Wikipedia Structure Of Scientific Revolutions Essay

Thomas Samuel Kuhn (; July 18, 1922 – June 17, 1996) was an American physicist, historian and philosopher of science whose controversial 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was influential in both academic and popular circles, introducing the term paradigm shift, which has since become an English-language idiom.

Kuhn made several notable claims concerning the progress of scientific knowledge: that scientific fields undergo periodic "paradigm shifts" rather than solely progressing in a linear and continuous way, and that these paradigm shifts open up new approaches to understanding what scientists would never have considered valid before; and that the notion of scientific truth, at any given moment, cannot be established solely by objective criteria but is defined by a consensus of a scientific community. Competing paradigms are frequently incommensurable; that is, they are competing and irreconcilable accounts of reality. Thus, our comprehension of science can never rely wholly upon "objectivity" alone. Science must account for subjective perspectives as well, since all objective conclusions are ultimately founded upon the subjective conditioning/worldview of its researchers and participants.


Kuhn was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Samuel L. Kuhn, an industrial engineer, and Minette Stroock Kuhn, both Jewish. He graduated from The Taft School in Watertown, CT, in 1940, where he became aware of his serious interest in mathematics and physics. He obtained his BS degree in physics from Harvard University in 1943, where he also obtained MS and PhD degrees in physics in 1946 and 1949, respectively, under the supervision of John Van Vleck.[12] As he states in the first few pages of the preface to the second edition of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, his three years of total academic freedom as a Harvard Junior Fellow were crucial in allowing him to switch from physics to the history and philosophy of science. He later taught a course in the history of science at Harvard from 1948 until 1956, at the suggestion of university president James Conant. After leaving Harvard, Kuhn taught at the University of California, Berkeley, in both the philosophy department and the history department, being named Professor of the History of science in 1961. Kuhn interviewed and tape recorded Danish physicist Niels Bohr the day before Bohr's death.[13] At Berkeley, he wrote and published (in 1962) his best known and most influential work:[14]The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In 1964, he joined Princeton University as the M. Taylor Pyne Professor of Philosophy and History of Science. He served as the president of the History of Science Society from 1969–70.[15] In 1979 he joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as the Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Philosophy, remaining there until 1991. In 1994 Kuhn was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died in 1996.

Thomas Kuhn was married twice, first to Kathryn Muhs with whom he had three children, then to Jehane Barton Burns (Jehane R. Kuhn).

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions[edit]

Main article: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (SSR) was originally printed as an article in the International Encyclopedia of Unified Science, published by the logical positivists of the Vienna Circle. In this book, Kuhn argued that science does not progress via a linear accumulation of new knowledge, but undergoes periodic revolutions, also called "paradigm shifts" (although he did not coin the phrase),[16] in which the nature of scientific inquiry within a particular field is abruptly transformed. In general, science is broken up into three distinct stages. Prescience, which lacks a central paradigm, comes first. This is followed by "normal science", when scientists attempt to enlarge the central paradigm by "puzzle-solving". Guided by the paradigm, normal science is extremely productive: "when the paradigm is successful, the profession will have solved problems that its members could scarcely have imagined and would never have undertaken without commitment to the paradigm".[17]

In regard to experimentation and collection of data with a view toward solving problems through the commitment to a paradigm, Kuhn states: “The operations and measurements that a scientist undertakes in the laboratory are not ‘the given’ of experience but rather ‘the collected with diffculty.’ They are not what the scientist sees—at least not before his research is well advanced and his attention focused. Rather, they are concrete indices to the content of more elementary perceptions, and as such they are selected for the close scrutiny of normal research only because they promise opportunity for the fruitful elaboration of an accepted paradigm. Far more clearly than the immediate experience from which they in part derive, operations and measurements are paradigm-determined. Science does not deal in all possible laboratory manipulations. Instead, it selects those relevant to the juxtaposition of a paradigm with the immediate experience that that paradigm has partially determined. As a result, scientists with different paradigms engage in different concrete laboratory manipulations.”[18]

During the period of normal science, the failure of a result to conform to the paradigm is seen not as refuting the paradigm, but as the mistake of the researcher, contra Popper'sfalsifiability criterion. As anomalous results build up, science reaches a crisis, at which point a new paradigm, which subsumes the old results along with the anomalous results into one framework, is accepted. This is termed revolutionary science.

