Cockroaches — What are the myths and what are the facts?
Cockroaches — What are the myths and what are the facts?
- 1 Cockroaches — What are the myths and what are the facts?
- 1.1 Myths About Cockroaches Debunked
- 1.2 Myth #1): Albino cockroaches are sterile and can’t reproduce.
- 1.3 Myth #2): All cockroaches can fly.
- 1.4 Myth #3): A German cockroach can live for months without its head.
- 1.5 Myth #4): Cockroaches have to eat constantly.
- 1.6 Myth #5): Despite their habits, cockroaches are really “clean.”
- 1.7 Myth #6): Human hair and fingernails are a favorite food of cockroaches.
- 2 Common Cockroach Killers: Facts and Myths
- 3 Cockroach Bombs
- 4 Glue Traps
- 5 Baits
- 6 Boric Acid
- 7 The Most Effective Solution
- 8 1. Myth: White Cockroaches Are a Subspecies Produced When Populations Get Very Large
- 9 2. Myth: Cockroaches Can Grow to Be 3 Inches Long
- 10 3. Myth: A Cockroach Egg Case Contains 8-10 Baby Cockroaches
- 11 4. Myth: Cockroaches Survive so Well Because They Don’t Have Any Natural Enemies.
- 12 5. Myth: Palmetto Bugs Are Beetles, Not Cockroaches
- 13 6. Myth: Boric Acid Powder Is a Safe, Natural Way to Kill Cockroaches
- 14 Cuban Cockroaches
- 15 ( Panchlora nivea )
- 16 Characteristics
- 17 Habitats
- 18 Tips for Control
- 19 VIDEOS
- 20 Is white rice ‘bad?’ Myths and facts about rice
- 21 —>
- 22 The Truth of Karl Popper
Cockroaches are an unpopular pest. They are unhygienic, unsightly and can cause significant damage to your property and food stuffs. However, it turns out that not all horrible cockroach myths are accurate. I want to use this article as a means of busting some common cockroach assumptions.
- The German cockroach does not exist.
This is inaccurate. Despite the fact that even zoologists claimed this was true, studies have located the German cockroach in various locations, particularly in hot and humid conditions.
- Cockroaches don’t hibernate.
This has been proven to be false. There are a variety of cockroach species that will hibernate.
- Cockroaches do not bite.
Unfortunately this is also inaccurate. Under particular conditions, cockroaches can and will bite. Large cockroaches are even capable of biting humans.
- A cockroach problem is a sign of a dirty home.
Once again this is wrong. Cockroaches will live in clean homes, however larger colonies are often found in unclean homes due to the increased food source available.
- All cockroaches lay several egg sacs a month.
Inaccurate. The German cockroach will normally only lay one sac per month, however each sac can hold approximately 40 babies.
- There are albino cockroaches.
This is false, the reality is that cockroaches shed their skin and for a few hours, while the new skin dries, they are white in colour.
- Cockroaches are active all night.
Once again not entirely true. Cockroaches are actually very lazy and in general will only stay active for approximately 4 hours during the night.
Despite the fact that a variety of assumptions made about the cockroach are actually inaccurate, we must not forget the fact that they are unhygienic pests with the potential to spread disease and cause damage within your home. Cockroaches have the potential to breed very quickly so it is important to consider treatment at the first sign of a problem.
There are a variety of both DIY and professional solutions available for the treatment of a cockroach infestation. DIY treatment can be a cost effective option for a minor problem, however for an infestation professional treatment must be considered. Most pest control companies offer a free survey where they will visit your property, establish the problem, explain treatment options and provide you with an obligation free quote. Particularly when dealing with a pest like cockroaches the cost of eradication is often minimal in comparison to the physical damage they may cause. For advice on the best cockroach treatment for your premise, contact a pest control professional.
Myths About Cockroaches Debunked
By Chris Williams on October 23, 2012.
Here is a list of common myths that I encounter a lot about one of the most infamous pests, cockroaches. After each common myth I will also say what the reality is behind the myth.
Myth #1): Albino cockroaches are sterile and can’t reproduce.
Actually, there are no albino cockroaches. Those white, or almost white, cockroaches that you occasionally see are not albinos but are roach nymphs that have recently molted or shed their skin. It takes a few hours for their new cuticle to harden up and turn dark.
Myth #2): All cockroaches can fly.
