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

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the corporate-science-certainly-does dept.

Science 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."

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I didn't think so,but when (5, Funny)

ackthpt (218170) | about a year ago | (#42522979)

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.

Re:I didn't think so,but when (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42523501)

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.

Same situation, except I used a hovercraft. It worked well until the shit hit the fan.

Re:I didn't think so,but when (-1, Offtopic)

eartsidi (2811219) | about a year ago | (#42523549)

http://www.cloud65.com/ [cloud65.com] like Laura answered I'm blown away that any one able to profit $9377 in one month on the internet. did you read this page

Re:I didn't think so,but when (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42523689)

Why be shocked that prostitution pays? It always has, and always will.

I see the problem (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42523021)

He was talking about science. There's not much science in 'social sciences'.

Re:I see the problem (-1, Flamebait)

narcc (412956) | about a year ago | (#42523071)

He was talking about science. There's not much science in 'social sciences'.

Said the guy who understands neither...

Re:I see the problem (2, Insightful)

0111 1110 (518466) | about a year ago | (#42523469)

I don't think Kuhn was really thinking in terms of social sciences in his book. He was thinking of traditional science which is about using the scientific method of testing hypothesis with experiments. Depending on how you define "social science" I don't think there is a lot of objective experimentation going on.

Re:I see the problem (5, Informative)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about a year ago | (#42523605)

That's exactly right. In fact the article complains at great length that the social sciences are a mistake: they're really veiled branches of philosophy, trying to fit a complicated universe to a set of paradigms stolen from other fields (including physics and biology) simply because those fields and models are in vogue. When Kuhn described the process of paradigm change, the social scientists interpreted it as a validation of their methodology, which ran directly against his wishes.

The summary is hence very dishonest about the book and article; Kuhn explicitly considered his theories inappropriate for the social sciences, and the article never casts any doubt on the applicability of his model to biology; it merely points out that it was an oversight. (And as a biologist, I feel pretty strongly that paradigm shifting applies equally to physics and biology.)

Re:I see the problem (5, Insightful)

narcc (412956) | about a year ago | (#42524409)

the social sciences are a mistake: they're really veiled branches of philosophy

So is the whole of natural science. What we colloquially refer to as "science" is just applied epistemology.

It always bothers me when philosophy is used as a pejorative. Not because I have some particular fondness for philosophy, but because that use stems from a shameful level of willful ignorance. Questions like "Why do the methods of science work?" and "How can they change over time and still be effective?" are decidedly philosophical questions.

Second-rate scientists with this sort of negative attitude toward philosophy remind me of the women in this old joke: A man is helping his wife prepare a roast for dinner. The womans' husband asks here why she cuts the ends off the roast before putting it in the pan. "I don't know" she replies "that's the way my mother always did it." The wife now curious, calls her mother to ask. "I don't know" her mother replies "that's the way my mother always did it." Undaunted, she calls her grandmother and asks her why she always cut the ends off the roast before putting it in the pan. Finally, she gets the answer "Because my roasting pan was too small!" O mortal

Just like the women in the story could produce a fine roast without any real understanding about how a roast should be prepared, so can the second-rate scientist produce acceptable output without having the faintest clue about how science works.

In short, you can't understand science without understanding philosophy.

This will offend a lot of people. Confronting ones own ignorance can be difficult.

Re:I see the problem (4, Insightful)

narcc (412956) | about a year ago | (#42524053)

I don't think there is a lot of objective experimentation going on.

I've see Biology accused of the same thing. That seems silly to me.

That's because you're not familiar with those fields. You'll find that empirical methods are the standard, just like every other science.

There is a greater reliance on ordinal data, but that's no more wrong that the hard-sciences' dependence on induction.

The problem on seems to appear when non-scientists repeat rubbish like this from other non-scientists. I suspect, however, that this particular bit of nonsense has its roots in good old fashioned discipline envy.