In SSR, Kuhn also argues that rival paradigms are incommensurable—that is, it is not possible to understand one paradigm through the conceptual framework and terminology of another rival paradigm. For many critics, for example David Stove (Popper and After, 1982), this thesis seemed to entail that theory choice is fundamentally irrational: if rival theories cannot be directly compared, then one cannot make a rational choice as to which one is better. Whether Kuhn's views had such relativistic consequences is the subject of much debate; Kuhn himself denied the accusation of relativism in the third edition of SSR, and sought to clarify his views to avoid further misinterpretation. Freeman Dyson has quoted Kuhn as saying "I am not a Kuhnian!",[19] referring to the relativism that some philosophers have developed based on his work.

The enormous impact of Kuhn's work can be measured in the changes it brought about in the vocabulary of the philosophy of science: besides "paradigm shift", Kuhn popularized the word "paradigm" itself from a term used in certain forms of linguistics and the work of Georg Lichtenberg to its current broader meaning, coined the term "normal science" to refer to the relatively routine, day-to-day work of scientists working within a paradigm, and was largely responsible for the use of the term "scientific revolutions" in the plural, taking place at widely different periods of time and in different disciplines, as opposed to a single scientific revolution in the late Renaissance. The frequent use of the phrase "paradigm shift" has made scientists more aware of and in many cases more receptive to paradigm changes, so that Kuhn's analysis of the evolution of scientific views has by itself influenced that evolution.[citation needed]

Kuhn's work has been extensively used in social science; for instance, in the post-positivist/positivist debate within International Relations. Kuhn is credited as a foundational force behind the post-Mertoniansociology of scientific knowledge. Kuhn's work has also been used in the Arts and Humanities, such as by Matthew Edward Harris to distinguish between scientific and historical communities (such as political or religious groups): 'political-religious beliefs and opinions are not epistemologically the same as those pertaining to scientific theories'.[20] This is because would-be scientists' worldviews are changed through rigorous training, through the engagement between what Kuhn calls 'exemplars' and the Global Paradigm. Kuhn's notions of paradigms and paradigm shifts have been influential in understanding the history of economic thought, for example the Keynesian revolution,[21] and in debates in political science.[22]

A defense Kuhn gives against the objection that his account of science from The Structure of Scientific Revolutions results in relativism can be found in an essay by Kuhn called "Objectivity, Value Judgment, and Theory Choice."[23] In this essay, he reiterates five criteria from the penultimate chapter of SSR that determine (or help determine, more properly) theory choice:

  1. Accurate – empirically adequate with experimentation and observation
  2. Consistent – internally consistent, but also externally consistent with other theories
  3. Broad Scope – a theory's consequences should extend beyond that which it was initially designed to explain
  4. Simple – the simplest explanation, principally similar to Occam's razor
  5. Fruitful – a theory should disclose new phenomena or new relationships among phenomena

He then goes on to show how, although these criteria admittedly determine theory choice, they are imprecise in practice and relative to individual scientists. According to Kuhn, "When scientists must choose between competing theories, two men fully committed to the same list of criteria for choice may nevertheless reach different conclusions."[23] For this reason, the criteria still are not "objective" in the usual sense of the word because individual scientists reach different conclusions with the same criteria due to valuing one criterion over another or even adding additional criteria for selfish or other subjective reasons. Kuhn then goes on to say, "I am suggesting, of course, that the criteria of choice with which I began function not as rules, which determine choice, but as values, which influence it."[23] Because Kuhn utilizes the history of science in his account of science, his criteria or values for theory choice are often understood as descriptive normative rules (or more properly, values) of theory choice for the scientific community rather than prescriptive normative rules in the usual sense of the word "criteria", although there are many varied interpretations of Kuhn's account of science.