All adult cockroaches have wings of some type, but most of our pest cockroaches do not fly. In some cockroaches, like the oriental cockroach, the female has reduced or vestigial wing buds. Fortunately, our most common pest cockroach—the German cockroach—does not fly. Of our other pest cockroaches, only the male brownbanded, American, and wood cockroaches can fly. Cockroach nymphs are wingless and cannot fly.
Myth #3): A German cockroach can live for months without its head.
A headless cockroach can’t live for months but it can live for up to a week, with a little help. Its head isn’t particularly necessary for existence because many of its functions, including breathing, are centrally located in the body. If you want to keep your headless cockroach alive longer, researchers say you should tie the head off with a tourniquet before you sever it, and then keep the roach at a low temperature. Read more about german cockroaches here.
Myth #4): Cockroaches have to eat constantly.
It may seem that they are always on the move looking for food (or even your food), but cockroaches can actually live for about a month without eating. Like people, though, water is the more crucial need. German cockroaches can only live a week without water or moisture of some kind. There are desert cockroaches, however, that are adapted to live for long periods without water.
Myth #5): Despite their habits, cockroaches are really “clean.”
Don’t you believe it! Filthy is as filthy does. Consider that cockroaches live (and feed) comfortably in sewers and similar sites. They pick up various bacteria and viruses on their legs and antennae and (like house flies) transfer them to food, dishes, and other items that they walk across. They also eat contaminated food or feces and transfer disease organisms in their droppings or when they regurgitate onto surfaces.
Myth #6): Human hair and fingernails are a favorite food of cockroaches.
It may be true that cockroaches would gnaw on sailors’ fingernails at night aboard ancient sailing ships but it’s a rare occurrence today, requiring a very large, starving cockroach population. Hair and nails may have some limited nutritional value for a cockroach (especially if the hair is oily and the nails dirty!), but they don’t begin to compete with the other food goodies found in a home. You can rest peacefully. Just make sure to watch out for your ears, because cockroaches love ear canals.
If your home currently has cockroaches, please give Colonial Pest Control a call for our cockroach removal services. Check our service area page to see if you can remove cockroaches around you!
Common Cockroach Killers: Facts and Myths
Cockroaches are a common home pest, and in an effort to save time and money, many homeowners turn to common do-it-yourself treatments to control infestations. Unfortunately, these methods often wind up costing more money and causing additional frustration.
In order to be effective, DIY methods of cockroach control must be properly applied, and many homeowners may not follow instructions completely. Even if the application is done correctly, the effectiveness of these products is often partial and short lived.
Proper cockroach control involves much more than just applying a treatment. Learn about some of the most common commercial roach killers and find out about the most effective method for keeping roaches away.
Cockroach bombs, or foggers, work by spraying a pesticide into the air. Often recommended for confined spaces, such as rooms within homes, these bombs allow pesticides to coat surfaces that insects, like roaches, may come into contact with.
While they may seem good in theory, cockroach bombs are less-than-ideal solutions in reality. First, the pesticides they contain only coat the surfaces you can see. Cockroaches are often found in cracks and behind walls, areas that these bombs won’t reach. Secondly, there are safety concerns. The pesticides contained in these products may be harmful, and after use, they will cover several surfaces in your home. Additionally, the aerosol used in these products makes them flammable.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, homeowners using these products should take several precautions, including vacating their homes before use to avoid illness. All of these additional considerations make cockroach bombs more trouble than they’re worth.
Readily available at hardware and home improvement stores, glue traps are pieces of cardboard covered with adhesive. Some may even contain smells designed to attract insects. These should be placed in areas with high potential for roach traffic, such as behind the refrigerator, under the sink, crevices in cabinets and shelves, closet door corners, and bathroom shelves and closets. These traps work by catching insects as the walk across their sticky surface.
Glue traps might seem like an easy solution for roach problems but, in reality, they’re more useful in detecting infestations than actually solving the problem. If you suspect an infestation in your home, you can lay some glue traps in the areas mentioned above to confirm your suspicions. However, because these products only trap the insects that come into contact with them, they will only catch a small percentage of the roaches that may be present in a home infestation.
Baits are poisons used to control pests like cockroaches. They come in two primary forms: gels and bait stations. Gel baits are usually sold in tubes or syringes for application in areas such as baseboards or in cracks and crevices, where roaches are likely to be found. While gel baits may seem like an easy method of roach control for hard-to-reach locations, they can be cause for concern. First, children and pets may come into contact with the poison. Secondly, they can result in dead roaches lying around your home, which will have to be picked up and disposed of.
