Methodological and Epistemic Differences between Historical Science and Experimental Science Journal Article uri icon



  • Experimental research is commonly held up as the paradigm of “good” science. Although experiment plays many roles in science, its classical role is testing hypotheses in controlled laboratory settings. Historical science (which includes work in geology, biology, and astronomy, as well as paleontology and archaeology) is sometimes held to be inferior on the grounds that its hypothesis cannot be tested by controlled laboratory experiments. Using contemporary examples from diverse scientific disciplines, this paper explores differences in practice between historical and experimental research vis-à-vis the testing of hypotheses. It rejects the claim that historical research is epistemically inferior. For as I argue, scientists engage in two very different patterns of evidential reasoning and, although there is overlap, one pattern predominates in historical research and the other pattern predominates in classical experimental research. I show that these different patterns of reasoning are grounded in an objective and remarkably pervasive time asymmetry of nature.

publication date

  • September 1, 2002

has restriction

  • closed

Date in CU Experts

  • February 26, 2015 9:36 AM

Full Author List

  • Cleland CE

author count

  • 1

Other Profiles

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0031-8248

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1539-767X

Additional Document Info

start page

  • 474

end page

  • 496


  • 69


  • 3