I just hate it ... (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42523025)

... when you walk down the street, and out of nowhere YOUR PARADIGM SHIFTS.

It makes me so mad I could scream. Luckily I live in the suburbs, so I just go rake the leaves in my frontyard.

Kuhn Paradigms (4, Interesting)

Camel Pilot (78781) | about a year ago | (#42523037)

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:Kuhn Paradigms (1, Funny)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about a year ago | (#42523091)

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 (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42523249)

The Gods decreed several thousand years ago that no man, woman, or child should ever do such a thing

That is, assuming spherical men, women, and children in a vacuum.

Re:Kuhn Paradigms (3, Informative)

SirGarlon (845873) | about a year ago | (#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 (3, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | about a year ago | (#42523327)

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 (3, Interesting)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about a year ago | (#42523651)

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.

Re:Kuhn Paradigms (2)

narcc (412956) | about a year ago | (#42524443)

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


Re:Kuhn Paradigms (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42524177)

The Internet was a paradigm shift.

No, the Internet was an infrastructure that was only populated by a few geeks. However, The Web, and then The September That never Ended was a bit more like a paradigm shift.

Re:Kuhn Paradigms (4, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | about a year ago | (#42523345)

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.

Re:Kuhn Paradigms (2)

L1mewater (557442) | about a year ago | (#42523649)

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.

Re:Kuhn Paradigms (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | about a year ago | (#42523777)

But clearly that did not happen. Einstein was still very much alive and kicking when Planck, Bohr and that group were developing QM.

Re:Kuhn Paradigms (3, Informative)

Sique (173459) | about a year ago | (#42524141)

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).

Re:Kuhn Paradigms (1)

tendrousbeastie (961038) | about a year ago | (#42524379)

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 conditions (i.e. we have no experience of things that are are very small, or very large, or very fast, and these things behave in a way that makes no sense to our experience).

Prior to Einstein there were people like Lorentz, but these folk were trying to force the evidence (that the SoL always = c) into old fashion theories. Einstein was the one who made the break and said that our old fashioned theories didn't fit (everyday experiences such as the addition of velocity, the constancy of time, simultaneity, etc.)

Similar things are true with QM. A complete reappraisal of how we thing the physical world works is necessary is one is to accept it. (Although it is a lot less philosophically acceptable than relativity to many people, myself included).

Re:Kuhn Paradigms (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#42524565)

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.

Re:Kuhn Paradigms (4, Insightful)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year ago | (#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 (3, Informative)

lee1 (219161) | about a year ago | (#42523611)

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.

Re:Kuhn Paradigms (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42524467)

Relativity was the last "classical" theory: everything is still predictable, even if the distortions of time & space sound counter-intuitive.

The big paradigm shift was thermodynamics and quantum physics, where probabilities entered the heart of physics (before we merely used probabilities to hide our lack of information).

Re:Kuhn Paradigms (1)

tinkerton (199273) | about a year ago | (#42524593)

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 small in the future. But it can still mean you have to revise an awful lot of mental machinery in order to get there and see a lot of things in a different way. And that's a valid measure. The extent your mind has to change to get things just right.

There's the implicit thought that if your mind has to change a lot with the new paradigm, it means there will necessarily be large consequences. I don't know.

The Relativity of Wrong (5, Informative)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year ago | (#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 [tufts.edu] . Aristotle and Newton were both wrong about gravity. But, relatively, Aristotle was much more wrong.

Re:The Relativity of Wrong (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | about a year ago | (#42523763)

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.

Re:Kuhn Paradigms (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42523317)

Well relativity was a century ago, newton physics three centuries and aristotle more than two millenia... I'm not sure I see your point.

Re:Kuhn Paradigms (1)

tendrousbeastie (961038) | about a year ago | (#42524425)

It seems fairly likely that were due a new outlook (I stop short of using the PS phrase) some time soon, since we have so far failed to merge gravity and atomic forces for the past century.

