Kuhn's paradigm shift is traditionally exemplified using physics, and I know that the idea has been influencial (and misused) within some social sciences. The concept of paradigm shifts is also well known to most scientists and is often used as shorthand to describe new ideas or lines of reseaerch. My question is whether some scientific fields has been shown (in a relatively formal way) to "conform" better than others to Kuhn's idea that science progresses through paradigm shifts (as sequential replacement of incommensurable theories)? Has there been any attempts to analyse the history and progress in a large spectrum of different scientific fields in this regard?

Personally, I'm working within ecology, and I have a hard time fitting the history of ecology into a Kuhnian framework. As a general description I find Lakatos research programs, as several parallel but also conceptually overlapping programs to be a better fit. However, ecology is a relatively new field of research (firmly established/matured during 50-70s), so the major paradigm shifts might not have had time to materialise.

  • I have heard that economics largely embraced Kuhnian principles. I've only heard this conversationally, though, and I don't know exactly how they embraced such principles (if they did).
    – Dennis
    Aug 30, 2013 at 17:12

1 Answer 1


In a relatively formal way? No.

It might be possible; perhaps through linguistic analysis. But I have not heard of anyone attempting it, nor do I think it would be tremendously useful if it were accomplished.

A close reading of the history of any science seems to complicate the ready-made narratives put forth by Kuhn and Popper. Like you, I think Lakatos is generally a more robust way of thinking about scientific change. But Feyerabend once quipped that you could use Lakatos's 'research programmes' to write the history of anything, even art. I think that is probably true.

For what it's worth, historians of economics disliked Popper (because his falsifiability criteria for 'scientific' knowledge was too strict) and Kuhn (theories would be written off as arbitrary). They eventually settled on Lakatos -- although this, too, has gone out of fashion.

  • Thanks for the answer. I was mainly thinking about an analysis of the historic progress in different fields (dont know exactly how to do this though), and it has probably not been done. I really like Feyerabends writings as well (even though being a working scientist), and think that he (as well as Lakatos) provides useful perspectives. Sep 5, 2013 at 19:12

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