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How Scientific Progress Occurs: Incrementalism and the Life Sciences

Subject Area(s):  General Interest Titles

By Elof Axel Carlson, Professor Emeritus, State University of New York at Stony Brook; Visiting Scholar, Institute for Advanced Study, Indiana University

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Paradigm Shifts, Incrementalism, or Both?

Due June 2018 • 209 pages, illustrated (10 color and 46 B&W), index
Hardcover • $57 45.60
ISBN  978-1-621822-97-4
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  •     Description    
  •     Contents    


In this provocative work, the historian Elof Carlson explores how new fields of the life sciences emerge. Some scientists describe new theories, experiments, discoveries, or the use of new technology as paradigm shifts. Others call them scientific revolutions. The idea of paradigm shifts was introduced in 1962 by Thomas Kuhn, using as an example the emergence of the Copernican view that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the known universe. Carlson, however, argues by contrast the history of the life sciences is not an unbroken sequence of paradigm shifts but instead rather messy, with lots of contending ideas. What scientists believe to be true is not arrived at by consensus but by the weight of experiments and their results. Most of the time new tools lead to new theories, a process Carlson calls “incrementalism”, an evolving human enterprise that depends on new technologies for generating new data and scientific progress.


1 Paradigm Shifts, Incrementalism, or Both?
2 The Cell: From Empty Boxes to Coordinated Organelles
3 The Theory of the Gene: From Abstract Point to Nucleotide Sequence
4 Mutation: From Fluctuating Variations to Base Alterations
5 The Life Cycle: From Spontaneous Origin to Simple and Complex Stages
6 The Molecular Basis of Life: From Vitalism to Organic Molecules to Macromolecules
7 Sex Determination: From Wild Guesses to Reproductive Biology
8 Genotype and Phenotype Relations: From Variations to Genetic Modifiers to Epigenetics
9 Microbial Life: From Invisible Spores to Germs and Prokaryotic Organisms
10 Embryology: From Philosophic Forms to Epigenetic Organogenesis
11 Cell Organelles: From Cell Theory to Cell Biology
12 Evolution: From Guesswork to Natural Selection to Molecular Phylogeny
13 How Does Science Usually Work?
1 There Is More to Scientific Revolutions Than Paradigm Shifts and Incrementalism
2 An Incrementalist Timeline of the Cell Theory
Figure Credits