It seems quite likely that something fundamental needs changing to make them fit together (possibly including the definitions of the words themselves).

Re:Kuhn Paradigms, Nonsense (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42523399)

The Kuhn idea is useful, you cant say it is right, its descriptive.

The problem with modern Physics is progress has dramatically slowed thus no paradigm shifts.

In the Social Sciences the methodology of science is not observed, they are NOT sciences but mendaciously re-branded Liberal Arts.

MFG, omb

Re:Kuhn Paradigms (2)

icebike (68054) | about a year ago | (#42523471)

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 changing event, yet it appeared rather recently. It totally changed the fields of Biology, Genetics, Disease Control, Criminology, and half a dozen other fields. The concept of Solar Wind [wikipedia.org] was utterly rejected for years until several spacecraft had measured it.

I'm sure one could name similar and on-going works in a large variety of fields. Some are probably being derided as utter folly today, but will be accepted as obvious in years to come.

Scientist, if not science itself, still is burdened with an unfortunate amount of Hubris.

Re:Kuhn Paradigms (1)

nyctopterus (717502) | about a year ago | (#42523927)

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.

Social Science? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42523565)

They're pointing out that "social science" doesn't work that way, but "social science" is science just like "business ethics" is ethics.

Re:Kuhn Paradigms (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about a year ago | (#42523915)

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 stuff in the microscope was boring, it was all about molecular biology and proteins interacting. Now there seems to be a shift back to "Oh my god you guys, cells and organisms use genes for shapes and movement! WHAT IF WE LOOKED INTO THAT?!?!" combining both areas.

So it shifted from form to genes to form following genes (to some degree anyway). The first wave obviously understood that the structure of cells was determined by genetics, the second obviously understood that molecular biology was mainly of interest for what they were doing for the whole cell and organism (and form was important to many of those), but it was only fashionable and technically possible to do it for a lot of things recently.

Re:Kuhn Paradigms (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about a year ago | (#42523963)

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.

Stupid buzz words (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42523093)

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 line of growth in the direction of "progress" whereas I've always seen science as organically growing and spreading not in one but in many dimensions, along numerous lines of thought.

Or maybe I'm crazy. I just hate the phrase paradigm shift.

Re:Stupid buzz words (1)

icebike (68054) | about a year ago | (#42523529)

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.

Re:Stupid buzz words (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about a year ago | (#42523745)

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.

Re:Stupid buzz words (2)

nyctopterus (717502) | about a year ago | (#42523981)

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 (4, Informative)

0111 1110 (518466) | about a year ago | (#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.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradigm_shift [wikipedia.org]

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 the data better. It was the simplicity and elegance of Copernicus' theory that won over converts in the beginning. The way people thought about the problem domain changed and then all of the data was viewed differently.

I believe much of physics can be divided into two parts. The mathematics which explain relationships quantitatively, and the concepts or interpretations which attempt to explain the data qualitatively. To fit it, to integrate it within a wider world view conceptually. Some would argue that the second part isn't science at all, but philosophy.

In this view, the Copernicus' model for the motion of the planets was not superior to Ptolemy's because it was more 'true', more congruent with reality, but because eventually Copernicus' mathematics was able to more accurately predict that motion. While Kuhn's arguments seem very persuasive to me, I'm not sure they would apply to solely quantitative predictions.

Sometimes. (1)

Kenja (541830) | about a year ago | (#42523105)

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.

Re:Sometimes. (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about a year ago | (#42523823)

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.

pfffft... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42523137)

Ha. social science.

Positivists Don't Understand Paradigm Changes (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42523251)

Positivists consistently refuse to connect concepts to philosophies, and it tends to lead to the same place every time. People are increasingly moving on to the constructivist worldview, but positivists will tend not to notice the transition. And since we are all taught to think along the lines of the positivist mindset, constructivism doesn't come naturally for many people. Joseph Novak commented that even amongst his graduate students, it can take them 1-3 years to actually understand human constructivism.