Polanyi–Kuhn debate[edit]

Although they used different terminologies, both Kuhn and Michael Polanyi believed that scientists' subjective experiences made science a relativized discipline. Polanyi lectured on this topic for decades before Kuhn published The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

Supporters of Polanyi charged Kuhn with plagiarism, as it was known that Kuhn attended several of Polanyi's lectures, and that the two men had debated endlessly over epistemology before either had achieved fame. The charge of plagiarism is peculiar, for Kuhn had generously acknowledged Polanyi in the first edition of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.[5] Despite this intellectual alliance, Polanyi's work was constantly interpreted by others within the framework of Kuhn's paradigm shifts, much to Polanyi's (and Kuhn's) dismay.[24]

Thomas Kuhn Paradigm Shift Award[edit]

In honor of his legacy, the "Thomas Kuhn Paradigm Shift Award" is awarded by the American Chemical Society to speakers who present original views that are at odds with mainstream scientific understanding. The winner is selected based in the novelty of the viewpoint and its potential impact if it were to be widely accepted.[25]


Kuhn was named a Guggenheim Fellow in 1954, and in 1982 was awarded the George Sarton Medal by the History of Science Society. He also received numerous honorary doctorates.


  • Kuhn, T. S. The Copernican Revolution: Planetary Astronomy in the Development of Western Thought. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1957. ISBN 0-674-17100-4
  • Kuhn, T. S. The Function of Measurement in Modern Physical Science. Isis, 52 (1961): 161–193.
  • Kuhn, T. S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962. ISBN 0-226-45808-3
  • Kuhn, T. S. "The Function of Dogma in Scientific Research". pp. 347–69 in A. C. Crombie (ed.). Scientific Change (Symposium on the History of Science, University of Oxford, July 9–15, 1961). New York and London: Basic Books and Heineman, 1963.
  • Kuhn, T. S. The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and Change. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1977. ISBN 0-226-45805-9
  • Kuhn, T. S. Black-Body Theory and the Quantum Discontinuity, 1894-1912. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987. ISBN 0-226-45800-8
  • Kuhn, T. S. The Road Since Structure: Philosophical Essays, 1970-1993. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. ISBN 0-226-45798-2


