Outliving Your Enemies

15 September 2006 at 10:23 am 1 comment

| Peter Klein |

Most of us know the quip “science progresses one funeral at a time.” The reference is to Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and this passage in particular: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” (A line Kuhn borrows from Max Planck.)

I recently heard an amusing illustration. J. Harlen Bretz was a geologist who studied a large area called the Channeled Scablands in eastern Washington, Idaho, and western Montana in the early 1920s. He concluded that this area had suffered a massive, ancient flood during the melting of the glaciers during the last ice age. For decades no one believed him, but finally his findings became generally accepted in the 1970s, when Bretz was in his 90s. Asked how it felt to be vindicated after so many years; he reportedly said “All my enemies are dead, so I have no one to gloat over.”

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Methods/Methodology/Theory of Science.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Teppo  |  15 September 2006 at 3:17 pm

    Hmm, one of my colleagues said that about a working paper of mine – great paper, but some folks will have to die before it gets accepted.

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