THE SOURCE: “Shift Happens” by David Weinberger, in The Chronicle Review, April 22, 2012.
If you’ve heard the phrase “paradigm shift” a few too many times, you can blame a Harvard-trained physicist-turned historian of science named Thomas Kuhn (1922–1996). His Structure of Scientific Revolutions, published 50 years ago, did much more than add a buzz phrase to the language. The readable 172-page treatise—more than a million copies have been sold—“did a gestalt flip on just about every assumption about the who, how, and what of scientific progress,” writes David Weinberger, a senior researcher at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.
Kuhn obliterated the traditional notion that science proceeds on a steady linear path toward truth. Instead, he argued, scientists in each field are governed by “paradigms,” a collection of facts and assumptions that shape their understanding of their field and influence the kind of research they pursue. New findings that challenge a particular paradigm are rejected as flawed or otherwise dismissed—tenure decisions are one way a paradigm is reinforced—until enough of them pile up to spur a revolution. Suddenly, for example, Newtonian mechanics gives way to quantum mechanics.
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