  1. ^K. Brad Wray, Kuhn's Evolutionary Social Epistemology, Cambridge University Press, 2011, p. 87.
  2. ^Thomas Kuhn (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy): "Not all the achievements of the preceding period of normal science are preserved in a revolution, and indeed a later period of science may find itself without an explanation for a phenomenon that in an earlier period was held to be successfully explained. This feature of scientific revolutions has become known as 'Kuhn-loss'". The term was coined by Heinz R. Post in Post, H. R. (1971), "Correspondence, Invariance and Heuristics," Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 2, 213–255.
  3. ^Aviezer Tucker (ed.), A Companion to the Philosophy of History and Historiography, Blackwell Publishing, 2011 : "Analytic Realism".
  4. ^Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1970 (2nd ed.), p. 48.
  5. ^ abcThomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1970 (2nd ed.), p. 44.
  6. ^Robert J. Richards, Lorraine Daston (eds.), Kuhn's 'Structure of Scientific Revolutions' at Fifty: Reflections on a Science Classic, University of Chicago Press, 2016, p. 47.
  7. ^ abcdThomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1970 (2nd ed.), p. vi.
  8. ^Burman, J. T. (2007). "Piaget No 'Remedy' for Kuhn, But the Two Should be Read Together: Comment on Tsou's 'Piaget vs. Kuhn on Scientific Progress'". Theory & Psychology. 17 (5): 721–732. doi:10.1177/0959354307079306. 
  9. ^Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1970 (2nd ed.), p. 146.
  10. ^Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1970 (2nd ed.), p. 27.
  11. ^Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1970 (2nd ed.), p. 85.
  12. ^The title of his doctoral thesis was The Cohesive Energy of Monovalent Metals as a Function of Their Atomic Quantum Defects.
  13. ^Thomas S. Kuhn; et al. (November 17, 1962). "Last interview with Niels Bohr by Thomas S. Kuhn, Leon Rosenfeld, Aage Petersen, and Erik Rudinger at Professor Bohr's Office, Carlsberg, Copenhagen, Denmark Saturday morning, November 17, 1962". Oral History Transcript – Niels Bohr. Center for History of Physics. Retrieved October 5, 2015. 
  14. ^Alexander Bird (2004), Thomas Kuhn, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
  15. ^The History of Science Society "The Society: Past Presidents of the History of Science Society". Retrieved December 4, 2013
  16. ^Horgan, John (May 1991). "Profile: Reluctant Revolutionary". Scientific American: 40. 
  17. ^Kuhn, Thomas (2000). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The University of Chicago Press. pp. 24–25. ISBN 978-1-4432-5544-8. 
  18. ^
  19. ^Dyson, Freeman (May 6, 1999). The Sun, the Genome, and the Internet: Tools of Scientific Revolutions. Oxford University Press, Inc. p. 144. ISBN 978-0-19-512942-7. 
  20. ^Harris, Matthew (2010). The notion of papal monarchy in the thirteenth century : the idea of paradigm in church history. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press. p. 120. ISBN 978-0-7734-1441-9. 
  21. ^E.g. Ghanshyam Mehta, The Structure of the Keynesian Revolution, London, 1977
  22. ^E.g. Alan Ryan, "Paradigms Lost: How Oxford Escaped the Paradigm Wars of the 1960s and 1970s', in Christopher Hood, Desmond King, & Gillian Peele, eds, Forging a Discipline, Oxford University Press, 2014.
  23. ^ abcKuhn, Thomas (1977). The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and Change(PDF). University of Chicago Press. pp. 320–39. 
  24. ^Moleski, Martin X. Polanyi vs. Kuhn: Worldviews Apart. The Polanyi Society. Missouri Western State University. Retrieved March 20, 2008.
  25. ^"Thomas Kuhn Paradigm Shift Award". American Chemical Society. Retrieved September 19, 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Alexander Bird. Thomas Kuhn. Princeton and London: Princeton University Press and Acumen Press, 2000. ISBN 1-902683-10-2
  • Steve Fuller. Thomas Kuhn: A Philosophical History for Our Times. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. ISBN 0-226-26894-2
  • Matthew Edward Harris. The Notion of Papal Monarchy in the Thirteenth Century: The Idea of Paradigm in Church History. Lampeter and Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-7734-1441-9.
  • Paul Hoyningen-Huene (1993). Reconstructing Scientific Revolutions: Thomas S. Kuhn's Philosophy of Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Sal Restivo, The Myth of the Kuhnian Revolution. Sociological Theory, Vol. 1, (1983), 293–305.

External links[edit]

  • Notes for Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions"
  • Bird, Alexander. "Thomas Kuhn". In Zalta, Edward N.Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 
  • James A. Marcum, "Thomas S. Kuhn (1922—1996)", Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • Thomas S. Kuhn (obituary, The Tech p. 9 vol 116 no 28, June 26, 1996)
  • Review in the New York Review of Books
  • Color Portrait
  • History of Twentieth-Century Philosophy of Science, BOOK VI: Kuhn on Revolution and Feyerabend on Anarchy – with free downloads for public use.
  • Thomas S. Kuhn, post-modernism and materialist dialectics
  • Errol Morris, The Ashtray: The Ultimatum (Part 1 [of 5 parts]), a critical view and memoir of Kuhn
  • Daniel Laskowski Tozzini, "Objetividade e racionalidade na filosofia da ciência de Thomas Kuhn"

