Interesting article in today’s Observer by John Naughton on the 50th anniversary of Thomas Kuhn’s ” The Structure of Scientific Revolutions . Kuhn’s book has been a very significant text in the history and sociology of science, but also significant in the sociology of technology and innovation. Kuhn put forward the idea of the “paradigm shift” to describe radical changes in the basis of social science, such as from an earth centred view of the cosmos to a heliocentric model. The term “paradigm shift” has escaped into the wild and replicated like rabbits, used to make any technological innovation seem more significant. As Naughton notes “Hucksters, marketers and business school professors adopted it as a way of explaining the need for radical changes of world-view in their clients.” So describing a new moustrap as a paradigm shift in rodent control is probably wrong, but
could be true if it leaves existing rodent control specialists suddenly finding that their knowledge is no longer “true”. The social epistemology of Kuhn views facts as really being consensus, so to describe anything as objectively “true” is misleading. Citing Kuhn in essays is usually helpful, referring to his actual definition of paradigm shift when people abuse the term is a great short-cut to being simultaneously seen as clever and annoying, but most of all, reading the text is still a useful way to trigger interesting thoughts about science, technology and progress.