Slashdot is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop


Forgot your password?

Does All of Science Really Move In 'Paradigm Shifts'? 265

ATKeiper writes "Thomas Kuhn's landmark book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions just turned fifty years old. In that book, Kuhn coined the expression 'paradigm shift' to describe revolutionary changes in scientific fields — such as the replacement of the geocentric understanding of the universe with the heliocentric model of the solar system. The book was hotly debated for claiming that different scientific paradigms were 'incommensurable,' which implied (for example) that Newton was no more right about gravity than Aristotle. A new essay in The New Atlantis revisits the controversy and asks whether the fact that Kuhn based his argument almost exclusively on physics means that it does not apply as well to major developments in biology or, for that matter, to the social sciences."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Does All of Science Really Move In 'Paradigm Shifts'?

Comments Filter:
  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @03:52PM (#42522979) Homepage Journal

    my wheel barrow broke I just said, "Dang it!", went to the shed and invented an anti-gravity lift to move the manure around the back lot.

  • Kuhn Paradigms (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Camel Pilot ( 78781 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @03:55PM (#42523037) Homepage Journal

    I am suspicious that Kuhn's paradigm shift were valid only during the formative years of science (specifically physics). The shifts - if they truly exist - have tended to become smaller asymptotically as science progresses.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Aha, but now you have fallen into the devious trap! For it is forbidden to inform physicists that the rest of the world does not work the same way they do. The Gods decreed several thousand years ago that no man, woman, or child should ever do such a thing, lest physicists become aware of the other sciences and try to interfere. There can only be one punishment for a crime this grievous: death by total protonic reversal!
    • Re:Kuhn Paradigms (Score:4, Informative)

      by SirGarlon ( 845873 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @04:03PM (#42523131)

      I don't know -- general relativity was a big paradigm shift, and I would say that occurred well after the formative years of science (which I would put in the 16th or 17th century).

      Perhaps the reason it looks like paradigm shifts don't happen any more is that they only come along every hundred years or so.

      • Re:Kuhn Paradigms (Score:4, Insightful)

        by geekoid ( 135745 ) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <dnaltropnidad>> on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @04:17PM (#42523327) Homepage Journal

        The Internet was a paradigm shift.

        But they are very, very rare. Most people see these shifts becasue they are unaware of the steps it took to get there.

        • Re:Kuhn Paradigms (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Samantha Wright ( 1324923 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @04:40PM (#42523651) Homepage Journal
          No, the Internet is not a paradigm shift. It was a dramatic shift in worldview, but it did not directly cause people to re-evaluate how the world works. All of that work was done by telephones, trains, traditional mail, and radio.
          • by narcc ( 412956 )

            It was a dramatic shift in worldview, but it did not directly cause people to re-evaluate how the world works


            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              Dictionary troll powers, activate! []

              One's perspective on the world involves more than a metaphysical understanding of how it functions. It also involves how those functional elements are structured and relate to one another. By developing a ubiquitous communications medium, we were able to communicate with each other rapidly and rearrange social structures, (and that affected how we perceived the world, often oversimplified to "making it smaller") but nothing about our understanding of any mechanisms change

      • Re:Kuhn Paradigms (Score:5, Insightful)

        by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @04:18PM (#42523345) Journal

        But even Relativity had its antecedents; in particular Lorentz. Frankly I don't think Kuhn was right at all. Paradigm shifts are, if you really look at them, pretty illusory, and part of the way we treat most history.

        It's like declaring 476 a watershed moment in European history, when in fact, the Roman decline had been going on for decades, and there wasn't much left of the Western Empire by the time Romulus Augustulus was locked away in Castellum Lucullanum.

        We mark time that way, we look for what we can describe as the Big Date or the Big Theory or the Big Innovation, and then shove everything that led up to that event to one side.

        As to SR and GR themselves, while some might describe them as paradigm shifts, modern physicists will continue to point out that while they revolutionized the way we look at the universe, they remain Classical theories, and that the real paradigm shift, if it can be called that, was Einstein's work on the photoelectric effect, which is one of the predecessors of quantum mechanics. But even with QM, there was a lot of groundwork laid before the theory itself was developed, so I have a problem with the claims that that was a paradigm shift.

