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The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Paperback – Dec 15 1996

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 226 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; Third Edition edition (Dec 15 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226458083
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226458083
  • Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 3 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 249 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #135,819 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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There's a "Frank & Ernest" comic strip showing a chick breaking out of its shell, looking around, and saying, "Oh, wow! Paradigm shift!" Blame the late Thomas Kuhn. Few indeed are the philosophers or historians influential enough to make it into the funny papers, but Kuhn is one.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is indeed a paradigmatic work in the history of science. Kuhn's use of terms such as "paradigm shift" and "normal science," his ideas of how scientists move from disdain through doubt to acceptance of a new theory, his stress on social and psychological factors in science--all have had profound effects on historians, scientists, philosophers, critics, writers, business gurus, and even the cartoonist in the street.

Some scientists (such as Steven Weinberg and Ernst Mayr) are profoundly irritated by Kuhn, especially by the doubts he casts--or the way his work has been used to cast doubt--on the idea of scientific progress. Yet it has been said that the acceptance of plate tectonics in the 1960s, for instance, was sped by geologists' reluctance to be on the downside of a paradigm shift. Even Weinberg has said that "Structure has had a wider influence than any other book on the history of science." As one of Kuhn's obituaries noted, "We all live in a post-Kuhnian age." --Mary Ellen Curtin

About the Author

Thomas S. Kuhn was the Laurence Rockefeller Professor Emeritus of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His books include The Essential Tension; Black-Body Theory and the Quantum Discontinuity, 1894-1912; and The Copernican Revolution.

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Richard Cassidy on Nov. 20 2009
Format: Paperback
This review is more of a personal comment on why I feel scientists should read this book, rather than a summary of ideas within Kuhn's book.

As a research scientist who has worked in government/industry and academia, I was rather embarrassed when I discovered Kuhn's book later in my career. Kuhn, who was a PhD physicist, had published a book that is the most cited single-author publication in the arts and humanities citation index for the later 1900s. Irrespective of what one thinks of his ideas, this track record should be sufficient to make it part of all science education. But, I had never heard of him! With time I discovered that I had lots of company in the scientific community. As I gave seminars to scientific audiences (primarily chemists I will have to admit), in Canada and internationally, on his ideas I discovered that only about 5% had heard of Kuhn, and only about 3% had read any of his books. I know of no science department within research universities that recommends Structure to their students or that requires or recommends their students take a course that would introduce them to Kuhn's and other philosophical examinations of science. If they exist I would be interested in hearing about them.

Compared to many other philosophical and social examinations of science I have read, Structure is, in my perspective as a scientist, easier to read, more organized, and more concise. If you focus on what is innovative, useful, descriptive of some aspects of science, and thought provoking, then this a book a scientist should place at the top of a 'must read' list. How can I call myself a 'scientist' if I have no understanding of the history and philosophy of my field? This statement applies to any professional field.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Scott W. Somerville on Oct. 21 2003
Format: Paperback
Thomas Kuhn was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1922. He taught physics at Harvard, the history of science at Berkeley, and the philosophy and history of science at Princeton and MIT. His best-known book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, introduced the term "paradigm shift" into the modern vocabulary when it was first published in 1962. Kuhn's study of paradigm shifts in science makes it hard to view science as an objective discipline that steadily advances towards the truth. Instead, Kuhn shows science to be a very human enterprise where truth is as likely to be resisted as it is to be embraced.
In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn defines a "paradigm" as a set of assumptions, rules, or model problems that define what the important questions are and how to go about answering them. Without a paradigm, would-be researchers are overwhelmed by the sheer mass of data. A "paradigm shift" occurs when a group of scientists reject all or part of their existing paradigm to adopt a new one. This process not only means changing assumptions: it also means reevaluating previous conclusions to see if the old facts still fit within the new paradigm.
Kuhn uses the term "normal science" to describe the work that scientists do as they work within a given paradigm. Their shared set of assumptions, rules, and model problems fairly makes it easy to see what research remains to be done. Occasionally, anomalies will appear. These are events that cannot be explained within the existing paradigm. Normal science tends to ignore anomalies. Instead, by concentrating attention on a small range very specific questions, "the paradigm forces scientists to investigate some part of nature in a detail and depth that would otherwise be unimaginable.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Bojan Tunguz TOP 50 REVIEWER on Aug. 16 2011
Format: Paperback
As a practicing scientist and someone who has always been interested in history and the development of scientific ideas "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" has for long time been the book that loomed large on my intellectual horizon. Thomas Khun's book has for a long time had a reputation as the definitive and seminal work on understanding how new scientific ideas come about and how and why they gain support. Part of my reluctance to start reading this book stemmed from my belief that it would be an overly philosophical work, with a lot of opaque technical jargon, and with very little relevance to actual scientific practice. However, to my great surprise and delight, nothing could be farther from the truth. This book is written in a very matter-of-fact style, and it is easy to understand what Khun is getting at. His own background in science and history of science probably made him very sensitive to the working and thinking of practicing scientists.

The insights that Khun has arrived at are still relevant almost half a century after this book has been published. The idea of "paradigm shifts" has even entered the mainstream consciousness, to the point that it can be caricatured in various cartoons and silly t-shirts. However, after reading this book it is not quite clear to me whether Khun wanted this to be a description of the way that science works, or more of a normative prescription for how to arrive at truly fundamental changes in some scientific discipline. This is particularly relevant for disciplines or directions of research that seem to have gotten stuck in some dead end, as has been the case with particle physics for several decades.
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