The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (


            In his influential work titled The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), Thomas Kuhn defined a paradigm shift as a change in the fundamental assumptions (the paradigms) in a current ruling scientific theory. The concept of a paradigm shift is contrary to the concept of the normal science. According to Kuhn (1962), a paradigm shift takes place when scientists come across inconsistencies that lack explanation by the universally embraced paradigm. In the light of this view, Kuhn (1962) perceived a paradigm as not simply the existing theory, rather, the entire worldview that the current theory exists and its corresponding implications. All paradigms are susceptible to anomalies, which are perceived as acceptable error levels that can be disregarded. These anomalies in theories of science have different degrees of significance to the science practitioners. According to Kuhn’s model of scientific change, when sufficient anomalies have accumulated against an existing paradigm, then a state of crisis is imminent in that particular scientific discipline; therefore, old ideas are rejected while new ideas are tried resulting in the creation of a new paradigm (Curd, Cover, & Pincock, 2012).

A common outcome of paradigm shift is an intellectual battle between the followers of an old paradigm and the followers of a new paradigm. A case in point in the early 20th century physics is the transition between Einstein’s Relativity theory and Maxwell’s Equations, which was characterized by protracted attacks using empirical evidence and philosophical arguments. According to Max Planck, “a new scientific view wins not because it convinces its opponents, but because its opponents gradually die resulting in the growth of a new generation that is familiar with the new scientific truth” (Kuhn, 1962). The goal of this paper is discusses the impacts of paradigm shift on the entire scientific community. This paper provides a discussion of the paradigm shift in the context of history and philosophy of science, the relationship between science and paradigm shift, and the impacts of paradigm shifts such as scientific revolution and progress.

Elements of a Paradigm Shift

            Before delving deeply into the impacts of paradigm shifts in the entire scientific community, it is imperative to have an understanding of the elements that constitute the phenomenon of a paradigm shift. Kuhn (1962) describes a paradigm using a series of stages, which include the pre-paradigm stage, the paradigm recognition stage, the paradigm reinforcement stage, and the paradigm shift. The pre-paradigm stage is characterized by the use of a scientific phenomenon although there are no explanations to it. The paradigm recognition stage is the initial point in acknowledging the scientific phenomenon and establishing a paradigm aimed at recognizing the scientific phenomenon. The paradigm reinforcement stage primarily involves undertaking normal science work with the primary objective of proving the paradigm. Lastly, the paradigm shift entails moving towards the new paradigm marketed by a new discovery, which creates a new set of inquires aimed at exploring the paradigm.

In the light of this view, Kuhn (1962) perceived a paradigm as a fundamental framework that most scientific phenomenon draw upon; therefore, a paradigm is similar to a consensus among the scientific community regarding a particular subject. Consequently, scientists embark on the development of exemplars in their various disciplines with the main purpose of proving or disapproving the established paradigm; Kuhn (1962) terms this research as normal science. According to Scheffler (1972), there are two fundamental attributes of a paradigm: first, a paradigm must be unmatched in order to attract the scientific community; second, the paradigm should be sufficiently open ended so that scientist from different disciplines can work on dissimilar problems found in the same paradigm. Fundamentally, the function of a paradigm is to offer a structure for understanding a scientific phenomenon. In the absence of a structure (paradigm), scientists do not have framework to base their observations. In this regard, normal science entails scientists working to either prove or disapprove a paradigm.

Anomaly is a central tenet of the concept of a paradigm shift. According to Kuhn (1962), the unearthing of an anomaly using scientific research triggers the development of a new paradigm. Therefore, for a discovery to take place, the discovery of an anomaly is a necessary precondition. This is because the detection of an anomaly creates a base through which a paradigm can be considered as a false theory. In the event that scientists are unable to continue enforcing the paradigm together with the anomalies observed, then a crisis in the paradigm is imminent. To this end, it is highly likely that a new paradigm is likely to surface while the old paradigm is disregarded (Curd, Cover & Pincock 2012). Scientists who are advocate for the old paradigm do not contest the old paradigm. In addition, scientific studies may fail to highlight the anomalies or may only highlight the anomalies that are not of interest. Therefore, a new paradigm wins the battle because the scientists holding the old paradigm are ignored, after which they lose their credibility. According to Curd, Cover & Pincock (2012), the critics of the paradigm shift theory assert that the paradigm shift theory implied that no concept in a paradigm could be disproved or tested; therefore, it is less likely to a scientific knowledge to advance. It is undeniable that scientists who fail to contest a paradigm and do not attempt to detect anomalies will not advance scientific knowledge. Nevertheless, it is a fact that all scientists should be puzzle solvers, which implies that it is imperative for scientists to be focused on the established paradigm (Kuhn 1962). Observing anomalies in a paradigm is likely to result in a crisis in a particular scientific community, which is one of the impacts of paradigm shifts in the scientific community. This is because the current paradigm is considered false a new paradigm emerging, which is not consistent with the old paradigm. Kuhn (1962) views the victory of a new paradigm over the old paradigm from a social perspective rather an intellectual perspective. In this regard, the new paradigm acts as a replacement for the old paradigm if it gets adequate funding, generates more practical results and can compel scientists to be trained in the scientific phenomenon advocated in the paradigm; therefore, Kuhn (1962) maintains that scientific knowledge does not advance because of the rebuttal of the false theories and the accumulation of scientific truth; rather, scientific knowledge advances by paradigm replacement through scientific revolution, which is another impact of paradigm shift in the scientific community.

A scientific revolution occurs only after observations and conclusions of normal science are performed on a paradigm followed by an observance of anomalies. This implies that a scientific revolution is only possible when scientists fail to support the original paradigm. Kuhn (1962) maintains that the scientific community responds slower to a revolution than the societal discourse. This is because the scientific community is compelled to wait for a social acceptance of the scientific revolution to amass sufficient training and funding for the new paradigm generated as a result of the revolution. In addition, there is the concept of an invisible revolution.

From the core elements that make up a paradigm shift in the scientific community, three notable impacts of a paradigm shift on the scientific community can be observed: probable crisis in a particular scientific discipline; advancement of scientific knowledge following the emergence of a new revolution; and a scientific revolution (Scheffler 1972). These impacts will be discussed in detail in the subsequent sections of this paper.

Paradigm Shift and Science

            One of the most prevalent misinterpretations is the credence that the discovery of the dynamic characteristic of science and paradigm shifts is an ideal case in point for relativism, which refers to the belief in the equality of belief systems. Kuhn (1962) refutes this interpretation and asserts that the replacement of an old scientific paradigm by a new one, although it is a multifaceted social process, the new scientific paradigm is always different and better.

Paradigm shifts are most dramatic in scientific disciplines that are mature and stable such as physical sciences of the end of the 19th century. At this time, physical sciences appeared to be a scientific discipline that filled in the remaining details of an already worked out system. For instance, during 1900, Lord Kelvin argued that there is nothing new than can be discovered in physics; all that is needed is more methods to ensure precise measured. Five years later, an article published by Albert Einstein on special relativity questioned the principles established Newtonian Mechanics, which had been in use for more than two centuries in describing force and motion. According to Kuhn (1962, p. 12), “successive shift from one scientific shift to another paradigm through scientific revolution is the typical development pattern for mature science disciplines”. In fact, it can be argued that Kuhn’s notion was intrinsically revolutionary in the sense that it resulted in a major change regarding the manner in which academics viewed science. Therefore, it can be inferred that Kuhn’s viewpoint caused a paradigm shift or was by itself part of the paradigm shift with respect to the sociology and history of science.

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