Moving Frontiers of Science

29 March 2004
Conversations about the moving frontiers of science generally start with (and lamentably don't get much beyond) Thomas Kuhn's book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which first appeared more than 40 years ago. For many people, the element of the book that's remembered is something vague about paradigms. While 'paradigm' is arguably one of the most quidditous words of the 20th century, it is relevant to only one facet of the vastly interesting and complicated evolutionary path of the sciences.

The yearly --indeed, daily-- advances in the sciences are rarely studied as broad phenomena, though typically a working scientist has a good idea of subdisciplinary progress and the state of the controversies and frontiers near his or her own research areas. Probably most active scientists follow Science and Nature in a desultory way, though I'd guess that few take the time to read much outside their own disciplines. And science students (to say nothing of students in the humanities and social sciences) generally have no connection to the emergent history of science, recent or archival, in their main fields of study or otherwise. The consequences of this are disciplinary nearsightedness and generalized scientific illiteracy --the antithesis of what liberal education aims to foster.

I wish to propose an interdisciplinary course that examines the moving frontiers though practical use of readily available discovery and analysis tools. We have at our fingertips an unprecedented and vastly powerful array of information resources which enable us to monitor, analyze, synthesize, and communicate about the evolution of scientific knowledge. To maximize the utility of the large sums allocated to access to research literature, these discovery tools should be better known and much more widely used in teaching and learning, particularly in the day-to-day work of liberal arts faculty.

This is intended as a HANDS ON course, with one lecture and one computer practicum in each week. Students will develop practical information management skills, and will create demonstrations of effective use of electronic and print resources, and thus contribute to the existing array of support materials for general use. Student projects will trace specific cases of discovery, communication, and ramification. Students will explore the present and recent past of scientific communication using

Among the topics to be addressed, generally as lectures:

Addendum, 4 April: Mapping Knowledge Domains, a PNAS Colloquium... with many papers which relate directly to the subject matter of this course.

13 April
Several books in and around Thomas Kuhn:

AUTHOR       Fuller, Steve, 1959-
TITLE        Thomas Kuhn : a philosophical history for our times
IMPRINT      Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2000.
CALL NO.     Q175 .F927 2000.

AUTHOR       Kuhn, Thomas S.
TITLE        The road since structure : philosophical essays, 1970-1993, with 
               an autobiographical interview / Thomas S. Kuhn ; edited by 
               James Conant and John Haugeland.
IMPRINT      Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2000.
CALL NO.     Q175 .K94 2000.

TITLE        Paradigms and revolutions : appraisals and applications of Thomas
               Kuhn's philosophy of science / Gary Gutting, editor.
IMPRINT      Notre Dame : University of Notre Dame Press, c1980.
CALL NO.     Q175.3 .P37.

TITLE        World changes : Thomas Kuhn and the nature of science / edited by
               Paul Horwich.
IMPRINT      Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, 1993.
CALL NO.     Q175.3 .T48 1993.

AUTHOR       Bird, Alexander, 1964-
TITLE        Thomas Kuhn / Alexander Bird.
IMPRINT      Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 2000.
CALL NO.     Q175 .B547 2000.

15 April
Current Classics "is a listing of papers (one in each field) having the greatest absolute increase in cumulative citations from the previous bimonthly period to now. A total of up to 10 years of ISI Essential Science Indicators Web product citation data, plus some number of consecutive bimonthly periods during the current year, are used to determine the Current Classic paper selected for each field."

16 April
Citation Indexes for Science Eugene Garfield Science, Vol. 122, No. 3159. (Jul. 15, 1955), pp. 108-111.

20 April
HistComp: Index of HistCite Evaluations

18 June
Baird, Davis
Thing knowledge : a philosophy of scientific instruments
Berkeley : University of California Press, c2004
Q185 .B24 2004