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The Cutting Edge

Can stone-tool marks on fossils be distinguished from tooth marks?

Pat Shipman

The cutting edge of science is sharp and potentially dangerous. New techniques, new interpretations and new ideas are sometimes responsible for great advances in understanding—or for great mistakes.

2010-11MargShipmanFA.jpgClick to Enlarge ImageWhat would you do, as a responsible scientist, when a new discovery doesn’t jibe with the previous evidence?

First, you’d sit and ponder. What will be the broader implications, if the new evidence is correct? What ideas would be overthrown or contradicted? How different would the new interpretation be?

Then you’d probably do everything you could think of to double-check all of the evidence. Were you careful? Did your ideas go beyond what was supported by the finding? Could some form of confirmation—or refutation—be gleaned from another line of inquiry?

And finally, depending on your own convictions and how bold you are, you would make one of two choices. You could tuck the new evidence into a larger paper, discussing its possible import if confirmed. Or you could simply publish your data and its implications as fully and prominently as possible. In either case, you’d be hoping that later findings would show you were right, because science is essentially self-correcting.





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