        The list goes on and on. Did Darwin's theory of Natural Selection represent a paradigm shift? In some respects, yes, but at the same time you have to give due credit to some of those who came before him, in particular Linnaeus, who recognized the notion of phylogenetic relationships to some degree. Most certainly Linnaeus's work deeply informed Darwin as he worked on Natural Selection. But even Linnaeus has his antecedents, dating back to Classical Greece.

        And on and on it goes.

        • I don't think that the point of Kuhn and Polanyi's work was that these paradigm shifts are attributable to a single event or single person. The point is that they represent a substantial departure from/replace the working models used before them. If I recall correctly, a big part of the idea, as well, is that these for these revolutions to happen, the older generation of scientists have to die off. This process will necessarily take a fair amount of time.
          • But clearly that did not happen. Einstein was still very much alive and kicking when Planck, Bohr and that group were developing QM.

            • Einstein made some major contributions to QM. The photon, specific heats of solids, etc.

            • Re:Kuhn Paradigms (Score:4, Informative)

              by Sique ( 173459 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @05:17PM (#42524141) Homepage
              Yes and no. According to Thomas S. Kuhn, Einstein's death marks the time when QM was finally accepted by most physicists, while Albert Einstein until his death was fully opposed to QM - famously quoted (and often misunderstood) as "God doesn't play dice". QM had to have been developped before as a paradigm, but only when all classical physicists did no longer work in Physics (which was more drastically described by Th.S.Kuhn as "had died out"), it became an accepted practice in Physics to view the world through QM's glasses. The first generally accepted QM theory was Quantumelectrodynamics, and when this one gave convincing results, physicists tried to take this as a template for other QM theories (so called Gauge Theories), and we got QCD, an extension of QED to the electroweak interaction (SWT), and finally the Standard Model of Particle Physics (which just recently triumphed with correctly predicting the Higgs boson).
              • It doesn't even apply to Darwin. Darwin quickly had many admirers among his fellow scientists once Origins was published. Yes, he had his critics, but large portions Victorian science community were quick to see the explanatory power of Natural Selection.

            • Well, Einstein was an instrumental part of the development of QM (famously he won his Nobel Prize for his quantum explanation of the photoelectric effect).

              But even forgetting this, the relativity revolution marked a huge change in the philosophy of most scientists, going from the assumption that our everyday experiences about matter and mechanics are generally true to the assumption that these experiences are only true of things at our scale and that the rest of the world operate under utterly different con

        • Special Relativity had antecedents.

          GR is another matter altogether. It is a much more fundamental and revolutionary change.

        • It's like declaring 476 a watershed moment in European history, when in fact, the Roman decline had been going on for decades, and there wasn't much left of the Western Empire by the time Romulus Augustulus was locked away in Castellum Lucullanum.

          And the barbarians who replaced the Roman ruling elite were hell-bent on preserving whatever they could from the Roman culture and live. Hell, that was the reason why they invaded it in the first place, to have their own bite of the Roman prosperity. There was more continuity than people had traditionally thought.

        • As to SR and GR themselves, while some might describe them as paradigm shifts, modern physicists will continue to point out that while they revolutionized the way we look at the universe, they remain Classical theories, and that the real paradigm shift, if it can be called that, was ... quantum mechanics.

          In what way is quantum mechanics any more, or less, of a paradigm shift than relativity? QM is a correction to classical physics for small systems and relativity is a correction to classical physics for high energy systems. I know philosophers get all excited about QM because the concepts are harder to grasp than relativity but that does not make it any more, or less, important. As for "modern physicists" I am one and we use both QM and SR in one consistent theory - both are equally essential to particle p

      • Re:Kuhn Paradigms (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) * on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @04:26PM (#42523461)

        I don't know -- general relativity was a big paradigm shift

        General relativity was a far smaller shift than Newtonian Mechanics. Newton revolutionized science and engineering, and made the industrial revolution possible. General relativity, on the other hand, is routinely ignored by 99.99% of working engineers. If you design a plane and ignore Newton, you will never get off the ground. If you ignore Einstein, you will land a few nanometers further than you expected.

