Monday, August 20, 2012

50th Anniversary of Kuhn's Structure Of Scientific Revolutions

John Naughton at The Guardian has a very readable account of Thomas Kuhn's book on how scientific developments and progress take place.

Kuhn is credited for making popular the term "paradigm" with consequences that go beyond understanding the history of the development of scientific thought.

From the article:

As for his big idea – that of a "paradigm" as an intellectual framework that makes research possible –well, it quickly escaped into the wild and took on a life of its own. Hucksters, marketers and business school professors adopted it as a way of explaining the need for radical changes of world-view in their clients. And social scientists saw the adoption of a paradigm as a route to respectability and research funding, which in due course led to the emergence of pathological paradigms in fields such as economics, which came to esteem mastery of mathematics over an understanding of how banking actually works, with the consequences that we now have to endure.

And about the publication of the first edition of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions:

The following year, the book was published by the University of Chicago Press. Despite the 172 pages of the first edition, Kuhn – in his characteristic, old-world scholarly style – always referred to it as a mere "sketch". He would doubtless have preferred to have written an 800-page doorstop.

But in the event, the readability and relative brevity of the "sketch" was a key factor in its eventual success.

Do I see a parallel here with another book that was transformative? Charles Darwin wanted to write a tome on natural selection but was hastened by Alfred Wallace's entry into writing a slimmer version of his theory... a sketch which perhaps due to its relative brevity became widely read.

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