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Analogical arguments in geology

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Analogical inference is widely used in geology research as a crucial technique for deriving conclusions and constructing hypotheses about the geology of Earth and other planetary bodies. Deriving conclusions by analogical reasoning in geology is no trivial matter and can even be quite complex, especially when applied to processes which occurred in the distant past (deep time) or to geological processes that are taking place (or have taken place) on other planetary bodies. In such cases, analogical reasoning might lead the geologist astray, to the extent of his reaching mistaken conclusions. Many geologists, like most people, use analogy intuitively, without always being aware of how the process works or of its pitfalls. Lack of such knowledge often leads to hasty, incorrect analogical argument, and consequently to incorrect conclusions. Since it is my view that some of these mistakes can be prevented through a better understanding of analogical inferencing and the problems involved, I develop in this paper key issues relating to analogical argument, and suggest means for preventing bad analogies. It is to be hoped that the following presentation will increase awareness among geologists and perhaps thereby succeed in preventing incorrect analogical inferences. 


philosophy of geology, analogical inference, geological explanation