The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Paperback – Dec 15 1996
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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
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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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
When I undertook to read this great classic I expected it to be a book about the history of science, but I ended up reading a philosophy of science treatise. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Normand Hamel
A must read this book teaches the limits of science and allows us to discern all the information out there todayPublished 22 months ago by kettlebella
as it was described perfect condition, I like it, shipped on time and delivered faster than I thought thank you soooo muchPublished on Sept. 23 2011 by Sam
In many ways, this book is the most important philosophical work of the 20th century. It is, however, a deceptively easy read - the themes and concepts explored by Kuhn are... Read morePublished on Aug. 17 2009 by Moez
The complete title of this review is "Philosophic common sense applied to Science Evolution of Thought". Read morePublished on June 17 2004 by Sergio A. Salazar Lozano
This relatively easy read while, focusing on the history of changes in scientific paradigms, really is applicable to a much wider audience. Read morePublished on May 18 2004 by W. Fritz Krauss
This book, more than any other, has changed the way that I think about scholarship. I am not even a student of the "hard" sciences (I study linguistic anthropology) and... Read morePublished on May 9 2004 by Linguodude
Unfortunately, the author, undoubtedly influenced by philosopher Immanuel Kant, tries to use reason against itself in a most disgraceful fashion. Read morePublished on March 27 2004 by Eric Kassan
This was my first book as a master's student in environmental studies. I'd heard of it. I knew it was important. Read morePublished on March 20 2004 by dragondazd
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