2007 Science Spring Showdown: Kuhn vs. Theory coverage!


Janet: Welcome to team coverage of the much anticipated Chair Bracket match between Kuhn and Theory!

Ben: Yes, I think we can agree on our assumptions that this will be quite a battle.

Janet: I certainly hope so, Ben. Otherwise, we're going to spend the whole game talking past each other!

Ben: Before the gladiators take the field, let's take a quick look at how they got here. In first round play, Kuhn surprised the crowd by trouncing Popper, while Theory squeaked by Experiment by a single point.

Janet: The second round saw another trouncing at the hands of Kuhn. This time, Determinism went down, whimpering.

Ben: Just like we knew they would.

Janet: And, Theory narrowly defeated Pluto, a team the fans in my household were rooting for.

Ben: So you're pulling for Kuhn here?

Janet: Hey, I'm just giving color commentary on the game. But, there may be some youngish fans in the stands talking smack about Theory.

The Jumbotron screen flashes to a section of the stands filled with little kids holding brightly colored hand-drawn signs that read "WE HATE THEORY!"

Ben: I've never seen a crowd look so cute and so ugly at the same time. OK, who do you see taking this one?

Janet: It's hard to know, Ben. Which Kuhn are we going to see on the court tonight? Will it be the Kuhn of Structure of Scientific Revolutions? The Kuhn of the Postscripts to Structure? The Kuhn who seemed to spend the rest of his career jumping up and down saying, "Hey, that's not what I meant!"?

The Jumbotron screen flashes on Steve Fuller settling into a courtside seat.

Ben: Oh man, there's one of Kuhn's biographers, Steve Fuller. This probably doesn't bode well for Kuhn's chances to woo the rest of the crowd.

Janet: What sense of "woo" did you have in mind there, Ben? Seriously, there's Kuhn and then there are his fans. Frankly, some of the social constructivists in his cheering section may be calling for plays that Kuhn has no intention of making on the court.

Ben: So, you think the game is going to turn on what Kuhn brings tonight. But can we count on seeing Theory's A-game?

Janet: If only it were that easy to call. Don't forget this is the team whose play this season has been described as "wildly varying and inconsistent".

Ben: In other words, you're not making any predictions?

Janet: Nope. However, I'm prepared to explain what happened after the fact.

Ben: Well, maybe that will do, 'cause here we go! Theory's off to a strong start, while the Kuhn squad seems to be taking some time to get organized on the court. It's like they haven't quite agreed on a strategy yet and their strongest players are fighting it out for the ball rather than working together.

Janet: Ah, but they seem to be looking hard at Theory, aaaand -- there it is! The Kuhn squad enters its "Normal Science" play!

Ben: Yes, they're starting to coordinate their moves. They're hitting the boards like the consumate puzzle-solvers we knew they could be ... at least early in the game. Then again, Kuhn seems not to be making any difference at all to the Theory squad. They're focused on the entities and the laws of nature they set out in the locker room, and they're making sense of all the plays on the court.

Janet: Theory is doing well, but do you see what Kuhn's trying to do there?

Ben: Yup, the Kuhn squad is trying to use the Theory playbook as a paradigm. It's a smooth move, but will this strategy succeed?

Janet: I don't know, Ben. Kuhn's been known to get kind of sloppy when using paradigm.

The Jumbotron screen zooms in on Margaret Masterman gesturing with an oversized foam hand with at least 20 fingers. Emblazoned on the foam hand is the slogan "WHICH SENSE OF PARADIGM DO YOU MEAN, KUHN?"

Ben: Well, Theory is racking up quite a score so far. But, am I imagining it, or is theory starting to slow down on the rebounds?

Janet: No, I think you're right, Ben. Theory's been moving the ball and trying to describe all the data from the court, but it doesn't look like Theory came to the game today with a plan for how to change things up once Theory hits a wall.

Ben: Plus, Theory seems to have been counting on its ability to just read the data off the events on the court. The Theory squad didn't count on their effect on how the data even look. Right now, they're looking at that data through eyes clouded with sweat and, dare I say it, tears.

