Mailvox: the relevance of Kuhn’s Revolutions

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.

Anyway, being as I’m the resident “no ideas but in things” gadfly and I’m just as interested in the human sociology of ideas and where they actually personally come from, as I am in the ideas themselves, I was thinking about the title of Kuhn’s book.

It seems to me that its enduring popularity may actually have little to do with the content of his specific ideas, and more to do with the fact that the title of his book contains the words “structure” and “revolutions.”

If there are two words that the intellectual class loves to use, two words that simply push their happy-buttons and send them into transports of catnip-induced bliss, they are “structure” and “revolution”. It may be that the thing remains on the permanent syllabus simply because those two words send intellectuals into ecstasy.

I very much disagree.  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 is essentially historical jujitsu contra scientific overreach.  Whether he is strictly correct or not is almost irrelevant, because reminding scientists of their many false historical consensuses is the most effective antidote against their ridiculous tendency to claim that this time, at last, their assertions should be unquestioningly and unhesitatingly accepted.

As I’ve noted in the past, those who claim science is Man’s most accurate guide to the factual truth are absolutely wrong and it is trivially easy to demonstrate how and why they are wrong.  We have a word for science that is actually reliable, and that word is “engineering”.  With the partial exception of physics, most science that has not yet reached what we might consider its mature state is dynamic and remains incapable of providing predictive models that are much more reliable than those provided by other, non-scientific means.