Measuring Time with Fossils: A Start-Up Problem in Stratigraphic Geology
Max Dresow (University of Minnesota)

March 5, 2021, 11:30am - 12:30pm
Department of Philosophy , Rotman Institute of Philosophy, Western University

1151 Richmond Street North
London N6A 5B7

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Max Dresow, Doctoral Candidate, University of Minnesota; Member of Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science


This talk is about a relatively obscure problem in the practice of historical geology that has been solved, to the satisfaction of most geologists, for over 150 years. Why then show up? Because the problem is an interesting one—or so I will attempt to convince you. But that’s not all. The problem also illustrates a generic difficulty that scientists face when trying to get a new method off the ground in the absence of knowledge that might warrant the method as epistemically reliable. Call this a “start-up problem” in scientific practice. In this talk, I will examine a start-up problem that arose in the attempt to construct a trans-national geological time scale on the basis of (mostly) fossil evidence. I will explain how this problem arose, why it was so serious, and how it was ultimately overcome. In addition, I will suggest that this and other start-up problems teach us something important about the nature of justification in ongoing research, and its relationship to practices of heuristic appraisal.

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