Premature final judgements

Larry Trask larryt at
Tue Aug 24 15:20:08 UTC 1999

On Thu, 19 Aug 1999 ECOLING at wrote:


>> It doesn't matter that there is evidence in support of Nostratic: what
>> matters is that there is insufficient evidence to reject unrelatedness.

> Wrong here. It DOES matter.  Very much so.  It makes the question
> worth investigating with better data and better tools.

Clarification.  What I meant was this: from the point of view of
accepting or rejecting Nostratic, it does not matter that there exists
some evidence to support the proposal, because there is insufficient
evidence to reject unrelatedness.  That's all.

> The problem with the strict absolutists (which Larry Trask is behaving
> as in these discussions) is that they think we have to render FINAL
> JUDGEMENTS on whether a hypothesis is proven or not
> at every step along the way.  They have little room for the long
> withholding or deferring of judgement.

Nonsense, I'm afraid.

First, I have no idea why you want to label me a "strict absolutist",
whatever that means.

Second, it is quite false that I demand, or have ever demanded, final
judgements on any hypothesis "at every step along the way".  This is a
travesty of my position.  Where do you get such ideas?

All I have ever done is to point out that certain data are faulty, that
certain procedures are unacceptable, and that certain much-trumpeted
conclusions are unsubstantiated.  I see nothing wrong with this, and I
don't apologize for it.

> If we had to render final judgement on Nostratic right now,
> we would have to say, of course "unproven" (to some level of
> certainty which is of no concern to me here).


And who is claiming otherwise?

> Trask says:

>> Oh, sure.  In practice, we are hardly ever able to work through an issue
>> in the optimal manner I have described.  Real life is inevitably
>> messier.  We make mistakes and eventually correct them; new evidence
>> becomes available; new tools become available; all sorts of things
>> happen along the way.  But how we do the work is one thing, while how we
>> present our results in order to persuade our colleagues is another.

> The same leeway needs to be granted to the proposers of new hypotheses
> today as was granted to those in the past, namely, that they cannot prove
> their hypotheses when they start out with them.

Sure.  But that leeway does not extend to immunity from criticism for
lousy data, lousy methodology, and unsubstantiated claims.

Larry Trask
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QH

larryt at

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