And, by the way, there is indeed a very dramatic paradigm change occurring within biology. Gerald Pollack of the University of Washington has exhibited great success with his investigations of structured water. His book, Cells, Gels and the Engines of Life, is completely groundbreaking, and he has another book -- this one more specifically on this special state of water -- coming soon. But, this is Slashdot, of course, which is probably the most positivist website that I am aware of. And the price which one pays for failing to connect concepts to philosophies is that you will be the very last person to hear of the true paradigm shifts which are out there.

Re:Positivists Don't Understand Paradigm Changes (4, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | about a year ago | (#42523497)

Oh look. Another quack advocate trying to justify pseudoscience by calling real science into question.

Re:Positivists Don't Understand Paradigm Changes (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42523843)

Oh look, a point prover.

Re:Positivists Don't Understand Paradigm Changes (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | about a year ago | (#42523883)

Yes, it's true. I reject pseudoscience because I'm not some pathetic loser who hates scientists and gloms on to some fucking fraud as a way of soothing the chip on his shoulder.

You're "revolutionary" scientist is a fucking retired chem professor who spouts absolute fucking nonsense.

Re:Positivists Don't Understand Paradigm Changes (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42524313)


Re:Positivists Don't Understand Paradigm Changes (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42524521)

Re: "I reject pseudoscience because I'm not some pathetic loser who hates scientists and gloms on to some fucking fraud as a way of soothing the chip on his shoulder."

What you seem to not realize is that questioning assumptions and listening to critics are processes which are absolutely central to critical thinking. It's a simple matter of logic to observe that for those people who value certainty over questioning establishment science, they will absolutely be the very last people to learn of new theories which undermine established theory.

The positivist demands, "Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence!" and the constructivist simply responds: "Extraordinary to which worldview?" It's really as simple as that. Thank God that the education reform movement gets it.

Re:Positivists Don't Understand Paradigm Changes (0)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about a year ago | (#42523909)

Don't choke on that Flavor-Aid too quickly, now. Slashdot is most definitely extremely positivist, and Pollack has been independently confirmed to some extent, and those confirmations are peer-reviewed. I'm not going to touch the constructivist stuff directly, but it's certainly true that minds both great and small throughout history have gotten stuck on old paradigms and could not bring themselves to accept new findings.

Re:Positivists Don't Understand Paradigm Changes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42523997)

I'm not sure he actually did that though. He might be a quack -- his "structured water" comment makes me wonder a bit -- but his comments about positivism vs constructivism aren't that far from the truth. A positivist will insist that science should not be in the business of interpreting theories. For example, trying to resolve the many interpretations of quantum mechanics -- what does QM really *mean*? -- is futile and not science according to positivists. The AC's point that they then risk missing paradigm shifts is actually quite interesting given this.

No (1)

geekoid (135745) | about a year ago | (#42523295)

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

I read this book... (1)

RJBeery (956252) | about a year ago | (#42523337)

I'd say the rule is: the more subjective the field, the more the field will cling to arbitrary paradigms waiting for the next generation to replace the current. Pure mathematics suffers from this the least (logic with little room for speculation, interpretation, etc), but all of Science suffers from paradigm inertia even in the face of contradictory evidence because it is practiced by humans with egos and careers and belief systems.

Get him! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42523349)

Kuhn coined the expression 'paradigm shift'

So he's the jerk who coined the buzzword "paradigm shift" that describes everything from relativity to one click purchases to rounded corners on a phone. Grab your pitchforks!

Re:Get him! (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about a year ago | (#42523949)

A term is not a buzzword until it's taken out of its original context. Kuhn didn't do that; he named the actual phenomenon of a shift in scientific paradigms, and then other, more derivative authors abused it. Hate the meme, not the thought.