Bait stations are similar to gels, but the poison used is often solid and it is secured by a covering, typically made of plastic. Commonly referred to as “roach motels,” these products work by attracting roaches to feed on the poison. These roaches return to the site of the infestation, where they die and are eaten by other roaches, spreading the poison throughout the population. However, bait stations usually cost more and are only partially effective, reaching a percentage of the pests and taking longer to be effective. Additionally, they are visible when placed in your home and are not aesthetically pleasing.
Boric acid is a chemical compound made of boron and water, and it is sold in a sprayable dust form as a roach killer. It is usually applied in locations in and around the kitchen, including behind the refrigerator and the stove. Boric acid will lose effectiveness if exposed to moisture, which is often present in the kitchen. The substance can also become airborne, putting children and pets at risk of exposure. For these reasons, it is not typically recommended as the sole method of roach treatment.
The Most Effective Solution
Professional pest treatments are the most cost-efficient and effective solutions for cockroach problems. Trained specialists can conduct inspections of your property, which are crucial in determining the source and extent of the infestation. They can also properly identify cockroach species and determine the best method of treatment for your case. Terminix® offers cockroach control backed by a 100% Satisfaction Guarantee. Call for a consultation today.
6 Common Myths About Cockroaches
By Chris Williams on February 28, 2014.
The American Cockroach
1. Myth: White Cockroaches Are a Subspecies Produced When Populations Get Very Large
Fact: White cockroaches are not albinos or a subspecies, they are cockroaches that have recently molted or shed their skin. They remain soft and light-colored for several hours until their new skin hardens and gradually darkens. They usually remain hidden during this transition period.
2. Myth: Cockroaches Can Grow to Be 3 Inches Long
Fact: Yes, but not in the U.S. Some tropical cockroaches can be up to 3 inches long. Our biggest cockroach is the American cockroach at 1.5 inches. Cockroaches don’t continue to grow past their final molt. Once they become adults, they are as big as they will get.
3. Myth: A Cockroach Egg Case Contains 8-10 Baby Cockroaches
Fact: Actually it contains many more. The egg case of our most common cockroach, the German cockroach, holds about 36 embryos. Egg cases of the larger cockroaches, like the American cockroach, contain about 15 baby cockroaches.
4. Myth: Cockroaches Survive so Well Because They Don’t Have Any Natural Enemies.
Fact: Maybe not in your home (unless you have a cat), but in the wild, many animals (both large and small) feed on cockroaches, including toads, frogs, iguanas, lizards, birds, bats, and mice. Even other insects like beetles, centipedes, and spiders will feed on cockroaches.
5. Myth: Palmetto Bugs Are Beetles, Not Cockroaches
Fact: Floridians and other Southerners are in denial. Those large, flying insects that they call Palmetto bugs are still American cockroaches no matter what else they call them. We have American cockroaches in the Northeast, but they’re rarely seen and they rarely fly. They’re mostly tropical cockroaches.
6. Myth: Boric Acid Powder Is a Safe, Natural Way to Kill Cockroaches
Fact: Boric acid is an inorganic compound that can kill cockroaches when formulated for use as a pesticide. Pure boric acid powder purchased in the drugstore is not labeled for use as a pesticide. Many people use it irresponsibly by dusting it along kitchen counters or by mixing it with onion or sugar to make bait balls. Less than 2 teaspoons of pure boric acid can kill a child.
( Panchlora nivea )
SIZE: Adults measure three-quarter inch to one inch in length.
COLOR: Brightly colored, lime green
BEHAVIOR: This species lives primarily outdoors and is considered a nuisance pest, as it does not breed inside homes. It is active at night and readily flies to lights on buildings where it crawls inside.
The Cuban cockroach is found along the Southeast Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas, but it is more commonly seen in Florida. It lives among piles of leaves, mulch, lumber piles, firewood piles and similar outdoor harborages. Homes located on wooded lots may be more prone to encounters with this species.
Tips for Control
Because this species is a good flier, it may be attracted to a home from neighboring fields or property. Changing exterior lighting to yellow «bug» lights can help reduce the number of cockroaches attracted to a home, as can simply keeping lights turned off. It is also important to seal as many exterior cracks as possible, and to ensure that all foundation and attic vents have tight-fitting screens. Removing leaf piles, woodpiles and other harborages is also helpful.
