Friday, March 15, 2013

Kuhn is fishy and unpersuasive

Vox Day writes:
Scoobius is dubious about Thomas Kuhn:
On a couple of different threads lately, knowing reference has been made to Thomas Kuhn and his book "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions". Like a lot of people I read it as a snotty college kid. But unlike a lot of people, I recall thinking at the time that there was something fishy about what he was saying, something perhaps even unpersuasive. To be honest it's so long ago since I read the book, I couldn't even tell you now with accuracy what his arguments were. I just recall thinking at the time, Hmm, I'd certainly like to at least hear the rebuttal and the counter-arguments, but universities being what they are, his book was assigned on the topic and no others; and it wasn't my key area of interest, so I just let the matter drop.
The main reason Kuhn remains popular is that his reasoning provides substance and cover for those who, for various reasons, doubt the legitimacy of the dictatorial scientific consensus. While one will not be taken seriously by claiming that the Bible contradicts global warming, the latest dating of homo sapiens sapiens, or the raspberry bush of life, one can cite Kuhn and it tends to take the wind out of the sails of even the most authoritative scientist.
Kuhn's book is the most influential anti-science book ever written. The heart of it is an argument that the big changes in science are Kuhnian paradigm shifts. Kuhn defined such a shift as an irrational change of viewpoint with no measurable evidence. (Kuhn preferred the terms arational and incommensurable.) Thus he denied that scientific theories were based on reason and evidence, and he also denied that science makes progress towards truth.

College kids are given Kuhn's thesis, without the rebuttal. All they get out of it is that science is just a bunch of popular fads, with no real validity. Yes, it is fishy and unpersuasive. And it is a gross devaluation of what science is all about.

Here is a quote from a book about creationists:
The third source of the idea that the scientific establishment is close-minded is a philosophical picture of the nature of science. Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions has probably been more widely read — and more widely misinterpreted — than any other book in the recent philosophy of science. The broad circulation of his views has generated a popular caricature of Kuhn’s position. According to this popular caricature, scientists working in a field belong to a club. All club members are required to agree on main points of doctrine. Indeed, the price of admission is several years of graduate education, during which the chief dogmas are inculcated. The views of outsiders are ignored. Now I want to emphasize that this is a hopeless caricature, both of the practice of scientists and of Kuhn’s analysis of the practice. Nevertheless, the caricature has become commonly accepted as a faithful representation, thereby lending support to the Creationists’ claims that their views are arrogantly disregarded." [1]
Yes, that is an exaggeration of Kuhn's analysis, but the essence of Kuhn's argument is that science is unscientific.

1 comment:

  1. best synopsis of pro/con I read, though dated now, is the Lakatos / Musgrave compilation of the 1965 London symposium, 'Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge'. You'll find 'em all in there -- Kuhn was given the privilege of speaking both first and last, sandwiching as he did Popper, Lakatos, Feyerabend, and many others. I guess I don't see as much of a problem with Kuhn/SSR as Roger does, he's quite the fanatic on Kuhn. I view it good for newbies. THEN they can move on from thee.