        • Re:Kuhn Paradigms (Score:4, Informative)

          by lee1 ( 219161 ) <lee@lee-philli[ ]org ['ps.' in gap]> on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @04:37PM (#42523611) Homepage
          You're convolving science with engineering. GR is a radical and fundamental conceptual breakthrough of a kind that only occurs every few hundred years at most. Easily on a par with Newton's system of the world. This would be true even if it had no engineering consequences whatsoever; but, in fact, the GPS depends upon it.
        • I'm not going to claim it changes the result of the google fight between Einstein and Newton
          but I think there's more than one way to measure. You're looking at the effect but you can also look at the machinery to produce the effect. And 'paradigm' leans towards the second interpretation.

          the difference in outcome between Newton and the Einstein 'math and mental machinery' is negligable in most cases. You can imagine theories and subjects where the difference in outcome really is small and maybe will remain

        • Except that paradigm shifts aren't about how much the results change, they're about how much the model changes. Relativity decouples time, equates energy and mass, and provides a theoretical mechanism for gravitation. It changed the way scientists thought about the unanswered problems in physics. You could no longer put forth serious theories about those unanswered questions using the assumptions of Newtonian physics without being laughed out of the room. And all the old theories had to be revisited and

    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) * on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @04:15PM (#42523297)

      The shifts - if they truly exist - have tended to become smaller asymptotically as science progresses.

      This was explained very well by Isaac Asimov in his essay The Relativity of Wrong []. Aristotle and Newton were both wrong about gravity. But, relatively, Aristotle was much more wrong.

      • Also, and a key counterargument to Kuhn, is that while both Aristotle and Newton were wrong, if you think they were equally wrong, you're wronger than both of them put together.

    • by icebike ( 68054 )

      I am suspicious that Kuhn's paradigm shift were valid only during the formative years of science (specifically physics). The shifts - if they truly exist - have tended to become smaller asymptotically as science progresses.

      I'm not so sure that shifts become smaller.
      Clearly there are a lot of small "fill in the gap" types of discoveries in any field.
      However, these smaller advancements of understanding were not the shifts that Kuhn was addressing.

      These often give an appearance of being less to learn as your knowledge of a subject becomes more complete, until the world is blind-sided by some major discovery. Its always dangerous to assume there is complete knowledge of any field of Science

      Discovery of DNA was an utterly world ch

      • But surely DNA was a confirmation of the sort of thing people must have thought was going on (i.e. chemicals structures passing on information)? I don't mean to denigrate these sorts of practical advances in understanding, but Kuhn's paradigm shifts are more about the complete re-interpretation of evidence changing the very structure of what we think is going on in a field. We still get them, but in smaller and smaller domains.

    • The shifts - if they truly exist - have tended to become smaller asymptotically as science progresses.

      Shifts in terms of our understanding of the universe, life, etc, yes. Shifts in terms of what's being researched on, the "way scientists are looking at things" no. From skimming TFA, it sounds like he was talking about the latter.

      In cell biology, long ago it was all about shapes of cells. Cell biologists had electron microscopy, and it was awesome, so they found the ultrastructure of nearly any cell they could get their hands on. Then they discovered DNA and how to use it, and suddenly looking at s

    • I don't think they become smaller. QM for example was huge.

      Less frequent, yes. But when they happen there is a huge retrenchment required.

    • Science advances one funeral at a time -- Max Planck
    • by Hentes ( 2461350 )

      I agree, Kuhn's theory has become dated. I suggest we all shift to a new...oh, wait.

  • Stupid buzz words (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Science no longer moves in "paradigm shifts". It has given way to the movement of "game changers".

    Besides, I doubt sicence has ever moved this way. The history of sicence has always seemed to me to follow no consistent path, but rather a series of incremental gains in knowledge and understanding amongst numerous fields that occasionally result in a milestone breakthrough that opens up new fields of research. But this work seems to imply that science follows, to use a visual analogy, a one dimensional lin

    • by icebike ( 68054 )

      a series of incremental gains in knowledge and understanding amongst numerous fields that occasionally result in a milestone breakthrough

      Well said. And it likely couldn't happen any other way. It is precisely the cleaning up of dangling strings or loose ends and filling in the gaps of knowledge where huge discoveries are occasionally made, and entire theories destroyed and replaced.

    • The milestone breakthroughs are the paradigm shifts. Kuhn didn't argue that these shifts were the only things that mattered, only that they obsolete the past and need to be acknowledged. And you'll have to put up with the phrase "paradigm shift"—this is the original and only place the phrase should be used. It's not a buzzword in this context.
    • Have you read The Structure of Scientific Revolutions? Because it seems like you haven't, because you don't contradict it even though you seem to be under the impression that you do. Also, as has been pointed out, this is where the phrase comes from, and you should understand what it means in this context to be entitled to "hate" it.