The Best Plan for Ridding Your Home of Roaches
Is white rice ‘bad?’ Myths and facts about rice
A reader asked me, “Is white rice good or bad? I rarely touch the stuff, but my Ecuadorian friends keep telling me it’s good for you.”
Yes, Ecuadorians do eat a lot of white rice, compared to North Americans. However Ecuador’s consumption pales in comparison to Asia. Rice is the most widely consumed staple food for a large part of the world’s human population, especially in Asia. On average, Asians consume about 100 kg per capita annually (about 220 lbs) each year — per person! That’s about 3.5 cups of cooked rice daily.
In the United States, the average daily consumption is only about 8 kg or about 18 pounds a year. Ecuadorians consume about 30 kg (66 pounds) per year, or about 1.3 cups of cooked rice each day.
Scientists estimate that rice cultivation began in Asia and then Africa about 14,000 years ago. According to the trade group Ricepedia, rice was introduced to Latin America and the Caribbean by European colonizers in the early 1500s and introduced Asian rice to Mexico in the 1520s at Veracruz, Mexico. The Portuguese and their African slaves introduced it at about the same time to Colonial Brazil. Today, rice is the third-highest agricultural commodity grown globally.
“Good” or “Bad?” Rice Nutrition
Let’s first talk whole grain (or brown) rice compared to white rice. The Whole Grains Council writes, “White rice is a reﬁned grain, not a whole grain, because the germ and bran have been removed. Whole grain rice is usually brown – but, unknown to many, can also be black, purple, red or any of a variety of exotic hues. … Brown rice is lower in ﬁber than most other whole grains, but is rich in many nutrients.”
Nutrition Facts: 1 cup cooked
White Rice (long-grain): 205 calories 4.25 g protein -less than 1 g fiber
Brown Rice: 216 calories 5 g protein 3 g fiber
Although brown rice has a bit more protein, it still lacks certain essential amino acids. However, when paired with complimentary plant and/or animal proteins, for example, beans and rice, you’re assured of complete nutrition.
Mixing a half-cup of cooked white rice with a half-cup of cooked black beans boosts the nutrition significantly without changing the calorie count. A cup of rice and beans has almost 10 grams of protein, about 8 grams of fiber… and many more vitamins and minerals than rice alone.
And as far as “good” or “bad” for you, well… as part of a healthy diet, rice fits. In terms of weight, in countries like India and parts of the Middle East and even Latin America, where rice traditionally made up a very large percentage of calories in their diet, people are starting to eat less rice and the rates of obesity is soaring. What is happening? Surprisingly, lowering calories from rice could be linked to weight gain. When the traditional diet of beans and rice, a little meat, fish or chicken, some vegetables, and fruit (a diet low in added sugars and fats) is replaced with refined packaged foods, chips, salchipapas, and sugary beverages, then it’s a recipe for obesity.
Parboiled Rice – More Nutritious
Parboiled rice at Supermaxi
Parboiled rice is more nutritious right out of the package. Because of special processing, it’s a better source of fiber, calcium, potassium and vitamin B-6 than regular white rice. Buy at Supermaxi for a few cents more per kilo. Learn more about parboiled rice here.
Since white rice has its husk, bran, and germ removed, and processed to make it bright and shiny, it’s also stripped of its nutrients. By law in the U.S., white rice is enriched with vitamins B1, B3, and iron, but I visited my local supermercados and noted that there are both enriched and non-enriched rice for sale. Same price. Buy enriched.
A rice field in Ecuador.
Rice Safety — The U.S.A. and Ecuador
In 2012, Consumer Reports reported on a study showing significant levels of inorganic arsenic – IA in a variety of rice and rice products sold in the USA, including popular rice products like Kellogg’s Rice Krispies, Gerber baby food and varieties of Uncle Ben’s rice. All rice wasn’t found to contain high levels of IA— there is a clear connection between geography and toxicity. Basmati rice from California has the lowest arsenic levels, but rice from Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana contains the highest levels of IA, whether it is grown conventionally or organically (without added chemicals, fertilizers, or pesticides).[Arsenic occurs naturally in the soil – minerals in the earth’s crust get into soil and water through ordinary weathering processes but inorganic arsenic has been used for years in pesticides and wood preservatives and other industrial uses – and it has been shown to persist in the soil for more than 45 years.]