Tools vs. Concepts (5, Interesting)

swm (171547) | about a year ago | (#42523427)

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:Tools vs. Concepts (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42523817)

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 or challenge (he tries somewhat desperately to counter the charge 70 or so different uses of paradigm in his postscript in the 2nd edition. It's also too Eurocentric ( so much of science developed in the context of warfare, colonialism and global expansion). That said it is a brilliant work, and sets up what has become modern visions of science such as Actor-Network-Theory, even though Kuhn is usually a footnote in modern sociology of science texts.

Person who wrote the summary has never read Kuhn (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#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.

The article itself comes with some misconceptions. (2)

Dr. Manhattan (29720) | about a year ago | (#42523505)

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.

Re:The article itself comes with some misconceptio (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about a year ago | (#42524081)

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 outdated (and suspiciously Hobbesian...) philosophical statements that derive from their own experiences as clinicians and the traditions of their mentors, whereas in the latter case, I feel the article's interpretation of social sciences pursuing in-vogue theories applies rather neatly.

For the record, biologists tend to subscribe to a kind of emulated dualism: the mind is a black box that contains its own arrangement of notions which, while they may not be as real as physical matter, should be treated as real. It's only when you stray near psychology that you start seeing stupid shit like this [sigchi.org] . I suspect this more reveals the limits of the author's experience.

Kuhn is not everything (3, Interesting)

jw3 (99683) | about a year ago | (#42523527)

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.

Punctuated Equilibrium (3, Interesting)

VoidEngineer (633446) | about a year ago | (#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".
http://www.amazon.com/Science-Process-Evolutionary-Development-Foundations/dp/0226360512 [amazon.com]

Yes (1)

fermion (181285) | about a year ago | (#42523571)

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 science such as physics, except that is physics assumptions and variables are often easier to control and will in time be identified.

Second, there is nothing special about long time ago in physics and now in physics except that now we are in the middle of it and cannot see what is to happen. Before Galileo things that had more 'mass' fell faster. Then with Newton equal masses would accelerate the same given the same force, always. Then with Einstein a mass would not always be accelerated with a force. QM began to define what we really meant by force, and more critically, mass, and now that we may know what mass really is there is certainly going a shift in the way we do physics.

Furthermore, even though social science has may have multiple hypothesis, it does not mean that in the grand scale paradigms do not shift. Look at education. When I started school I was at the tail end of the philosophy that stated the best way to teach was to hav students sitting at desks, and if the student got out of the desk the best way to end the negative behavior was to beat the student. That does not happen so much any more.

There are still researchers who fully support the IQ test a valid and reasonable measure of intelligence, and use it to show that certain races are inherently less intelligent than others. That is not a top theory anymore. The social experiment in China that resulted in severe deficit of females certainly is going to do damage to the social theories that females are less valuable.

Which leads to the fact that, as was mentioned in the article, trying to do science based on social good rather than basic research is harmful. Science, as it has evolved, is the collection of data from observable, then the systematic organizations of those observables into a system that constant within itself. This has proven hugely successful when doing objective work.It is not successful when trying to prove a your socially dominant hypothesis. This is why so many object to science and people like Kuhn. All too often they do not get their way, and then they throw a temper tantrum. Which is really what a paradigm shift is about, because we are all human. As the old guard dies, and the new evidence is presented to fresh eyes, new world views come about. Like that beating children may not be the best way to handle discipline.

There is one interesting case in social sciences that may be a contemporary paradigm shift. There are linguists out there that are trying to do different things with the evolution of languages, and coming up with different results from traditional methods. One of these is going to be right. If it is possible to prove the new model is superior, then we will see a new generation of linguist using the new tools.

Re:Yes (3, Interesting)

dkleinsc (563838) | about a year ago | (#42524225)

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.

They are a global phenomenon...but scaling factors (1)

HiThere (15173) | about a year ago | (#42523597)

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 when they started considering it one. In every field you can think of there are continual small paradigm shifts. But the large ones are *extremely* rare. You're unlikely to encounger one major paradigm shift in a century...depending on what you mean by major.

