PerspectiveHistory of Science

The Revolution in the Life Sciences

Science  14 Dec 2012:
Vol. 338, Issue 6113, pp. 1427-1428
DOI: 10.1126/science.1232919

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Historians have the luxury of looking back at human endeavor over long periods of time, but most scientists are too busy working in the present and thinking anxiously about the future and have no time to view their work in the context of what has gone before. I once remarked that all graduate students in biology divide history into two epochs: the past 2 years and everything else before that, where Archimedes, Newton, Darwin, Mendel—even Watson and Crick—inhabit a time-compressed universe as uneasy contemporaries. It seems remarkable that historians once thought that science progressed by the steady addition of knowledge, building the edifice of scientific truth, brick by brick. In his 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn argued that progress occurs in revolutionary steps by the introduction of new paradigms, which may be new theories—new ways of looking at the world—or new technical methods that enhance observation and analysis.