    • Re:Stupid buzz words (Score:5, Informative)

      by 0111 1110 ( 518466 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @05:15PM (#42524113)

      By 'paradigm shift' Kuhn is talking about a change in how scientists look at the things. The point is not about whether science is more about moving forward in little baby steps or huge leaps or even whether it moves 'forward' at all, but about what happens when everyone starts looking at things differently. It's' a change in perspective more than some objective 'breakthrough', although a major breakthrough may be the stimulus for a paradigm shift.

      Since I don't have a copy of the book in front of me here's a blurb from wikipedia that seems to understand where Kuhn is coming from.

      A scientific revolution occurs, according to Kuhn, when scientists encounter anomalies that cannot be explained by the universally accepted paradigm within which scientific progress has thereto been made. The paradigm, in Kuhn's view, is not simply the current theory, but the entire worldview in which it exists, and all of the implications which come with it. This is based on features of landscape of knowledge that scientists can identify around them.

      There are anomalies for all paradigms, Kuhn maintained, that are brushed away as acceptable levels of error, or simply ignored and not dealt with (a principal argument Kuhn uses to reject Karl Popper's model of falsifiability as the key force involved in scientific change). Rather, according to Kuhn, anomalies have various levels of significance to the practitioners of science at the time. To put it in the context of early 20th century physics, some scientists found the problems with calculating Mercury's perihelion more troubling than the Michelson-Morley experiment results, and some the other way around.


      When enough significant anomalies have accrued against a current paradigm, the scientific discipline is thrown into a state of crisis, according to Kuhn. During this crisis, new ideas, perhaps ones previously discarded, are tried. Eventually a new paradigm is formed, which gains its own new followers, and an intellectual "battle" takes place between the followers of the new paradigm and the hold-outs of the old paradigm. Again, for early 20th century physics, the transition between the Maxwellian electromagnetic worldview and the Einsteinian Relativistic worldview was neither instantaneous nor calm, and instead involved a protracted set of "attacks," both with empirical data as well as rhetorical or philosophical arguments, by both sides, with the Einsteinian theory winning out in the long-run. Again, the weighing of evidence and importance of new data was fit through the human sieve: some scientists found the simplicity of Einstein's equations to be most compelling, while some found them more complicated than the notion of Maxwell's aether which they banished. Some found Eddington's photographs of light bending around the sun to be compelling, some questioned their accuracy and meaning. Sometimes the convincing force is just time itself and the human toll it takes, Kuhn said, using a quote from Max Planck: "a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."

      After a given discipline has changed from one paradigm to another, this is called, in Kuhn's terminology, a scientific revolution or a paradigm shift. It is often this final conclusion, the result of the long process, that is meant when the term paradigm shift is used colloquially: simply the (often radical) change of worldview, without reference to the specificities of Kuhn's historical argument. []

      By paradigm shift Kuhn is not just talking about a big change in science. The data might be nearly the same, but the conceptual model has changed and the data begins to prove another theory entirely. Don't forget that when Copernicus' theory was first released Ptolemy's model fit

    • Hard work, original thinking and keen observation NOT 'Paradigm shifts'!

  • It happens at times, often pushed there by massive outside forces (social economic). For example, the miniaturization of electronics was driven by the space race which was in turn driven by political ideology.
    • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

      the miniaturization of electronics was driven by the space race

      No, the transistor was invented a full ten years before Sputnik was launched, the integrated circuit the same year as sputnik. Yes, miniaturization went forward and the space program did give it a boost, but you can't even give it most of the credit, let alone all of it.

    • What, pray tell, does that have to do with science?

  • by geekoid ( 135745 )

    all science move in incremental steps.
    Occasionally, there will be a shift in the way of thinking...but it's very rare.

  • Tools vs. Concepts (Score:5, Interesting)

    by swm ( 171547 ) * <> on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @04:24PM (#42523427) Homepage

    Thomas Kuhn in his famous book, _The Structure of Scientific
    Revolutions_, talked almost exclusively about concepts and hardly at
    all about tools. His idea of a scientific revolution is based on a
    single example, the revolution in theoretical physics that occurred in
    the 1920s with the advent of quantum mechanics. [...]

    Kuhn's book was so brilliantly written that it became an
    instant classic. It misled a whole generation of students and
    historians of science into believing that all scientific revolutions
    are concept-driven. [...]

    In the last 500 years, in addition to the quantum-mechanical
    revolution that Kuhn took as his model, we have had six major
    concept-driven revolutions, associated with the names of Copernicus,
    Newton, Darwin, Maxwell, Freud, and Einstein. During the same period
    there have been about twenty tool-driven revolutions [...].

    Two prime examples of tool-drive revolutions are the Galilean
    revolution resulting from the use of the telescope in astronomy, and
    the Crick-Watson revolution resulting from the use of X-ray diffraction
    to determine the structure of big molecules in biology.

    The effect of a concept-driven revolution is to explain old things in
    new ways. The effect of a tool-drive revolution is to discover new
    things that have to be explained.

    -- Freeman Dyson, Imagined Worlds

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Dyson obviously hadn't read Structures in a while. Kuhn is very clear that changes of instrumentation are paradigm changes. I have been teaching Kuhn in a sociology of science class over the last 15 years. It has long been seen as problematic: too based on physics (no examples from biology), too dependent on the written record (it turns out oral knowledge is very important as is human action, which is not well reflected in the written record), inconsistently selective as to what counts as a paradigm change

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @04:26PM (#42523465)

    "Incommensurable" does not mean that one theory is no more correct than the other. It means that paradigms have different sets of terminologies and that scientists working under different paradigms may use the exact same word to mean two different things. That makes it difficult for them to communicate. That's what "incommensurable" means.

    • Not quite, you're right that it has nothing to do with relative correctness, but it also has nothing to do with communication

      a. Impossible to measure or compare.
      b. Lacking a common quality on which to make a comparison.

      In other words it means that there is simply no common yardstick against which they could be compared. Remember, we're not talking about the theories themselves - clearly the later ones are more accurate or they wouldn't have replaced the earlier ones. We're talki

  • Much of modern biology seeks to emulate physics by reducing the human organism to a complex machine: thinking becomes merely chemical potentials and electric bursts, interest and motivation become mere drives to perpetuate the genome, and love becomes little more than an illusion.

    Um, what? Nobody - not even Dawkins in "The Selfish Gene" - claims that "interest and motivation" are "mere drives to perpetuate the genome". Or that love isn't real. (Hell, Dawkins explicitly argues the opposite.)

    I'll grant that thinking - consciousness and awareness - is still a 'Kuhnian anomaly' that a lot of people are working on. But just because we understand molecular biology much better now and don't need to posit some elan vital to account for life doesn't mean that we can't make any principled distinctions between life and nonlife. Similarly, if we found out precisely how the brain gives rise to consciousness, that wouldn't mean thinking per se didn't exist.

    • This kind of gross behaviourism can be found in physiology and psychology when they interface with modern biology. Physiologists, for example, like to describe humans as "behavioural homeostatic regulators" (at least, my second-year professors did), implying that there is some direct stimulatory link between feeling hot and removing one's sweater. (And certain kinds of psychologists make much more grievous reductionisms regarding evolution.)

      In the former case, the researchers themselves are making rather ou

    • by radtea ( 464814 )

      Similarly, if we found out precisely how the brain gives rise to consciousness, that wouldn't mean thinking per se didn't exist.

      The "phenomena are not real" crowd have two basic moves, which contradict each other.

      The first is, "We can reduce phenomenon X to cause Y, therefore phenomenon X doesn't 'really' exist" (because they for some reason believe that only their atomic terms to which they want to reduce everything 'really' exist--no explanation for this surreal prejudice is ever given)

      The second is, "We cannot reduce phenomenon X to cause Y, therefore phenomenon X doesn't 'really' exist" (because they have assumed ab initio that

  • by jw3 ( 99683 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @04:30PM (#42523527) Homepage

    Firstly, please note that Thomas Kuhn's view of how science happens is one of many possibilities. On one side of the spectrum, you have Popper and his younger collegue, Imre Lakatos; on the other end, you have Feyerabend and his "everything goes". Unfortunately, all that is philosophy, so itself is not science and cannot be verified experimentally or backed up with meaningful statistics. Thus, depending on whom you talk to, you will find arguments for Popper or for Lakatos or for Feyerabend or for Kuhn, all coming from the same field of science.

