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Thomas Kuhn in retrospect

It is 50 years since The Structure of Scientific Revolutions presented a radically different perspective on the way scientists carry out their work. Most readers of this book would have been familiar with the scientific method, which sets out the way science is supposed to work. But the textbook “scientific method” underplays the creative contributions provided by scientists, and Thomas Kuhn knew that the history of science provides abundant evidence showing that human factors deserve a much higher profile in our thinking. Yet he knew his book was iconoclastic:

“Kuhn was not at all confident about how Structure would be received. He had been denied tenure at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a few years before, and he wrote to several correspondents after the book was published that he felt he had stuck his neck “very far out”. Within months, however, some people were proclaiming a new era in the understanding of science. One biologist joked that all commentary could now be dated with precision: his own efforts had appeared “in the year 2 B.K.”, before Kuhn. A decade later, Kuhn was so inundated with correspondence about the book that he despaired of ever again getting any work done.”

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8 Responses to Thomas Kuhn in retrospect

  1. “New scientific ideas never spring from a communal body, however organized, but rather from the head of an individually inspired researcher who struggles with his problems in lonely thought and unites all his thought on one single point which is his whole world for the moment.” – Max Planck

    “But, but…what about peer reviews?” “Pass….”

  2. Planck appears to have plugged the “Archimedes” paradigm of a researcher: the individual who has eureka moments. The link between the quote and Kuhn’s thesis needs clarifying.
    However, peer review is relevant to Kuhn’s analysis: peer review works best within “normal science”. The main threats come when there are ethical tensions, where referees may seek to protect their personal interests. But peer review does not work so well when radical ideas are being developed – from a different conceptual framework. Reviewers may conclude that the paper is failing to address the real issues (as they see them), or that the paper is dealing with issues that the rest of the scholarly world has left behind. Whatever, the problem is that the reviewers simply do not appreciate the significance of the change in conceptual framework. With revolutionary science, editors need to be very sensitive to these issues – and have thick skins when they get flak for publishing radical contributions.
    These issues make it much more difficult for ID scholars to develop their ideas in peer-reviewed journals.

  3. Everything you say makes sense to me. I used to think peer review was perfectly apt for the pedantic, incremental examinations and procedures of science, at least, of the mechanistic persuasion.

    Then I read of people finding out that work they had submitted and had rejected, had actually subsequently been plagiarised by a member of the editing staff of the journal they had submitted it to. That, to me, cries to heaven for vengeance; depraved and despicable beyond belief.

    But then no profession is free of psychopaths, indeed, they seem to find the highest reaches of business and the professions, most propitious, as each day reveals some new horror of their contriving, contributing to the economic cataclysm the world seems to be facing.

  4. I don’t see this guy as saying anything other then common sense.
    Yet he is rejecting the stuff they were taught in their day about science ideas coming from somewhere else rather then a single hunch.
    Its all about trying to make scientific conclusions beyond criticism and this so a establishment can force the public to their worldview. Back then it was evolution(anti religion) and marxism.
    This gut simply said advances in evolution came from new ideas and was a rejection of establishment conclusions.
    they say nothing and he’s wrongly lauded.
    Its all intrigue to use great conclusions and control what people think.

    Just as today evolutionism is very based on Believe us we are scientists and that settles about the truth.

    Forget Kuhn. what did he contribute to knowledge in nature??
    Those who can’t TEACH.

  5. In many respects, things are more rigid re dogmatism in science and the aversion to groundbreaking paradigms than fifty years ago.. At least in several disciplines of science.

