Current Ornithology

pp 1-63

Data Analysis and the Design of Experiments in Ornithology

  • Frances C. JamesAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Science, Florida State University
  • , Charles E. McCullochAffiliated withBiometrics Unit, Department of Plant Breeding and Biometry, Cornell University

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One familiar statement one hears about data analysis in ornithology is that traditional ornithologists accumulated facts, but did not make generalizations or formulate causal hypotheses (Emlen, 1981; Wiens, 1980). The approach of modern ornithologists, on the other hand, is said to be more theoretical. Modern ornithologists formulate hypotheses, make predictions, check the predictions with new data sets, perform experiments, and do statistical tests. Proponents of the modern approach frequently state their position in a condescending tone, and this is guaranteed to arouse the ire of those more committed to empirical research (Olson, 1981). In this essay, we hope to lessen the differences of opinion on this subject as they were recently expressed in the commentary section of The Auk (Austin et al., 1981). We agree with Popper (1959, 1972, 1983) that the goal of science is to develop better explanatory theories about processes in nature, but it does not follow that advances are made only by hypothesis testing.