A Study Of Methods -- By: George McCready Price
BSac 85:339 (July 1928) p. 323
A Study Of Methods
Whenever one becomes at all critical of the methods employed in certain of the theoretical departments of natural science, some teachers of these sciences seem to suffer from a persecution complex. One expects to hear the retort, “Art thou also of Tennessee? Search and look; for out of Tennessee arises no scientific prophet.”
The geologists are the most sensitive to this criticism regarding methods; perhaps because they have had so much of it. In the early days of natural science, when the collecting of fossils was about on a par with the present vogue of collecting old postage stamps or old coins, most people did not take very seriously the claims which these fossil collectors used to make as to their ability to tell the age of the various deposits. But fortunately for this science, the various Governments of the western world found it necessary to subsidise geology very heavily by employing specialists to survey the various localities which promised to yield important minerals. The result was that little armies of specialists, trained in the methods of identifying the rocks by their contained fossils, were formed in practically all the countries of Europe and especially in America, and the results of their field work were everywhere published in elaborate monographs at Government expense. Thus the field results of geological surveys rapidly accumulated in almost endless variety and in prodigious amounts; so that it was not long Before the mere quantity of these publications began to exercise a smothering and stupefying influence over any further progress in a true understanding of the theoretical aspect “of the science. Unfortunately this overwhelming flood of geological literature began before the science had been placed on a true inductive basis, that is while it was yet in its speculative stage. For every science goes through an age of speculation before it reaches a stage of development where facts are always given the right
BSac 85:339 (July 1928) p. 324
of way over theories. Until this stage in the development of a science is reached, the science is at the mercy of every upstart theory that may be propounded. And it is a very unfortunate thing when a science continues long in this speculative condition. Until this stage is outgrown no science can be regarded as having been reformed and placed on a secure basis. Over half a century ago, Dr. Whewell lamented that “The Newton of Geology has not yet appeared.” And one must confess that these words are as true to-day as when first written.
But geological speculation has a very ancient history. It might almost be said that in this sense geology is one of the oldest of the sciences. The Greeks and Romans found fossil...
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