Scientific revolutions, specialization and the discovery of the structure of DNA: toward a new picture of the development of the sciences

Synthese 195 (5):2267-2293 (2018)
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Abstract

In his late years, Thomas Kuhn became interested in the process of scientific specialization, which does not seem to possess the destructive element that is characteristic of scientific revolutions. It therefore makes sense to investigate whether and how Kuhn’s insights about specialization are consistent with, and actually fit, his model of scientific progress through revolutions. In this paper, I argue that the transition toward a new specialty corresponds to a revolutionary change for the group of scientists involved in such a transition. I will clarify the role of the scientific community in revolutionary changes and characterize the incommensurability across specialties as possessing both semantic and methodological aspects. The discussion of the discovery of the structure of DNA will serve both as an illustration of my main argument and as reply to one criticism raised against Kuhn—namely, that his model cannot capture cases of revolutionary yet non-disruptive episodes of scientific progress. Revisiting Kuhn’s ideas on specialization will shed new light on some often overlooked features of scientific change.

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Vincenzo Politi
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

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