Janet: Well, Kuhn seems to have anticipated this crisis on the court. Kuhn's defensive players have snapped into action trying to modify Theory's moves enough to score some more points with them. Meanwhile, Kuhn's offensive players are trying to come up with some totally new moves to get the ball to the basket.

Ben: There's palpable excitement in the stands, but I have to say, the play on the court is looking pretty chaotic at this point. Even the referrees are scratching their heads, trying to figure out whether they should be calling any fouls.

Janet: I think we're seeing some moves that the rule books just don't cover, Ben. We're at a pivotal point in the game. Theory just didn't anticipate this kind of crisis when it took the court today.

Ben: Kuhn sure saw it coming. The question is, does Kuhn have any control over how the crisis will be resolved?

Janet: Word from the Kuhn coaching staff at this point is that the resolution isn't determined. Naturally, the coaches hope Kuhn will win this one, but the outcome is going to turn on a whole mess of subjective factors.

Ben: Is Theory going to be able to come out of this crisis by harnessing some of its momentum from the beginning of the game, or is Theory going to have to start from scratch? Can the Kuhn team come out of the crisis with an objective improvement in puzzle solving power?

Janet: The Kuhn coaching staff likes to promise that kind of strong puzzle-solving improvement in their post-crisis play, but honestly, Ben, there's no part of what they've shown us on the court that delivers what they're promising.

Ben: So it's going to come down to the energy the two teams get from the crowds?

Janet: Hard to know, Ben, but it could be the deciding factor.

The Jumbotron screen zooms in on a section of the stands packed with physicists emptying cans of Silly String into the air. The picture dissolves to a close-up of Marcus Ross in a Kuhn championship T-shirt. Another dissolve brings a close-up of Sir Karl Popper, on his feet near his courtside seat cheering for Theory.

Ben: Oh Popper, how did you get a courtside seat by Nicholson? Stop booing Kuhn! It's just undignified!

Janet: It may be undignified, but it seems to be boosting Theory on the court. Look at them go!

Ben: You gotta feel for Kuhn's fans here -- if it wasn't for Theory, would Kuhn even be in this tournament? Kuhn owes a huge debt to Theory, for the training, and the feedback, and the historical examples. There's pretty much no Kuhn without Theory -- like the student and the master.

Janet: Yeah, well now we're seeing the master administer a serious beat-down to the student. The crisis has been resolved, but it's not a revolution that's putting Kuhn on top here. Theory is rallying and shooting like Kuhn's not even on the same court!

Ben: Talk about a defense that's absolutely incomensurable with the offense Theory is dishing out! And there it is! The final buzzer has sounded and the crowd is exploding as Theory beats Kuhn 111 to 89!

Janet: What a game! This means Theory will go on to play Darwin as we move on to the Elite Eight in the 2007 Science Spring Showdown.

Ben: That'll be a hot ticket!

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I probably shouldn't say this, but I don't see how Kuhn got out of the first round. Having read his play book when it first came out, he was playing fast and loose then (I was glad to see Masterman in the crowd), and as the commentator noted, played a retreating game for the next two decades.

Theory is so going to trounce Darwin. After all, Fisher is on the Theory team, as is Sewall Wright, and Darwin just doesn't have the math skills to beat them in an open fight. Besides, they both rather like Darwin's approach to the game, and think they are the best exponent of that strategy.

Just a question for us without TVs: did the Theory team completely change its lineup during the break, retiring the standard old players to the bench and sending all the Young Turks onto the court?

Theory must make sure to distinguish itself from model and hypothesis. Otherwise, Darwin wins in a landslide.

RBH: Kuhn was doing his best to treat a nebulous subject with rigor; I have never seen sociology done better*. That's not to say that I disagree with you (particularly about the "retreating game"!), but I think this was an unfair matchup: Theory has a backbench a mile wide, but Kuhn is one lone voice crying "it just ain't so!" in a forest that insists that Science Is Always And Completely Rational.

*This, it must be added, is faint praise since I know jack about sociology.

So it is your theory that Theory won? I am looking here for a group of hypotheses that make claims about Theory and Kuhn and a contest between them. (And maybe it would be best if the hypotheses were actually tested.)

... anyway, I say that Lakatos would have swept the floor with Theory, but I guess we will never get to find out the answer to that one.