The journal Environmental Health Perspectives reported that during the reign of King Cotton, farmers in the south central United States controlled boll weevils with arsenic-based pesticides — unfortunately, residual arsenic still contaminates the soil. Today, rice grown in the fields where cotton once grew contains almost twice the arsenic compared to rice grown in California. The least amount of IA was found in brown rice from California, India, or Pakistan.
Rice is a staple of Ecuadorian meals but Ecuadorians eat a fraction as much of it as Asians.
What about Ecuador? Lucky for us, I couldn’t locate any warnings about unacceptable arsenic levels in rice in Ecuador or anywhere in Latin America. According to OrganicLatinAmerica.com, “There are currently no sufficient data on which to base any recommendations to slow or stop the rice consumed is related to the levels of arsenic in rice and its potential risk to human health.”
Some of the worst offenders for arsenic are those processed foods made in North America from brown rice. Brown rice syrup, brown rice pasta, rice cakes and brown rice crisps all contained higher than acceptable levels. If you’re eating a “gluten-free” diet and indulging in these processed foods, eating even more than one serving daily could pose a risk for overexposure to IA.
If you’re living in the U.S. or consuming imported rice products here in Ecuador, lower any possible risk of over-exposure to IA by varying the type of grains you eat. And there are other reasons to vary your grains and not eat the same foods daily. As with all foods, variety means you are exposed to an array of important and beneficial micronutrients – vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals — and you lower your exposure to any one possible toxin.
Gluten-free grains, including amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, millet and polenta (known as “corn grits” in the USA) contain much lower average levels of IA and they offer a variety of good nutrition – micronutrients, vitamins and minerals. Wheat is a healthy alternative – for example, bulgur, barley and faro contain gluten, but have very little arsenic.
Article continues below graphic.
If you think that organic rice automatically makes it safer, unfortunately, it does not. Organically grown rice may have no pesticides, but rice sucks arsenic up from the soil the same way as conventional rice. However, in my research, I came across multiple recommendations for a Northern California organic rice company whose arsenic levels are very low – Lundberg Family Farms – read more here.
Take some safety steps to avoid food poisoning from eating pre-cooked rice. Cooked rice should be cooled quickly and not left at room temperature. It should not be kept for more than three days in the fridge. It needs to be reheated very thoroughly. Cooked rice should never be reheated more than once.
When traveling in Ecuador vary your grains, but enjoy your rice! To manage the calories just say, una media porción de arroz, por favor.
The Truth of Karl Popper
In response to:
Despite Jonathan Lieberson’s unsubstantiated summary of my In Pursuit of Truth (a Festschrift in honor of Karl Popper’s 80th birthday) as a series of “sugary and obsequious expressions of praise” in your December 2 issue, I found this and the first part of Mr. Lieberson’s two-part essay on Karl Popper’s philosophy to be a generally fair and reasonable attempt to explicate Popper’s work. Lieberson’s achievement, however, is unfortunately marred and nearly nullified by a conclusion that seriously misunderstands one of the central aspects of Popper’s philosophy.
Lieberson begins with an essentially accurate description of how Popper’s method of “falsification” or conjectures and refutations seeks to improve upon the traditional Baconian scientific method of induction or absorption of knowledge from mere repeated experience. As Hume and even Sextus Empiricus before him had seen, no amount of induction or positive repeated experience can ever verify or even support a general theory (for all of our repeated observations may merely be at the tip of an iceberg that runs counter to our general theory); but even one negative or counter experience can, as Popper emphasizes, serve to logically falsify or refute a general theory. Thus, no amount of repeated observations of white polar bears can prove or strengthen a theory that all polar bears are white (for we may from then on encounter nothing but black polar bears), but observation of even one black polar bear—assuming it is indeed a black polar bear—means our theory that all polar bears are white cannot be right. Lieberson then correctly points out, however, that Popper’s fallibilism is so pervasive as to lead Popper to assert that even observations of black or white polar bears are theory-impregnated (we identify the black object that we see as a polar bear rather than, say, a crow, because of theories that we hold about what polar bears look like, the constancies of species, etc.), and thus conjectural, uncertain, and eminently unprovable. How, then, Lieberson asks, may conjectures-and-refutations and its uncertainty be considered an improvement over induction and its problems? And why, recognizing the inconclusiveness of both, should we reject induction and rejoice in falsification? Since conclusive knowledge is not possible through Popper’s method of conjectures and refutations, Lieberson concludes that Popper’s hope for a non-inductive growth of knowledge is an impossible and thus misleading and dangerous ideal, a romantic “wild-goose chase.”
