A Kuhnian crisis in neo-Darwinism

  • Mark F. Earthey

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Policy issues which receive large inputs of scientific and technical information are frequently marred by acrimonious controversies between contributing experts. There are few if any examples of a public policy decision being based on a firm consensus of scientific and technical experts. Such a consensus is taken for granted by the `Rational' model of decision making and its derivatives. Comparing the dynamics of conflict in policy-relevant issues with those of conflict in `pure' science, one is struck by their great similarity. In both cases we witness examples of rhetorical statements about incompetence, conflicting interpretations of data, and interdisciplinary communication problems. Noting this similarity, this thesis attempts to answer the question, `Is there a similarity of cause: do the same causes lie at the roots of conflict in policy-relevant and policy-irrelevant science?' In answering this question this thesis examines recent controversies in a generally policy-irrelevant science - evolutionary biology. Three episodes of conflict are studied: the `Neutral Allele Theory', `Punctuated Equilibrium', and `Structuralist versus Functionalist approaches to evolution'. These controversies are analysed in terms of both Kuhn's account of scientific `crises' and Collingridge and Reeve's (1986) `Overcritical Model'. Comparing its findings with those of Collingridge and Reeve, this thesis concludes that, (a) there is a Kuhnian crisis in contemporary evolution theory and, (b) that common causes do lie at the roots of conflict in policy-relevant and policy-irrelevant science. Science has an inherent tendency to degenerate into acrimonious conflict but at the same time has mechanisms which eventually resolve such conflicts. Unfortunately, when science is incorporated into the policy arena these mechanisms are prevented from operating. This thesis reinforces Collingridge and Reeve's conclusion that science is of little use to policy.
Date of Award1987
Original languageEnglish


  • Kuhnian crisis
  • neo-Darwinism

Cite this