Sure. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42523647)

Start with a fundamental understanding of the universe. Build off of it as much as possible. When the principle fails to answer all the new questions that inevitably arise, you need a new theory to work from. That new theory explains why some things just wouldn't work, and opens up new opportunities that were not known before.

Voila. Paradigm shift.

Is there even such a thing? (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | about a year ago | (#42523709)

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.

Re:Is there even such a thing? (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about a year ago | (#42523887)

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.

Re:Is there even such a thing? (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | about a year ago | (#42524303)

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.

Behind the scenes, it's more gradual (1)

yesterdaystomorrow (1766850) | about a year ago | (#42523853)

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 possibility that these could be resolved by a nonzero "cosmological constant" (a special case of "dark energy"). Finally, the supernova evidence pushed these ideas into our popular articles and textbooks, creating the illusion of a sudden "paradigm shift". I think one reason the supernova results were welcomed rather than disputed was that they confirmed what many of us already suspected privately, based on different lines of evidence.

Re:Behind the scenes, it's more gradual (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about a year ago | (#42524155)

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, to excepted mantra, from an odd anomaly to being vital piece of the puzzle.

Yes, Kuhn was almost perfectly wrong (1)

ESR (3702) | about a year ago | (#42523863)

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? [ibiblio.org]

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 results is so difficult to argue with. The soft sciences have more trouble setting up repeatable experiments, so it's easier for people to hold on to broken theoretical models.

Re:Yes, Kuhn was almost perfectly wrong (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about a year ago | (#42524039)

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.

Re:Yes, Kuhn was almost perfectly wrong (1)

0111 1110 (518466) | about a year ago | (#42524273)

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 even when the data hardly changes at all.

Always chose C in multiple choice (1)

jvkjvk (102057) | about a year ago | (#42523903)

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 outcomes in other domains is the same question as to the breath of any particular philosophy, IMO.

To come back down to the question at hand Consider that the proposition under study is that differing eras of paradims are incommesurable.

Given the new meta framework we can then ask what would the underlying scientific model changes between physics, biology, and the social sciences be that would necessarily invalidate this proposition?

Since all of these models ultimately rest in mathematical descriptions of experimentation on created models, the question appears to me to be moot. That is, given the basis of these disiplines they cannot help fall into the same category. Even broadening their functions to the philosophical does not lead one out of this conclusion (if one accepts Maths as simply A particular rigorous philosophy).

Regards /.!

Paradigm shifts in Biology (2)

structural_biologist (1122693) | about a year ago | (#42524187)

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 [sciencemag.org] (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, however, fundamentally changed how researchers approached these questions by revealing that DNA is really just carrying information. Brenner writes:

"We can now see exactly what constituted the new paradigm in the life sciences: It was the introduction of the idea of information and its physical embodiment in DNA sequences of four different bases. Thus, although the components of DNA are simple chemicals, the complexity that can be generated by different sequences is enormous. In 1953, biochemists were preoccupied only with questions of matter and energy, but now they had to add information. In the study of protein synthesis, most biochemists were concerned with the source of energy for the synthesis of the peptide bond; a few wrote about the “patternization” problem. For molecular biologists, the problem was how one sequence of four nucleotides encoded another sequence of 20 amino acids."

Indeed, following this paradigm shift, Watson and others quickly worked out the question of how the information encoded in DNA gets read by the cell and their work now forms the central dogma of modern molecular biology. Therefore, Kuhn's concept of paradigm shifts does indeed apply to biology.

The mechanical universe (1)

letherial (1302031) | about a year ago | (#42524227)

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, but society looks at it as a shift because they are disconnected from the community.

No. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42524245)

We at the black mesa laboratory move in blue shifts.

Progress is made (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42524267)

Progress is made not from conference to conference, but from funeral to funeral.

Biology (1)

jbolden (176878) | about a year ago | (#42524363)

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.

No, only management meetings. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42524491)

They love paradigm shifts, and leveraging them.

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