Historical science, experimental science, and the scientific method

Many scientists believe that there is a uniform, interdisciplinary method for the prac- tice of good science. The paradigmatic examples, however, are drawn from classical ex- perimental science. Insofar as historical hypotheses cannot be tested in controlled labo- ratory settings, historical research is sometimes said to be inferior to experimental research. Using examples from diverse historical disciplines, this paper demonstrates that such claims are misguided. First, the reputed superiority of experimental research is based upon accounts of scientific methodology (Baconian inductivism or falsificationism) that are deeply flawed, both logically and as accounts of the actual practices of scientists. Second, although there are fundamental differences in methodology between experimental scien- tists and historical scientists, they are keyed to a pervasive feature of nature, a time asymmetry of causation. As a consequence, the claim that historical science is methodo- logically inferior to experimental science cannot be sustained.
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Ben Jeffares (2008). Testing Times: Regularities in the Historical Sciences. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 39 (4):469-475.
Ben Jeffares (2010). Guessing the Future of the Past. Biology and Philosophy 25 (1):125-142.

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