an hypothesis?)
But even in that context, I see them as definitions: "I define the concept
of Centropyge fisheri to include all individuals having thus & such set of
character states" (traditional species concept definition); or: "I define
the concept of Centropyge fisheri to include all descendants of the earliest
ancestor of the holotype specimen of that name, that is not also an ancestor
of the holotype specimens of C. acanthops, C. argi, C. aurantonotus, or C.
resplendens" (sort of a PhyloCode definition of a species concept).  If
either of these were treated as hypotheses, how would you go about
disproving them?  Mustn't hypotheses be falsifiable in order to be
considered scientific?

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