    Personally, I value the popperian hypothesis-falsification paradigm a lot, especially since it fits so nicely with classical statistical hypothesis testing, and I insist on teaching it to students (I am a biologist), but I am well aware of its limitations.

    Unfortunately, when reading texts of the great philosphers of science, one has the impression that all they really wanted to explain was "the big stuff", the grand theories, the grand revolutions or paradigm shifts. It is easy to argue for paradigm shifts if you focus on Copernicus and Einstein. It is much harder to immerse yourself in the day-to-day reality of scientific work, the millions of manuscripts generated, the propagation of ideas, their deeply intertwined relationships, as no idea, however genial, ever materializes itself from nothing.

    • by careysub ( 976506 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @07:22PM (#42525567)

      Personally, I value the popperian hypothesis-falsification paradigm a lot, especially since it fits so nicely with classical statistical hypothesis testing, and I insist on teaching it to students (I am a biologist), but I am well aware of its limitations.

      Popper has been very influential since he provides a clear prescriptive model on how to do science, with a well defended philosophical basis.

      The problem is that it does not describe very well how science has actually progressed, in the past or the present. You can argue that there is a sub rosa Popperian process unfolding, but science has rarely advanced by applying an explicit Popperian reasoning and experimental approach.

      Kuhn was revolutionary in emphasizing the social process of scientific discovery.

  • by VoidEngineer ( 633446 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @04:33PM (#42523567)
    Wrote my senior thesis on Kuhn, positivism, etc nearly 10 years ago. My take away was that scientific and theoretical advances get disseminated throughout society. Ergo, a population undergoes memetic evolution. Drawing on biology, the obvious model is one of punctuated equilibrium. Once one reconciles the ideas of paradigm shifts with punctuated equilibrium, it becomes pretty evident how technology evolves, science is disseminated, differing rates of change in different fields, etc. All one has to do is look at the iPhone, iPad, and Leap to see modern paradigm changes in action. (Protip: The language we use to describe the punctuated equilibrium changes of the human species is that of stock markets, marketing, and market analysis.)

    As Gibson put it, "The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed." I also highly recommend Hulls "Science as a Process". []
  • by fermion ( 181285 )
    First, the division between rigorous and nonrigorous science is real and valid. In less rigorous science, such as social sciences, multiple hypothesis come into play because of uncontrolled variables. It is hard to completely control social economic status, it is hard to control how much activity a person does, it is hard to fully control the differences between tribes. Therefore different hypothesis can be accumulated, and show to be valid in the limited case. This is no difference than a rigorous scie
    • Re:Yes (Score:4, Interesting)

      by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @05:23PM (#42524225) Homepage

      Another way of putting it: Many social sciences aren't really science. Some fields of study that are described as "social sciences" are really sciences: For example, psychology is a field in which there are real experiments you can run on people and come to useful conclusions about human behavior. Some other fields of study that are described as "social sciences" are not really science.

      An example of a non-science "science": macroeconomics. The reason that macroeconomics isn't really a science is that people who's hypotheses fail to match reality can always come up with another external reason for why their hypothesis doesn't apply. For example, if you believe the Efficient Market Hypothesis (which basically argues that markets quickly sort out any mis-priced assets and re-price them correctly), and you find out that trillions of dollars worth of financial assets are mis-priced and have been for years, you can just find any kind of government intervention that hasn't really been tested as to what its effects really are and claim that this is why the mis-pricing happened, allowing the hypothesis to stand even in the face of contrary evidence.

      Another example of a non-science "social science": [historically-disadvantaged-group] studies. These aren't generally speaking sciences because they are focused on documenting and attempting to understand the history and present realities of the disadvantages the group has suffered. That doesn't mean it's not worth doing, but it does mean that it's not science. For example, there's nobody I'm aware of in those fields that's doing experimental work, just a lot of documenting and guessing at what it all means.

  • Paradigm shifts are a global phenomenon...but scaling factors are significant. Large paradigm shifts are extremely rare. Small scale ones happen all the time. Basically it's just evolution happening in a different milleau than biology. A large paradigm shift is analogous to speciation. A small paradigm shift is analogous to a change in allele frequency. And things happen at every scale in between.

