The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) is a hugely influential book by Thomas Kuhn

I was recently reminded about the hugely influential impact of the work of Thomas Kuhn, a philosopher of science.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy features an entry about Thomas Kuhn which provides an overview of his impact.

An excerpt (I have broken a longer paragraph into shorter ones) reads:

In 1961 Kuhn became a full professor at the University of California at Berkeley, having moved there in 1956 to take up a post in history of science, but in the philosophy department. This enabled him to develop his interest in the philosophy of science. At Berkeley Kuhn’s colleagues included Stanley Cavell, who introduced Kuhn to the works of Wittgenstein, and Paul Feyerabend. With Feyerabend Kuhn discussed a draft of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions which was published in 1962 in the series “International Encyclopedia of Unified Science”, edited by Otto Neurath and Rudolf Carnap. The central idea of this extraordinarily influential – and controversial – book is that the development of science is driven, in normal periods of science, by adherence to what Kuhn called a ‘paradigm’.

The functions of a paradigm are to supply puzzles for scientists to solve and to provide the tools for their solution. A crisis in science arises when confidence is lost in the ability of the paradigm to solve particularly worrying puzzles called ‘anomalies’. Crisis is followed by a scientific revolution if the existing paradigm is superseded by a rival. Kuhn claimed that science guided by one paradigm would be ‘incommensurable’ with science developed under a different paradigm, by which is meant that there is no common measure for assessing the different scientific theories.

This thesis of incommensurability, developed at the same time by Feyerabend, rules out certain kinds of comparison of the two theories and consequently rejects some traditional views of scientific development, such as the view that later science builds on the knowledge contained within earlier theories, or the view that later theories are closer approximations to the truth than earlier theories. Most of Kuhn’s subsequent work in philosophy was spent in articulating and developing the ideas in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, although some of these, such as the thesis of incommensurability, underwent transformation in the process.

The man who changed how we look at science

An Aug. 19, 2012 Guardian article is entitled: “Thomas Kuhn: the man who changed the way the world looked at science: Fifty years ago, a book by Thomas Kuhn altered the way we look at the philosophy behind science, as well as introducing the much abused phrase ‘paradigm shift'”.

How best to counter misinformation

Scientific research about how to counter misinformation is a source of interest.

In that regard I was interested to learn of a Feb. 2, 2021 article published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) entitled: “Timing matters when correcting fake news.”

The abstract reads:

Countering misinformation can reduce belief in the moment, but corrective messages quickly fade from memory. We tested whether the longer-term impact of fact-checks depends on when people receive them. In two experiments (total N = 2,683), participants read true and false headlines taken from social media. In the treatment conditions, “true” and “false” tags appeared before, during, or after participants read each headline. Participants in a control condition received no information about veracity. One week later, participants in all conditions rated the same headlines’ accuracy. Providing fact-checks after headlines (debunking) improved subsequent truth discernment more than providing the same information during (labeling) or before (prebunking) exposure. This finding informs the cognitive science of belief revision and has practical implications for social media platform designers.

The article brings to mind research about the challenge of countering stereotypes about a wide range of situations, a topic I’ve highlighted at a previous post:

How effective are public education campaigns, directed at changing people’s opinions about stuttering? How can the outcomes of such efforts be measured?

Literacy

A related topic concerns literacy – not just scientific literacy but literacy in more general terms – a topic addressed at another previous post:

Poor reading, writing and numeracy skills in adults make up a literacy gap in Canada with consequences for both democracy and the economy: CBC, Jan. 17, 2021

I am reminded of a March 2021 Journal of Fluency Disorders article entitled: “Quality and readability of internet information about stuttering.”

An excerpt reads:

Highlights

Internet use is a common practice for successful stuttering management.

Websites related to stuttering exceed recommended levels of readability.

Information about treatment options shared on websites is of questionable quality.

Professionals need to evaluate online materials for quality.

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