The problem that Lieberson raises—the conjectural nature of falsifying observations—is indeed profound, and one that most intelligent people almost always bring up on their first reading of Popper. Indeed, had Lieberson come upon his knowledge of Popper a priori, or from some casual discussion in a classroom, then the conclusions that Lieberson draws from the fallibility of falsifications would be entirely understandable. But the fact of the matter is that Popper himself has continuously raised, addressed, and dealt with this problem throughout his writings, going back to his first published work on scientific method, Logik der Forschung of 1935; and, I am obliged to add, this problem is similarly raised and dispatched with in at least four of the “sugary” essays in my volume. The situation is actually quite simple. We indeed must begin, as Popper does, with the recognition that all observations—whether used to falsify or “verify”—are themselves conjectural, and of no firmer epistemic import than the wildest, concocted abstract theory. We are then faced with a choice: do we use these uncertain, problematic observations to build knowledge inductively, or via a process of conjectures and refutations as suggested by Popper? Our decision might take into account the fact that induction is, quite independently of the uncertainty of all observations, logically untenable (as Hume had shown, there is no logical warrant that allows us to jump from even a huge number of specifics to a general theory), but that falsification, or the negation of generalities by specifics, is (as Popper and others have shown) quite logically acceptable as a process, even though the contents of that process (the observations) may be forever uncertain. Our choice would thus seem to amount to this: use conjectural, uncertain tools in an illogical process (induction), or use conjectural, uncertain tools in a logical process (falsification). Granting the obvious fact that neither choice can yield perfect or certain knowledge, which one would you choose, Mr. Lieberson?
But if we opt for conjectures and refutations as at least being logically possible, does not the uncertainty of the observations used as refutations condemn us to stagnate in our knowledge, to wallow in a perpetual state of conjecture? Is Lieberson’s characterization of Popperian method as a wild-goose chase appropriate after all? It is not—as a careful reading of Popper and, again, any one of a number of the contributions to my own In Pursuit of Truth makes clear. Indeed, discussions of how knowledge can progress and even flourish despite the endemic uncertainty of our cognition predate Popper by many years, and in Peirce we even find an implication that knowledge grows precisely because it is uncertain (see, for example, the Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, vol. 1, paragraphs 135-149; for extended discussions of Peirce on certainty and fallibilism, see any of Peter Skagestad’s recent writings).
From among the many arguments for the growth of knowledge in an uncertain world that Popper provides, let us look at but one—the biological or evolutionary analogy central to the field of “evolutionary epistemology,” which is where my own interest in Popper most lies. Assuming the general accuracy of the Darwinian model (but of course alert to its inevitable flaws), we notice three aspects of evolution that have pertinence to the possible growth of uncertain knowledge: (a) all organisms and organic adaptations are imperfect relative to their environments (i.e., they don’t always survive or succeed); (b) all organisms and adaptations appear to develop via a series of trial and error encounters with the environment, with organic characteristics initially generated or “proposed” independently of the environment, and then either eliminated or not by the environment; (c) on the basis of the first two processes, evolution or progressive change does indeed seem to occur, e.g., organisms seem to have developed from simple to complex, from non-intelligent to intelligent, etc., across time.
Now to the extent that the trial-and-error evolution of organisms seems descriptive of the conjectures-and-refutations growth of human ideas—and despite some obvious differences (for example, the important role of intentional rationality in the development of human knowledge), the two processes do seem to have much in common—we have in biological evolution an example of how progress can occur in a world utterly pervaded by, indeed constituted of, imperfection or uncertainty. In other words, if we accept the biological evolution of imperfect organisms as real, the growth of uncertain human knowledge through non-inductive conjectures and refutations seems possible: the nihilism that Lieberson imputes to Popper’s thoroughly conjectural method is unwarranted.
Of course, Darwin’s theory of evolution and for that matter the living world itself may be a chimera; reality and all our perceptions of it may be false or even non-existent. Popper’s philosophy does hold open such disturbing possibilities. But Popper’s philosophy also allows, more, encourages us to choose an alternative to the despair of nihilism and the illogic of inductivism, an alternative which seeks to parlay our uncertainty into a genuine, hard-won, painfully groping growth of knowledge. Granted that such a choice is something less than rational—I elsewhere call it “pre-rational”—but a choice and possibility it nonetheless is. It is just this golden egg of opportunity that Lieberson’s banishment of Popper’s wild geese would destroy.