    Consider, when psychologists stopped considering the mind a black box, that was a paradigm shift. So was

  • IANAP, but I took a modern physics class eons ago and took away from it that there's never really a massive shift in thinking. There's always some other base of knowledge that might not get the respect or acknowledgement of the general public. Newton derived from Kepler even as Liebniz [sic] worked on the same concepts. Einstein had Maxwell to springboard off of. The shifts seem to be public perception of some wild-haired genius toiling in solitude on his way to the next discovery.

    • QM *was* a massive shift in thinking. Ditto evolution, germ theory, Mendelian inheritance, Boyle's "The Sceptical Chymist" and plate tectonics.

      I think there are more examples of paradigm shifts than evolutionary transitions.

      Even relativity required quite a few old skool physicists to die off before acceptance was universal.

      cf. "Subtle is the Lord", a great biography of Albert Einstein.

      • I don't know about your other examples, but evolution wasn't. It was an idea that had already been partially explored. The reason Darwin even published Origin of Species was because another scientist was about to publish a similar work.

  • One famous recent "paradigm shift" is the acceleration of the Hubble expansion, presumed to be caused by "dark energy", and supposedly discovered through high redshift supernovae. But out of the public view, there were other anomalies in cosmology that astrophysicists had noticed years before, such as stars somewhat older than the apparent age of the universe, and the failure of simulations to reproduce the observed patterns of galaxy clustering. I remember several times when colleagues brought up the possi
    • Just because the idea exists before the shift wouldn't mean it isn't a paradigm shift though. I think the idea behind the paradigm shift concept is that it changes the way future problems are approached. Sure, before the supernovae evidence there were people saying "maybe this could explain it..." but after the shift dark energy became an essential tool when thinking about cosmology or at least something that needed to be acknowledged by all theories going forward. Suddenly it goes from being speculation

  • Yes, Kuhn was full of horse puckey. Not only doesn't his book describe science outside of physics at all well, it doesn't even correctly describe 20th-century physics, its ostensible paradigm (using the word correctly now) case.

    Years ago I wrote a more detailed takedown in Brother, can you Paradigm? []

    The only amplification I'd write today is that the shifts between large theoretical models generally (and contrary to Kuhn's claims) go smoothly in physics because test by correct prediction of experimental resu

    • Really? Einstein still claims that QM isn't complete.

      The physical interpretation of QM is still a matter of great debate. It's not at all a smooth transition.

    • It has been years since I have read the book, but does he actually argue that an individual scientist will literally never change his views? That you have to wait until older scientists die off? That's not how I remember it at all. I thought his point was more that the same data can have multiple interpretations and that at some point, often when more and more data seems to contradict the current favored interpretation, people start to look at that same data in a different way. The interpretation changes ev

  • The interesting bit is the meta question implied by this - whether truths developed in a mathematical sense are valid in other contexts.

    AN answer is something along the lines of this:

    While a single equation cannot be created to fit every possible model it IS possible to develop an equation that fits properties of the model under study (at least to your own level of understanding of both maths and the problem domain).

    The question whether mathematical insight can be used as an analogy machine to determine out

  • Sydney Brenner, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on programmed cell death, wrote a nice essay in the journal Science [] (subscription required) describing what he saw as a major paradigm shift in the 1950s and 60s that created modern molecular biology. Prior to the discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick, biologists had been focusing on how DNA and its associated proteins might be carrying out the functions of the cell. The discovery of the structure of DNA, howev

  • I am watching a show made in '86 about physics, its called the mechanical universe. It goes through the historical context as well. Before watching this i thought things went through shits myself, however, now i know its one scientist working on another work until its figured out, i wouldn't say its so much a paradigm shift, more like a few scientist getting credit for completing another work(or adding to it). Its not a sudden shift because in between all these 'shifts' is a easily followed building blocks,

  • I think there have been some huge paradigm shifts in biology.

    For example: Darwin's Origin of Species gave a mechanism for evolution. Once there was a mechanism the entire paradigm shifted to looking at traits as adaptions to environments. The whole way we understood life and examined species changed. Prior to Darwin creatures shaped their environment after Darwin we had a duality of creates forming and being formed by their environment.

  • To argue that paradigm shift dont apply to social science would be to admit that social science is a science.

Things are not as simple as they seems at first. - Edward Thorp