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The E-Sylum:  Volume 3, Number 27, July 2, 2000, Article 12

BREEN'S SCIENTIFIC METHOD 

   Stuart Segan writes: "As hackneyed is the party line that Breen is 
   the greatest researcher of US numismatics, so too is the rebuttal 
   in which Breen is reduced to "pure conjecture, speculation, 
   guesswork, and embellished hypothesis."  Further, Moulton's 
   assertion that "Breen did not necessarily change the face of 
   American numismatic scholarship for the better" is absurd and 
   wrong. 

   Scientific method, and Breen's application of same to American 
   numismatics, is at the heart of the controversy.  Scientific 
   method is not concerned with facts so much as it is with method 
   and hence the use of the word method and not fact.  If one 
   formula or way of looking at a situation leads to "truth" we are 
   closing in on what is known as theory. 

   To cite one example, Newton developed a theory, often referred 
   to as the Theory of Gravity. Within limits (no pun intended for 
   those familiar with the "little rocks") Newton was able to predict 
   the motion of moving bodies nearly precisely and for a wide 
   range of moving bodies. The generality of the theory was so 
   profound it was not proved "wrong" for 150 odd years. To 
   complete the example, Einstein's General Theory of Relativity 
   was able to account for some ridiculously small wobble in the 
   movement of at least one of the planets that was not accounted 
   for by Newton's theory. While Newton technically was "wrong" 
   it would be the dilettante that runs around saying "Newton was 
   wrong, Newton was wrong." 

   Now back to our humble domain of American numismatics. Breen 
   to a degree constructed a theory of American numismatics. His 
   theory when applied to various situations at the US Mint resulted 
   in predictions that were correct. Needless to say in other cases the 
   predictions were wrong - no big deal really. It is the dilettante that 
   hangs his hat on Breen's mistakes and looks no further at the 
   groundwork Breen provided. It is method and not fact with which 
   we are concerned. 

   It is sad that this discussion continues. Breen's admirers (and yes, 
   I am obviously one of them) at their best understand scientific 
   method and intuitively appreciate Breen's humble approach to the 
   overall question of American numismatics.  At their worst Breen's 
   admirers overlook a great deal of flaws both professionally and 
   personally in order to keep the ideal of his work fresh. Breen's 
   detractors at their best grant that Breen did some good work but 
   there are lots of mistakes. At their worst, they lose sight of 
   scientific method altogether and see only the mistakes. 

   Breen's method in my opinion flowered around the late 1940s 
   which makes it about 50 years old. We might quibble that the 
   "facts" in the Encyclopedia are wrong.  It is riddled with method 
   and that IS Breen's contribution.  Breen for this reason changed 
   the face of American numismatic scholarship most decidedly for 
   the better." 

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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