I mean, it's not like you can run an experiment to determine if the dinosaurs were wiped out by an asteroid... I mean, what would that involve? Creating planets and populating them with dinosaurs, Jurassic-Park style, and then bombarding them with asteroids? Even if it were possible, it wouldn't really prove anything except whether the mechanism is feasible, it wouldn't determine whether that was actually what happened or not. So you can't really use an experiment.
What you CAN do is make predictions based on that hypothesis, and then make observations to see if the predictions are borne out. For one, you should see evidence of asteroid impact, things like iridium, shock-deformed quartz, microtektites, an impact crater, maybe even a tiny fragment of the asteroid itself... and in fact, after 30 years of looking, every single one of those things showed up, so we're pretty confident there was a giant asteroid impact. For another, you predict that the extinctions coincide with that impact if the impact caused them. And when you look at really abundant microfossils, stuff like fossil plankton and pollen, you can trace the Cretaceous stuff right up to the iridium layer that is the debris field, and then these species vanish forever. So the observations of geology, geochemistry, and paleontology are all consistent with predictions. The same process is used to test other hypotheses about historical processes, such as continental drift, or natural selection, or the formation of the solar system.
That's the *actual* scientific method. It's testing hypotheses against observation. Controlled experiment may or may not come into it at all.
I should add that I work for a public entity and due to some fairly public issues, we have enjoyed record levels of funding the past couple of years. We know that they cannot afford to continue so we're about to start a multi-year decrease in our budget. My current thoughts are: First, I was working for a company where we faced potential layoffs, getting as close as to within 24 hours of one. Even just having some job security is extremely appreciated. Second, I work in a WONDERFUL environment. They aren't clock punchers, its about getting the job done. We're not micromanaged and have freedom to try new things. For the public sector, I know those are rare things and I appreciate them. Third, I work on a very talented team. I am probably the weakest member, so for me its a perfect learning/growth opportunity. Finally, its not my employer saying the conference isn't important, its looking at the bottom line and that we are a public entity so its not like we can easily raise more money. Tough decisions must be made.
For this particular conference, I decided to try and save up my own money. Unfortunately, my personal life has gotten in the way, so I've resorted to begging. My problem with this is I hate begging, but what am I going to do for future conferences? So should I re-think my acceptance of my employers policy and start looking for a new job? Obviously, it is a personal decision, but I don't have a mentor or close friends to act as sounding boards, so I'd love to hear your thoughts.