Paleontology is a science and, as with any science, paleontologists test hypotheses to see if they are wrong. If an alternative hypothesis is better supported by the evidence and analysis than a previously accepted hypothesis, or if the previous hypothesis is shown to be false, then it is rejected. Examples of rejected hypotheses in dinosaur paleontology include:
1 some very large dinosaurs lived most of their lives immersed in water (e.g., Fig. 1.7; Chapter 10);
2 bipedal dinosaurs stood upright and walked with their tails dragging on the ground (Chapters 9, 11, and 14); and
3 dinosaurs were large reptiles and behaved like modern reptiles (Chapter 8).
Paleontologists who have concluded that a currently accepted hypothesis is wrong must write their results coherently, in many cases accompanying their written evaluation with photographs or other illustrations. They then send these reports to colleagues, who they know will be honest in their evaluation of them. After the reviews are completed, they will discuss any criticisms with those colleagues. They may send the revised draft of their report, perhaps with new or changed illustrations, to other reviewers. Finally, they may need to present their hypothesis, either written or orally, in a public forum to other paleontologists who are well acquainted with their subject. If, at the end of this process, the evidence still supports their new hypothesis, it will be conditionally accepted - that is, until someone else provides sufficient evidence to persuade the paleontological community otherwise.
The study of dinosaurs is largely a science, so knowing how it works gives us an appreciation of science in general. This knowledge is useful, even if one does not intend to become one of the few hundred professional dinosaur paleontologists distributed worldwide. For example, deciding whether to take an umbrella before leaving home in the morning may involve the use of scientific methods. Evaluating a potential home before deciding whether to move into it can also use scientific methods. Deciding who receives a vote in an election may use scientific methods. Properly assessing the factual content of a news story necessitates scientific methods. If applied properly, they constitute an excellent way to make informed decisions. This is why many students who perceive themselves as non-scientists are actually scientists (albeit non-professional) in the
Scientific methods constitute a form of evidence-based reasoning that everyone uses in their everyday life.
sense that they have been actively applying scientific methods in some facet of their lives. If they look closely enough, they will find sufficient evidence to disprove their initial perception that they are non-scientific.
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