The science wars were a series of intellectual exchanges, between scientific realists and postmodernist critics, about the nature of scientific theory and intellectual inquiry. They took place principally in the United States in the 1990s in the academic and mainstream press. Scientific realists (such as Norman Levitt, Paul R. Gross, Jean Bricmont and Alan Sokal) argued that scientific knowledge is real, and accused the postmodernists of having effectively rejected scientific objectivity, the scientific method, Empiricism, and scientific knowledge. Postmodernists interpreted Thomas Kuhn's ideas about scientific paradigms to mean that scientific theories are social constructs, and philosophers like Paul Feyerabend argued that other, non-realist forms of knowledge production were better suited to serve people's personal and spiritual needs.

Though much of the theory associated with 'postmodernism' (see poststructuralism) did not make any interventions into the natural sciences, the scientific realists took aim at its general influence. The scientific realists argued that large swaths of scholarship, amounting to a rejection of objectivity and realism, had been influenced by major 20th Century poststructuralist philosophers (such as Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Jean-François Lyotard and others), whose work they declared to be incomprehensible or meaningless. They implicated a broad range of fields in this trend, including cultural studies, cultural anthropology, feminist studies, comparative literature, media studies, and science and technology studies. They accused those postmodernist critics who did actually discuss science of having a limited understanding of it.

Historical background[edit]

Until the mid-20th century, the philosophy of science had concentrated on the viability of scientific method and knowledge, proposing justifications for the truth of scientific theories and observations and attempting to discover at a philosophical level why science worked. Karl Popper, an early opponent of logical positivism in the 20th century, repudiated the classical observationalist/inductivist form of scientific method in favour of empirical falsification. He is also known for his opposition to the classical justificationist account of knowledge which he replaced with critical rationalism, "the first non justificational philosophy of criticism in the history of philosophy".[1] His criticisms of scientific method were adopted by several postmodernist critiques.[2]

A number of 20th-century philosophers maintained that logical models of pure science do not apply to actual scientific practice. It was the publication of Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962, however, which fully opened the study of science to new disciplines by suggesting that the evolution of science was in part sociologically determined and that it did not operate under the simple logical laws put forward by the logical positivist school of philosophy.

Kuhn described the development of scientific knowledge not as a linear increase in truth and understanding, but as a series of periodic revolutions which overturned the old scientific order and replaced it with new orders (what he called "paradigms"). Kuhn attributed much of this process to the interactions and strategies of the human participants in science rather than its own innate logical structure. (See sociology of scientific knowledge).

Some interpreted Kuhn's ideas to mean that scientific theories were, either wholly or in part, social constructs, which many interpreted as diminishing the claim of science to representing objective reality (though many social constructivists do not put forward this claim), and that reality had a lesser or potentially irrelevant role in the formation of scientific theories. In 1971, Jerome Ravetz published Scientific Knowledge and its Social Problems, a book describing the role that the scientific community, as a social construct, plays in accepting or rejecting objective scientific knowledge.[3]


Further information: New Left and Critical theory

A number of different philosophical and historical schools, often grouped together as "postmodernism", began reinterpreting scientific achievements of the past through the lens of the practitioners, often positing the influence of politics and economics in the development of scientific theories in addition to scientific observations. Rather than being presented as working entirely from positivistic observations, many scientists of the past were scrutinized for their connection to issues of gender, sexual orientation, race, and class. Some more radical philosophers, such as Paul Feyerabend, argued that scientific theories were themselves incoherent and that other forms of knowledge production (such as those used in religion) served the material and spiritual needs of their practitioners with equal validity as did scientific explanations.

