Thomas Kuhn was an American physicist and philosopher of science, best known for the canonical 1962 work in STS The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I first read this book in 1982, in the equivalent of a W class at Harvard that focused on science writing.
For this class, we’re only reading Chapter 2 of this work, just to get familiar with terms like “paradigm,” “normal science,” “scientific revolution.”
A gratuitous video, that slips in a little Karl Popper.
We’ve already talked about paradigms, from what we read in the Sismondo article. But there’s more to paradigms that we should think about, which helps us understand the rise of scientific specializations.
Note on page 4 of the chapter: “the study of paradigms … is what mainly prepares the student for membership in the particular scientific community with which he will later practice” (Kuhn 1970:4) – (note, the citation is incorrect, it is based on the pages from the article). In other words, while the paradigm itself is a new theory that becomes accepted by the scientific community, it becomes transmitted through the “textbook,” which makes it the basis for more scientific work (normal science). Also note that Kuhn argues that modern science is a transition from one paradigm to another through a scientific revolution, and dates the rise of this to Newton. What existed before were competing schools of thought that couldn’t establish itself as dominant until ‘mature science.’
Note also that the scientific revolution, the emergence of a new paradigm, has social consequences: it changes the social structure of a discipline. “When, in the development of a natural science, an individual or group first produces a synthesis able to attract most of the next generation’s practitioners, the older schools gradually disappear (Kuhn 1970:11). Kuhn continues on that normal science, built around a particular paradigm, then builds other structures and cultural practices: specialist societies, specialized journals, maybe a department or major in higher education.
Normal science, built around a particular paradigm, also may have its own language that creates boundaries between those in the field and those outside. Connect the quote below to our previous discussion of the ‘politics of expertise.’
Although it has become customary, and is surely proper, to deplore the widening gulf that separates the professional scientist from his colleagues in other fields, too little attention is paid to the essential relationship between that gulf and the mechanisms intrinsic to scientific advance (Kuhn 1970:14).