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Effects of Different Meteorological Variables on paleontologists and biochemists

The contrast between the methods of the two realms, which seems so damning to the humanities, is a false one. Not only are the methods deployed within humanistic domains—say, in attributions of musical scores to particular composers or of pictures to particular artists—as sophisticated and rigorous as the techniques deployed by paleontologists or biochemists, but in many instances they are the same. The historical linguists who recognize connections among languages or within a language at different times, and the religious scholars who point out the affiliations among different texts, use methods equivalent to those that have been deployed ever since Darwin in the study of the history of life. Indeed, Darwin’s paleontology borrowed the method from early nineteenth-century studies of the history of languages.

By the same token, the sense that the humanities are dominated by changes in fashion among spectacularly false theories suggests a contrast where none is to be found. If Marx and Freud are favorite whipping boys for those worried about the Geisteswissenschaften, the compliment is readily returned. Not only did behaviorist psychology—itself motivated by the desire to make studies of human conduct “truly scientific”—dominate much of twentieth-century social science, but its influence was foreshadowed within nineteenth-century physics and chemistry with the proliferation of “ether theories.” No less a figure than Maxwell even characterized the ether as “the best confirmed entity in natural philosophy” (by which he, like his contemporaries, meant “natural science”).