Imre Lakatos advanced a midway view between the "postmodernist" and "realist" camps. For Lakatos, scientific knowledge is progressive; however, it progresses not by a strict linear path where every new element builds upon and incorporates every other, but by an approach where a "core" of a "research program" is established by auxiliary theories which can themselves be falsified or replaced without compromising the core. Social conditions and attitudes affect how strongly one attempts to resist falsification for the core of a program, but the program has an objective status based on its relative explanatory power. Resisting falsification only becomes ad-hoc and damaging to knowledge when an alternate program with greater explanatory power is rejected in favor of another with less. But because it is changing a theoretical core, which has broad ramifications for other areas of study, accepting a new program is also revolutionary as well as progressive. Thus, for Lakatos the character of science is that of being both revolutionary and progressive; both socially informed and objectively justified.

The science wars[edit]

In Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels With Science (1994), the scientists Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt accused postmodernists of anti-intellectualism, presented the shortcomings of relativism, and suggested that postmodernists knew little about the scientific theories they criticized and practiced poor scholarship for political reasons. The authors insist that the "science critics" misunderstood the theoretical approaches they criticized, given their "caricature, misreading, and condescension, [rather] than argument".[4][5][6][7] The book sparked the so-called science wars. Higher Superstition inspired a New York Academy of Sciences conference titled The Flight from Science and Reason, organized by Gross, Levitt, and Gerald Holton.[8] Attendees of the conference were critical of the polemical approach of Gross and Levitt, yet agreed upon the intellectual inconsistency of how laymen, non-scientist, and social studies intellectuals dealt with science.[9]

Science wars in Social Text[edit]

In 1996, Social Text, a Duke University publication of postmoderncritical theory, compiled a "Science Wars" issue containing brief articles by postmodernist academics in the social sciences and the humanities, that emphasized the roles of society and politics in science. In the introduction to the issue, the Social Text editor, Andrew Ross, said that the attack upon science studies was a conservativereaction to reduced funding for scientific research, characterizing the Flight from Science and Reason conference as an attempted "linking together a host of dangerous threats: scientific creationism, New Age alternatives and cults, astrology, UFO-ism, the radical science movement, postmodernism, and critical science studies, alongside the ready-made historical specters of Aryan-Nazi science and the Soviet error of Lysenkoism" that "degenerated into name-calling".[10]

The historian Dorothy Nelkin characterised Gross and Levitt's vigorous response as a "call to arms in response to the failed marriage of Science and the State"—in contrast to the scientists' historical tendency to avoid participating in perceived political threats, such as creation science, the animal rights movement, and anti-abortionists' attempts to curb fetal research.[clarification needed] At the end of the Soviet–American Cold War (1945–91), military funding of science declined, while funding agencies demanded accountability, and research became directed by private interests. Nelkin suggested that postmodernist critics were "convenient scapegoats" who diverted attention from problems in science.[11]

Also in 1996, physicist Alan Sokal had submitted an article to Social Text titled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity", which proposed that quantum gravity is a linguistic and social construct and that quantum physics supports postmodernist criticisms of scientific objectivity. After holding the article back from earlier issues due to Sokal's refusal to consider revisions, the staff published it in the "Science Wars" issue as a relevant contribution.[12] Later, in the May 1996 issue of Lingua Franca, in the article "A Physicist Experiments With Cultural Studies", Sokal exposed his parody-article, "Transgressing the Boundaries" as an experiment testing the intellectual rigor of an academic journal that would "publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions".[13] The matter became known as the "Sokal Affair" and brought greater public attention to the wider conflict.[14]

Jacques Derrida, a frequent target of "anti-relativist" criticism in the wake of Sokal's article, responded to the hoax in "Sokal and Bricmont Aren't Serious", first published in Le Monde. He called Sokal's action sad (triste) for having overshadowed Sokal's mathematical work and ruined the chance to sort out controversies of scientific objectivity in a careful way. Derrida went on to fault him and co-author Jean Bricmont for what he considered an act of intellectual bad faith: they had accused him of scientific incompetence in the English edition of a follow-up book (an accusation several English reviewers noted), but deleted the accusation from the French edition and denied that it had ever existed. He concluded, as the title indicates, that Sokal was not serious in his approach, but had used the spectacle of a "quick practical joke" to displace the scholarship Derrida believed the public deserved.[15]

