Tiny truths

Over on Science Musings, Chet mused about how T. Huxley sorted jellyfish in pursuit of tiny truths rather than the grand truths of his time and his country’s Anglican authorities. I liked it a lot and dropped a comment, which I’m reprinting here.

In Praise of Tiny Truths

Chet, I really like the title here (as well as Paul’s comment). Accumulating many seemingly small facts is, indeed, the way of science.

B. F. Skinner made a similar point when he discussed attitudes (odd word for Skinner) toward science in “What is the Experimental Analysis of Behavior.” Responding to criticisms that the experimental approach he was employing was over-simplified and disproven by a few exceptions, he argued that showing that variation in a behavior is a function of an independent variable was “a fact in the bag, and there is no need to worry about it as one goes in search of others. The short-comings and exceptions will be accounted for in time” (1966, p. 217).

Just as Huxley’s and Darwin’s views conflicted with Anglican dogma, Skinner’s views conflict with religious views of human nature. Gradually, I hope, knowledge will eclipse supersition.

So, here’s to the continuing search for facts and here’s a bow of appreciation for those who can examine a large body of such facts and parsimoniously connect them to explain higher-order phenomena.

Skinner, B. F. (1966). What is the experimental analysis of behavior? Journal of Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 9, 213–218. doi: 10.1901/jeab.1966.9-213.


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