Originally Posted by Deborah
I wouldn't mind reading the other side. Is it really that nasty? I'm not going to wade through muck to get to the point. I don't mind a bit of sarcasm.
It is kind of nasty in tone, but makes good points, particularly about Kuhn. I read Kuhn in college, and always found his ideas thought-provoking but wasn't sure they rang true, particularly for biology. I can't really speak intelligently about the ideas anymore, though. Some non-nasty bits, in case you are interested:
The Professor quotes extensively from the Wikipedia entry on Kuhn’s book, rather than from Kuhn himself. Kuhn’s main idea was that science doesn’t progress by the gradual accretion of knowledge but tends to be episodic in nature. According to Kuhn, observations challenging the existing “paradigm” in a field gradually accumulate until the paradigm itself can no longer stand, at which point a new paradigm is formed that completely replaces the old. Kuhn’s view of science is a fascinating topic in and of itself and I haven’t read that book in many years. However, most scientists tend to dismiss many of Kuhn’s views for several reasons, in particular because Kuhn tends to vastly exaggerate the concept of “paradigm shift.” Particularly galling is his concept of “normal science,”
where in the interregnum between scientific revolutions he portrays scientists doing “normal science” (science that is not paradigm-changing) as essentially dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s of the previous revolution. (It’s a very dismissive attitude toward what the vast majority of scientists do.) Indeed, Kuhn’s characterization of the history of science has been referred to as a caricature
, and I tend to agree. Certainly, at the very least he exaggerates how completely new paradigms place the old, when in reality when new theories supplant old theories the new must completely encompass the old and explain everything the old did plus the new observations that the old theory cannot. As Cormac O’Rafferty puts it, “The new can only replace the old if it explains all the old did, plus a whole lot more (because as new evidence is uncovered, old evidence also remains).” The best example for this idea that I like to cite is Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, which did not replace Newtonian physics, but rather expanded on Newtonian physics, which is what relativity simplifies down to when applied to velocities that are such a small fraction of the speed of light that relativistic contributions drop out of the equations because they are so close to zero that it is reasonable to approximate them as zero.
On the Time magazine/ butter is good for you now issue
In any case, this is not the “paradigm shift” that The Professor seems to think it is. Rather it was a correction, which is what science does. The process is often messy, but science does correct itself with time.
Of course, the problem that The Professor overlooks is that in science intuition is nothing if it doesn’t lead to results that are supported by data. Moreover, I would argue that what we have here in those who fetishize “intuition” in science is a massive case of that most human of failures of reason: Confirmation bias. We as scientists remember the times when our intuition ended up being validated and forget the almost certainly much more numerous times when our intuition either led nowhere or even led us astray. Yes, even Albert Einstein and Jonas Salk.