Continued conflict[edit]

In the first few years after the 'Science Wars' edition of Social Text, the seriousness and volume of discussion increased significantly, much of it focused on reconciling the 'warring' camps of postmodernists and scientists. One significant event was the 'Science and Its Critics' conference in early 1997; it brought together scientists and scholars who study science, and featured Alan Sokal and Steve Fuller as keynote speakers. The conference generated the final wave of substantial press coverage (in both news media and scientific journals), though by no means resolved the fundamental issues of social construction and objectivity in science.[16]

Other attempts have been made to reconcile the two camps. Mike Nauenberg, a physicist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, organized a small conference in May 1997 that was attended by scientists and sociologists of science alike, among them Alan Sokal, N. David Mermin and Harry Collins. In the same year, Collins organized the Southampton Peace Workshop, which again brought together a broad range of scientists and sociologists. The Peace Workshop gave rise to the idea of a book that intended to map out some of the arguments between the disputing parties. The One Culture?: A Conversation about Science, edited by chemist Jay A. Labinger and sociologist Harry Collins, was eventually published in 2001. The book, the title of which is a reference to C.P. Snow's The Two Cultures, contains contributions from authors such as Alan Sokal, Jean Bricmont, Steven Weinberg and Steven Shapin.[17]

Other important publications related to the science wars include Fashionable Nonsense by Sokal and Jean Bricmont (1998), The Social Construction of What? by Ian Hacking (1999) and Who Rules in Science by James Robert Brown.

To John C. Baez, the Bogdanov Affair in 2002[18] served as the bookend to the Sokal controversy: the review, acceptance, and publication of papers, later alleged to be nonsense, in peer-reviewed physics journals. Cornell physics professor Paul Ginsparg, argued that the cases are not at all similar, and that the fact that some journals and scientific institutions have low standards is "hardly a revelation".[19] The new editor in chief of the journal Annals of Physics, who was appointed after the controversy along with a new editorial staff, had said that the standards of the journal had been poor leading up to the publication since the previous editor had become sick and died.[18]

Interest in the science wars has waned considerably in recent years. Though the events of the science wars are still occasionally mentioned in mainstream press, they have had little effect on either the scientific community or the community of critical theorists.[citation needed] Both sides continue to maintain that the other does not understand their theories, or mistakes constructive criticisms and scholarly investigations for attacks. As Bruno Latour recently put it, "Scientists always stomp around meetings talking about 'bridging the two-culture gap', but when scores of people from outside the sciences begin to build just that bridge, they recoil in horror and want to impose the strangest of all gags on free speech since Socrates: only scientists should speak about science!"[20] Subsequently, Latour has suggested a re-evaluation of sociology's epistemology based on lessons learnt from the Science Wars: "... scientists made us realize that there was not the slightest chance that the type of social forces we use as a cause could have objective facts as their effects".[21]

However, more recently some of the leading critical theorists have recognized that their critiques have at times been counter-productive, and are providing intellectual ammunition for reactionary interests.