Jonathan Lieberson replies:
Paul Levinson claims that the conclusion of my pieces on Popper displays a serious “misunderstanding” of “one of the central aspects of Popper’s philosophy,” namely Popper’s views on the nature and status of “falsifying observations.” But he does not accurately report my thesis: I did not say that since falsifying observation statements (not “falsifying observations”) are “fallible” or “conjectural” Popper’s theory of science falls to the ground. Nor did I claim that “since conclusive knowledge is not possible through Popper’s method of conjectures and refutations, his views are unacceptable. My difficulty, as I explicitly stated [NYR, December 2] was that a combination of views held by Popper render his alternative to inductionism (as contrasted with Baconian inductivism, which nearly all contemporary philosophers disagree with) a self-defeating and incoherent account of scientific inquiry and the growth of scientific knowledge. As such, I went on, it does not constitute a serious alternative to inductionism.
Thus, although I certainly discussed it, the problem of falsifying observation statements was not my main concern. I was aware that Popper has repeatedly discussed this problem, which Mr. Levinson believes is “one that most intelligent people almost always bring up on their first reading of Popper.” I was not aware, however, until I read Mr. Levinson’s letter, that it has been “dispatched with” in his collection of essays. Mr. Levinson claims that the “situation” with regard to falsifying observation statements is “actually quite simple”: all observations are conjectural, “of no firmer epistemic import than the wildest, concocted abstract theory.” Granting this point, he continues, we should clearly prefer the process of falsification to that of induction, which is “illogical.” I do not agree. While it is true that observation statements are, in a sense, “theory soaked” (as Popper says), not all the theories in which such statements are soaked are of equal merit, and not all observations are “of no firmer epistemic import than the wildest, concocted abstract theory.”
I wonder whether Mr. Levinson actually believes what he says; for my part, I have no difficulty in concluding that the claim that I am now seated before a typewriter is of far greater “epistemic import” than the abstract theory that the world is entirely made up of butter. I also hold, for reasons I set forth in my articles, that we do upon occasion possess perfectly good reasons for accepting such observation statements as true, a view Popper does not hold. Secondly, while we await an accurate codification of inductive practice—a task to which many philosophers, statisticians, and others have devoted their labors—I do not think that we can responsibly and without qualification claim that induction is “illogical.” That induction does not conform to the standards of deductive logic is obvious, but as I took pains to point out in my essay, there are no good reasons for regarding deductive standards of inference as establishing the standard of rationality in science. In short, I think I can answer the portentous question Mr. Levinson poses: granting that observation statements are not infallible, and that neither the methods of induction or of falsification can yield perfect knowledge, I continue to hold that induction is an activity—a “method” if you will—that we can in some circumstances rely on. It turns out, accordingly, that my alleged “misunderstanding” of Popper is no such thing, only disagreement.
I must add that the force of the evolutionary tale Mr. Levinson tells toward the end of his letter eludes me. Presumably it is an argument that is intended to contribute toward showing that the “nihilism” I impute to Popper, the view that his account of science describes a wild-goose chase (with respect to the aim of discovering the truth), is unwarranted. But does it do so? First of all, the argument depends upon an analogy that is seriously imperfect: the example of “obvious differences” between the “growth” of conjectures and refutations and the trial-and-error evolution of organisms that Mr. Levinson mentions is only one of many that could be presented—another would be the lack of analogy between the truth of a scientific statement and the adaptation of an organism to an uncertain environment.
Moreover, it is not clear to me that, even if we grant the analogy, the claim that imperfect organisms can develop through trial-and-error encounters with the environment into increasingly complex entities damages any of the points I made. The key issue, it seems to me, concerns “progress,” which in the case of science means making some advance toward the aim of discovering the truth about the world. After all, the whole process of evolution might yet be a nonprogressive affair, displaying only a temporary “progressive” character, as indeed some celebrated and dismal evolutionary speculations have suggested. As such, the analogy does not seem to me to support Mr. Levinson’s thesis that he has presented a good argument for “the growth of knowledge in an uncertain world.” When scientists speak of the growth of knowledge, they do not mean, I take it, simply a gradual increase in the complexity of their guesswork, or the increasingly successful adaptation of guesses to still other guesses. A parlor game or the process of creating myths and fairy tales, spurred on by problems of internal consistency, might exhibit this character; but while science might be an uncertain affair, wouldn’t this be a grossly exaggerated and perverse description of this uncertainty?