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Paleoecology grand challenge
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Exactly 50 years ago, in 1964, a landmark article whose two-word title, “Strong inference,” revealed little and evoked plenty, appeared in the hallowed pages of Science (Platt, 1964). Simply stated, Platt's view of scientific research in its highest form proceeds through three steps: development of alternative hypotheses; design of crucial experiments to exclude one or more hypotheses; execution of careful studies to obtain clear-cut results. It was a powerful reminder of how problem solving can be performed, written in a style both informal and authoritative. In those days it was not unusual for the most prestigious scientific outlets to publish articles whose language seems to nowadays have been relegated to blog posts. Just seven years earlier, another Science paper had appeared with a whimsical title, “Biological clock in the unicorn” (Cole, 1957), addressing the excessive reliance on statistical analysis of cycles and correlations that was plaguing the biologists of the time. Among the many citable passages in either one of those articles, one may dwell on a segment in Platt's text: “Whether it is hand-waving or number-waving or equation-waving, a theory is not a theory unless it can be disproved. That is, unless it can be falsified by some possible experimental outcome.” Literal interpretations of such statements, especially when translated to all possible scientific research, are problematic, and Platt's impact is best described as “more an inspirational tract than the development of a formal scientific methodology” (Davis, 2006). It is in that vein that I decided to open this Grand Challenge editorial by evoking a paper from half a century earlier.
|Journal Title||Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution|
|Rights||Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported|