Regular Article

Acta Biotheoretica

, Volume 57, Issue 1, pp 187-199

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Evidence, Content and Corroboration and the Tree of Life

  • E. Kurt LienauAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, New York UniversitySackler Institute for Comparative Genomics, American Museum of Natural History Email author 
  • , Rob DeSalleAffiliated withSackler Institute for Comparative Genomics, American Museum of Natural History


We examine three critical aspects of Popper’s formulation of the ‘Logic of Scientific Discovery’—evidence, content and degree of corroboration—and place these concepts in the context of the Tree of Life (ToL) problem with particular reference to molecular systematics. Content, in the sense discussed by Popper, refers to the breadth and scope of existence that a hypothesis purports to explain. Content, in conjunction with the amount of available and relevant evidence, determines the testability, or potential degree of corroboration, of a statement; content distinguishes scientific hypotheses from metaphysical assertions. Degree of corroboration refers to the relative and tentative confidence assigned to one hypothesis over another, based upon the performance of each under critical tests. Here we suggest that systematists attempt to maximize content and evidence to increase the potential degree of corroboration in all phylogenetic endeavors. Discussion of this “total evidence” approach leads to several interesting conclusions about generating ToL hypotheses.


Corroboration Tree of life ToL Karl Popper Genomics Systematics HGT Evolution Vantage points Darwin Philosophy of science