Kuhn, Popper, and the Superconducting Supercollider

The demise of the Superconducting Supercollider is often explained in terms of the strain that it placed on the federal budget of the United States, and change in national security interests with the end of the Cold War. Recent work by Steve Fuller provides a framework to re-examine this episode in epistemological terms using the work of Kuhn and Popper. Using this framework, it is tempting to explain the demise as resulting from the overly Kuhnian character of its proponents, who supposedly argued for its construction by appealing to the importance of testing the predictions of a specific paradigm . On this reading, the SSC case appears as an example of how Kuhn’s paradigm-driven view of science was invoked to keep science closed and autonomous from society. I argue that the SSC episode should not be viewed as giving support to the displacement of Kuhn’s view of science for Popper’s, and that such a displacement is detrimental to the project of integrating discussion on science into the public sphere. Drawing upon Rouse and Wimsatt, I argue that understanding paradigms as practices blunts some criticisms against Kuhn’s model, and that his model should play an important epistemological role in the aforementioned project.Keywords: Thomas S. Kuhn; Karl Popper; Steve Fuller; Big Science; Superconducting Supercollider
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsa.2009.06.004
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