Notes on: “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”; by Thomas S. Kuhn

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Thomas S. Kuhn. (50th Anniversary Edition)

Scientific theories don’t change because old scientists change their minds; they change because old scientists die. ~ Max Plank

In 1962, Thomas Kuhn, Historian of Science, published his seminal work: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (The University of Chicago Press). In this book, Kuhn challenged long-standing linear notions of scientific progress, arguing that transformative ideas don’t arise from the day-to-day, gradual process of experimentation and data accumulation but that the revolutions in science – those breakthrough moments that disrupt accepted thinking and offer unanticipated ideas – actually occur outside of “normal science,” as he called it. Normal Science , as Kuhn defines it, means research firmly based upon one or more past  scientific achievements, achievements that some particular scientific community  acknowledges for a time as supplying the foundation for its further practice.

Though Kuhn was writing when physics ruled the sciences, his ideas on how scientific revolutions bring order to the anomalies that amass over time in research experiments are still instructive in our biotech age.

His Main Point

He wrote that periodically, a visionary arises and opens up a new field of exploration. The new field attracts those who would implement the visionary’s theories and begin to work out the problems presented by the new field. Eventually, most of the problems will be solved and the field “fills up”, so to speak. As part of the process, new anomalies appear. They usually cannot be solved by the rules and methods of the current field. When they appear early on in the exploration of the field they are usually ignored. But once the field fills up, they become a serious pressure that demands solution. As that tension grows, two camps emerge: those who are progressive and search for something new and those who are orthodox, clinging to what is and has been, resisting change and forward movement. This tension builds up to a point when a new visionary emerges to open up a new field. At that time, those who put up the greatest resistance usually fade away.

A rather “blunt” variation on this theme was offered by Max Planck, theoretical physicist and originator of the Quantum Theory, in the quote mentioned at the beginning of this blog post.

This book is quite an interesting and informative read for those interested in the nuances and invisible elements affecting scientific progress. Though not an easy read by any measure, it is well worth the effort to read it in order to be better able to put things in proper perspective when looking at the “Big Picture” of Evidence-based Practice in Medicine and Dentistry in general, and orthodontics in particular. It’s easy to see the patterns that Kuhn described in his book at work in the current paradigm shifts occurring in the orthodontic field over the past decade or so.

You can find the book here on Amazon as well as on other online bookshops.

Are you familiar with Kuhn’s work or have you read this book? We would love to hear your opinion in the comments section below.

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