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Why a scientific theory isn't barroom speculation

I quite like this post by Keith Humphreys, PhD, about the theory of evolution today on The Reality-Based Community:

Conservative candidates are now routinely asked to take a stand on whether they "Think evolution is just a theory" or whether they are among the fallen who "Believe in evolution". These exchanges nearly bring up my breakfast on their own merits and have the added disadvantage of mis-educating the public about the nature of scientific inquiry and theory.

The dismissive remark "Evolution is just a theory" implicitly equates "theory" with the spontaneous speculations of the guy four bar stools down from you whom the bartender has at last cut off. In science, a great theory - evolutionary theory, for example - is a serious intellectual effort to explain the data we can observe and to generate hypotheses about the data we can't. Calling a biology professor "a noted evolutionary theorist" is a compliment in the scientific community, not an implication that he is stupid, misguided or refuses to accept reality.

Humphreys goes on to discuss how the media covers evolution's rather odd relationship with the political process and offers a fine suggestion for debate moderators. I recommend reading the rest of his entry over at The RBC.

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