Writing about these developments in the context of global warming, Bruno Latour noted that "dangerous extremists are using the very same argument of social construction to destroy hard-won evidence that could save our lives. Was I wrong to participate in the invention of this field known as science studies? Is it enough to say that we did not really mean what we said?"[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^Bartley, William W. (1964). "Rationality versus the Theory of Rationality". In Mario Bunge: The Critical Approach to Science and Philosophy. The Free Press of Glencoe, section IX.
  2. ^Stove, David Charles (1982). Popper and After: Four Modern Irrationalists, Oxford: Pergamon Press.
  3. ^Ravetz, Jerome R. (1979). Scientific knowledge and its social problems. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. ISBN 0-19-519721-6. 
  4. ^Flower, Michael J. (1995). "Review of Higher Superstition ", Contemporary Sociology, Vol. 24, No. 1, pp. 113–14.
  5. ^Isis (Vol. 87, No. 2, 1996), American Anthropologist (Vol. 98, No. 2, 1996).
  6. ^Social Studies of Science (Vol. 26, No. 1, 1996).
  7. ^The review in The Journal of Higher Education (Vol. 66, No. 5, 1995) snidely suggested that book's final sentence proved that politics, the epistemology, philosophy, and science are inter-related.
  8. ^Gross, Levitt, and Martin W. Lewis. (1997). The Flight from Science and Reason (New York: New York Academy of Science.)
  9. ^Kramer, Jennifer. "Who's Flying – And In What Direction?"Archived 2006-05-10 at the Wayback Machine. Coverage of the NYAS Flight from Science and Reason conference. Accessed 15 may 2006.
  10. ^Ross, Andrew. (1996). "Introduction" Social Text 46/47, Vol. 14, Nos. 1 & 2, pp. 1–13, esp. p. 7.
  11. ^Nelkin, Dorothy. (1996). "The Science Wars: Responses to a Marriage Failed" Social Text 46/47, Vol. 14, Nos. 1 & 2, pp. 93–100., p. 95.
  12. ^Robbins, Bruce and Ross, Andrew. Editorial Response to the hoax, explaining Social Text's decision to publish
  13. ^Sokal, Alan. (1996). "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" Social Text 46/47, Vol. 14, Nos. 1 & 2, pp 217–252.
  14. ^Sokal, Alan. (1996). "A Physicist Experiments with Cultural Studies," Lingua Franca, May/June, pp 62–64.
  15. ^Derrida, Jacques (2005) [1994]. Paper Machine. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 70. ISBN 0-8047-4619-2. 
  16. ^Baringer, Philip S. (2001). "Introduction: 'the science wars'", from After the Science Wars, eds. Keith M. Ashman and Philip S. Baringer. New York: Routlege, p. 2.
  17. ^Labinger, Jay A. and Harry Collins. (2001). "Preface", in: The One Culture?: A Conversation about Science, eds. Labinger, Jay A and Harry Collins. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. ix–xi.
  18. ^ abMonastersky, Richard (November 2, 2002). "French TV Stars Rock the World of Theoretical Physics". Chronicle of Higher Education. Archived from the original on 2008-02-07. Retrieved 2008-03-20. 
  19. ^Ginsparg, Paul. (2002, November 12). "'Is It Art?' Is Not a Question for Physics". New York Times, section A, p. 26.
  20. ^Latour, B. (1999). Pandora's Hope. Essays on the Reality of Science StudiesArchived 2007-09-04 at the Wayback Machine., Harvard University Press, USA.
  21. ^Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the Social. An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory, Oxford University Press, USA, p. 100.
  22. ^Latour, B. (2004). Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern, Critical Inquiry 30, pp. 225–48.


  • Ashman, Keith M. and Barringer, Philip S. (ed.) (2001). After the science wars, Routledge, London, UK. ISBN 0-415-21209-X
  • Gross, Paul R. and Levitt, Norman (1994). Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels With Science, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, USA. ISBN 0-8018-4766-4
  • Sokal, Alan D. (1996). Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity, Social Text46/47, 217–252.
  • Callon, Michel (1999). Whose Impostures? Physicists at War with the Third Person, Social Studies of Science29(2), 261–86.
  • Parsons, Keith (ed.) (2003). The Science Wars: Debating Scientific Knowledge and Technology, Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY USA. ISBN 1-57392-994-8
  • Labinger, Jay A. and Collins, Harry (eds.) (2001). The One Culture?: A Conversation About Science, University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ISBN 0-226-46723-6
  • Brown, James R. (2001). Who Rules in Science? An Opinionated Guide to the Wars, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA USA.

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