    I think that medicine is a good (or bad) example, even more so than evolutionary theory (albeit not unrelated). Big money interests have corrupted medicine to such a degree, that it has become bad to the bone. It is far worse than it was circa 1960, or 1980 even. Pharmaceutical control of medicine has become all embracing and corrupted the journals and the medical research itself (and thus peer review). Censorship, intimidation and the like are the rules of the game. The economic interests here, along with the scientific materialism and reductionism that is the ruling and persistently failing paradigm in medical science, keep the sham going.. My point is that in spite of growing evidence from pathology, oncology included, embryology and ontogeny, immunology, microbiology inclusive of genetics and biophysics, that the stubborn reductionist approaches to medicine are failing and failing badly (well not for the Pharmaceuticals who laugh all the way to the bank), the old paradigm/s continue to rule. The fact that they can only do so through bullying, censorship, coercion and outrageous lying (that earns the imprimatur of peer review no less) doesn’t change the fact that new paradigms (that are often old ways of thinking, that have simply been dismissed as superstitions) are prevented from getting a real voice.

    No sociologist of science writing from a Kuhnian or post-Kuhnian perspective can ignore the odious and damning effect of Big Money on what is permitted and what is taboo in scientific circles. This economic and financial corruption of science is of course not unrelated to the rule of economic materialism in our society, which itself is inseparable from scientific materialism. This intertwining of economic and scientific materialism tends to be ignored or glossed over, even by critics of the corruption of science (and medical science in particular) by special financial and economic interests.

  6. Axel @ 3:
    “Then I read of people finding out that work they had submitted and had rejected, had actually subsequently been plagiarised by a member of the editing staff of the journal they had submitted it to.”
    It is another example of the human face of the scientific enterprise. I’d like to think these examples are rare, but they seem to be occurring more frequently as time passes. Editors need to exercise wisdom when they approach referees. I see the phenomenon as a growing problem because a scientific community without ethical convictions becomes enslaved by corruption: dishonesty, plagiarism and the hunger for funding and prestige. Nothing has yet replaced the Judaeo-Christian ethic which nurtured science. Talk about Darwinian ethics is nothing more than talk – it does not impact the motivations of its adherents.

  7. Zephyr @ 6:
    “No sociologist of science writing from a Kuhnian or post-Kuhnian perspective can ignore the odious and damning effect of Big Money on what is permitted and what is taboo in scientific circles.”
    I agree with this. Examples are not hard to find. Recently, a disturbing report relating to cancer research appeared:

    Raise standards for preclinical cancer research
    C. Glenn Begley and Lee M. Ellis
    Nature, 483, 531–533 (29 March 2012) | doi:10.1038/483531a
    http://www.nature.com/nature/j.....3531a.html
    Of 53 “landmark” papers selected to check their replicability, the “scientific findings were confirmed in only 6 (11%) cases”. But reproducibility is a key element of scientific research! Standards have fallen – and sociologists of science should be analysing the anti-science influences that are acting on research communities.

  8. In the past 60 years, no fundamental advance in science has been made. The achievements of the 20th century all occurred prior to the early 1950′s. The great leaps in science that occurred in the 20th century were:

    1. Special and General Relativity and the discovery of the photo electric effect by Einstein.

    2. The quantum theory of matter, wave/particle duality, and action at a distance as expressed by Bohr, Dirac, Schrodinger, Heisenberg, and others.

    3. The discovery of the expanding universe by Hubble and the Big Bang cosmology.

    4. The discovery that life is an information based computational system with a DNA software code that is transcribed and translated by micro processing machinery within the cell.

    5. Godel’s proof of incompleteness within any logic or mathematical system. (This isn’t science per se, but has profound implications about what we can know and do with science.)

    Einstein was a patent clerk and a nobody who was allowed by a single editor to publish a couple of papers in Annalen Der Physik. Bohr, Dirac, Schrodinger and Heisenberg were mavericks not funded by any government. Godel was an obscure unknown who turned the mathematical world 180 degrees with a three page paper presented in a room at a minor conference. Watson and Crick were not even biologists. Can you imagine such things happening today?

    No, today “science” is completely a government funded and institutionally-controlled effort to enforce orthodoxies and promote political narratives.

    I don’t want another tax dollar of mine spent on worthless dead-ends like string theory, anthropogenic global warming, and Darwinian absurdities. I want my money back.

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