[Marxism] Who Will Do the Science This Millennium?

David Quarter davidquarter at sympatico.ca
Tue May 4 14:09:31 MDT 2004

  I had to read portions of the book for a class this year. Since I 
have no formal background in science (I never even went beyond 
grade 10 High School science), a lot of the book was just 
untelligible detail. However what  I got out of the book (what I saw 
as Kuhn;'s general argument)  is that "scientific revolutions" or 
paradign shifts occur when better theories replace older ones b/c 
and the older ones no longer solve the problems they had initially 
set out to. 

When I was reading the book it reminded me of C. Wright Mill's 
The Sociological Imagination. Mill's discusses the bureacratic side 
of academia; specifically the way that access to power influences 
access to resources and therefore access to knowledge, 
publishing rights and success, being in the in (so to speak) within 
a particular discipline, and so on. 

Power, or the denial thereof (or at least the downplaying of power 
as fundamental explanatory aspect accounting for the 'progress' of 
science) is what I see as major deficiency in Kuhn's argument. 

I can quote from his book to show what I mean: 

"Paradigms gain their status **because they are more successful 
than their competitor in solving a few problems that the group of 
practioners has come to recognize as acute**. To be more 
successful with a single problem is not, however, to be either 
completely successful with a single problem or notably successful 
with any large number. The success of a paradigm -- whether 
Aristotle's analysis of motion[...] -- is at the start largely a promise 
of success discoverable in selected and still uncomplete 
examples". p.24

 A paradigm can claim to be solving a problem, whether or not it 
actually accomplishes this feat is a different matter altogether. It is 
not simply that one paradigm solves a problems and then there 
develops a general consensus within a particular discipline, the 
theory becomes more widely accepted within the general public 
and so on. It's that one paradigm has *the power* to solve a 
problem and that for whatever specific reason, is able to stave off 
challenges/threats from alternative viewpoints/paradigms. 

Kuhn suggests that paradigm shifts occur when consensus breaks 
down in a discipline over a paradigm (as the quote of his above 
indicates) with then leads to its replacements by newer paradigm, 
as opposed to any real shift in power accounting for this change. 

A good illustration of my point is psychiatry.  Psychiatry is 
presented as a medical science relating to the study of the brain. 
Most psychiatrists today -- or those adhering to conventional 
claims of mental illness, what Wright Mill referred to with regards to 
socioology as the 'bureaucratic ethos' -- argue that the discipline 
has discovered the source of mental illnesses and therefore 
treatments are gearted towards 'correcting' the identified brain 

In reality, however, the  discpline (psychiatry) has been making this 
argumentf or as long has it has been in existence (which is a good 
400+ years) yet without any real hard evidence to back it up. For 
example, for a diagnosis of a mental disorder to be made the main 
medical book for psychiatric classifications worldwide ('the 
Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders', version 4-R) 
states that certain symptoms should be present. Sometimes it 
becomes a matter of an individual meeting 3 out of 5 criteria to 
warrant a diagnosis. In this way, it is behaviours or traits of the 
individual that is used as the measure of illness, not any identified 
lesion in the person.

 It would seem to defy medical logic to say that one is suffering 
from a illness of the brain without actually having discovered the 
marker for that illness. For example, you don't conclude the 
someone is suffering from  cancer without having first conducted 
tests on the individual to locate active cancer cells.   Yet, this is 
exactly what the psychiatric establishment is arguing when it talks 
about symptoms as indicating illness, which has been the way it 
conducted diagnoses for the past 50 or years of existence  -- 
namely, "we've yet to identify conclusively the cause of so and so 
an illness, though we expect to in the future" or "studies *suggest* 
that mental illnesss are due to biology. In the meantime, diagnoses 
should be made when so many symptoms are present in the 
individual". Or rhethoric to that effect. 

So applied to Kuhn's argument about paradigm shifts: psychiatry is 
successful in solving the problems it had set out to, despite the 
fact that after about 400 years of existence as a discipline it has 
been unable to be support many of its initial premises concerning 
the etiology of mental illness: (1) disease of the brain, (2) caused 
by biology, (3) due to chemical imbalance, etc?

Another salient point is that since the inception of the discipline of 
psychiatry, little progress  has been made in treating mental 
illness. Despite claims by some proponents of the bio-medical 
model that treatment 'help' individuals live a more productive and 
indepedent life, very few people diagnosed as suffering from a 
mental illness ever severe attachment with the psychiatric system. 
The list of alleged disorders "un unknown causes" (DSM) also 
continues to grow expotentially with each subsequent revision 
made to the DSM (there has been 6 done since the first edition 
was published by the American Psychiatric Association in 1952).

It would seem that one indication of a medical paradigm 's success 
would be its ability to cure or control in some capacity a particular 
ailment, as many medical disciplines have been able to 
accomplish (e.g., with diabetes, etc), whereas psychiatry has not.  

Arguably, Kuhn was dealing with physics which may be a whole 
different dynamic than psychiatry. However, I imagine that even 
with the discipline of physics, many of the same power struggles 
between competing frameworks evident in the social and other life 
sciences take place. 


> From: "Stacey Barber" 
> Ever read Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions"? I had to
> read it for my Resources in the Sciences class last semester. He is
> definitely a stickler for the social context in which science is practiced
> in effecting which theories are accepted and which ones aren't. 
> ^^^^^
> CB: This book was all the rave when I was in college 35 years ago. It was
> interesting the other day when a Detroit City Council member used the terms
> "paradigm shift" .  I was like "wow, that's a blast from the past".

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