any factual evidence supporting it is not considered a scientific hypothesis because it cannot be subjected to any testing. For example, the following statement is not a scientific hypothesis:
Some dinosaurs were invisible, weightless, and left no bodily remains or other traces of their existence.
No verifiable evidence can be gathered independently to either support or test this idea even once, let alone repeatedly. As a result, belief in the former existence of such dinosaurs would be entirely based on faith, not evidence. This is not to say that faith-based reasoning is wrong, just that it does not qualify as science.
Testing of a hypothesis, usually through collection and analysis of data, and review of reports that interpret the data, can lead to any of three possible outcomes at a given time:
1 complete rejection of the hypothesis;
2 complete acceptance of the hypothesis; or
3 modification of the hypothesis that accepts part of it and rejects part of it.
The third of these outcomes is the most common; scientists rarely come to agreement on all details of a hypothesis! Nevertheless, if the main points of a hypothesis are supported after further testing and not disproved, then it is conditionally accepted but with the acknowledgment that it might later be proved wrong. A researcher also may have multiple hypotheses proposed as alternative explanations for the observations, but each of these must be tested for their veracity through the same methodology. The researcher also must be open to any new evidence that supports one of the originally rejected hypotheses, which would prompt a reinvestigation of their explanations.
The original investigators of some observed phenomena, who summarize the results of their testing and conclusions in a presentable form, typically test a hypothesis first. Then the results and conclusions are given to reviewers, who critically examine the evidence and explanations of the observations. Experts on the subject may attempt to repeat the methods and results described by the investigators, so they can compare the proposed results to their own experiences. This procedure is called peer review, a form of independent confirmation that is an essential part of the formal scientific process. In dinosaur studies, any potentially new discovery of dinosaur body or trace fossils is followed typically by a process where the investigators analyze their find, test results from the analyses, summarize and illustrate their find in a report, and submit that report to recognized dinosaur experts for peer review.
If a scientific report, with its hypotheses, is accepted for publication, then it is shared in topic-specific journals or at professional meetings with scientists who have similar interests. In the latter situation, papers are given as formal presentations in front of peers, either as a talk or a poster. These papers then undergo more peer review from those who view these presentations. This process means that just because a paper is accepted for publication or presentation does not mean that it is correct. It may still be disproved or modified by further critical analysis from the scientific community, sometimes many years after it was conditionally accepted.
The original manuscripts of some science books also undergo peer review. Because of this variability in procedure in comparison to most journals, the material presented in books should be examined for evidence of peer review before accepting that any hypotheses within it are scientifically based. In fact, this book underwent peer review and was considerably improved in its scientific accuracy through that method, although it still may contain some factual errors and disproved hypotheses. Fortunately for the students using this book now, it is a second edition. This means that many, although probably not all, of the mistakes from the first edition (written in 2000) were corrected and new evidence and hypotheses were added. It is also largely a secondary source, which means that little of the information presented here represents original dinosaur research done by the author. Likewise, many books that are considered as reliable sources of information, such as encyclopedias or textbooks, are actually at least one step removed from their original sources of information. Thus, these are more liable to error because, for example, the authors could have misinterpreted the works of others. An analogy to this situation can be illustrated by photocopying a document, then photocopying each successive photocopy; after about 20 reiterations, the words from the document may be unreadable.
Internal documents written in private corporations or in some government agencies, even if done by scientists who use scientific methods, are also not considered as peer reviewed because they are rarely shared with the rest of the scientific community for evaluation. Reports that are issued from such entities must be examined very critically. This is especially the case if they have conclusions that positively affirm the mission statement of the corporation or government agency with no additional self-critique (hence indicating a possible bias). Such distortions are a result of a priori reasoning, where conclusions are first accepted as correct, then "facts" are selected afterwards on the basis of how well they conform to the conclusions. Recent examples of such misuse of internal reports were those written
In the past decade, the widespread use of home computers and Web pages has also revolutionized how publishing is done.
by tobacco-company scientists, which were later submitted as evidence by tobacco companies in US courts, and revisions to a US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) statement on global warming. These documents were not submitted to scientists who had interests differing from the companies' or government agency's goals for peer review. Similarly, some pharmaceutical firms specify that if the results of testing performed under contract by scientists from outside of the firm, such as those at universities, contradict the firm's commercial interests, the firm will reserve the right to prevent the scientists from publicly disclosing the information. Such scientific research falls under the realm of proprietary information (owned by the company), which means that much of the science that goes on in private corporations is not revealed to the worldwide scientific community. Some instances in which proprietary science does reach the rest of the mainstream scientific community, however, are from petroleum and mining companies that have shared their results with paleontologists or geologists, including discoveries of some important fossils.
As a result, valid scientific hypotheses have been confused with ideas that have no factual bases. Formal peer review is rarely applied to the vast majority of Web pages, so a plethora of seemingly informative sites may be only expressions of the authors' imaginations. In fact, because single individuals might produce Web pages, they rarely go through an editorial process and usually lack any outside input. Peer-reviewed scientific journals, however, are now becoming more commonly adapted to the Web, and some journals, such as Palaeontologia Electrónica, are published entirely online. Although this practice is becoming more normal, most web sites that propose supposed hypotheses should be viewed with a critical eye.
Similarly, a common mistake associated with some scientific discoveries is for researchers to go to press too quickly with their results. They will let newspapers, magazines, or web sites publish their claims, rather than going through peer-reviewed journals first. The rapidity of publication in the popular media typically causes the promotion of hypotheses about scientific discoveries well before they have been scrutinized through peer review. Furthermore, mainstream journalists are rarely expert enough in any scientific field to sufficiently perform their own peer review. This means that hypotheses seen in print, reported on television, or published on a web site may not necessarily be based on fact. This circumstance of scientific uncertainty about what is reported is an especially common problem with dinosaur finds because of the inordinate amount of media attention given to such fossils.
Two examples of dinosaur-related stories that went to the popular press before they had adequate peer review involved discovery of a dinosaur track and of a feathered theropod. In the former example, a news report in 1998 stated that a paleontologist had found dinosaur tracks in Bolivia, indicating that the dinosaur that made them was about 350 meters long. Considering that all dinosaurs described over the past 175 years of dinosaur studies were much less than 100 meters long, either the information presented to the media was incorrect or it was incorrectly reported. One hypothesis to explain this discrepancy is that the original information was garbled when the paleontologist relayed it to the media, such as the dinosaur trackway may have been 350 meters long, not the dinosaur. This indeed turned out to be the case, but an unquestioning reporter placed the erroneous information into the story anyway. In the second example, a fossil found in Lower Cretaceous rocks of China in 1999 seemed to be that of a feathered theropod with other features shared by both theropods and birds. The fossil was quickly given a species name, Archaeoraptor liaoningensis, and it was first seen in print in a mainstream, popular magazine that had partially sponsored the research. Later examination of the fossil revealed that it was actually a very clever forgery, having been
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