, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 147–167 | Cite as

A cybernetic theory of physical science professions: The causes of periodic normal and revolutionary science between 1000 and 1870AD

  • J. C. Sheldon


The changing levels of activities in a physical science profession are modelled as a network of relations between different career stages. This cybernetic theory predicts that the dominance of elites undergoes 300 year cycles of sharp alternations whereas the challenge of embryonic elites fluctuates in 100 year cycles. These results seem confirmed by a survey of chemical histories: the birthrate of outstanding chemists oscillates in 300 year cycles and of lesser chemists in 100 year cycles, both with the waveprofile specified by the model. These fluctuations seem to correspond toKuhn's periods of revolutionary and normal science.


Change Level Physical Science Normal Science Career Stage Science Profession 
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Notes and references

  1. 1.
    T. S. KUHN,The Strucutre of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd ed., Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1970.Google Scholar
  2. 8.
    The corpus of general histories and collected biographies is listed in order of publication date: F. HOEFER,Histoire de la Chimie, 2nd ed., Paris, Didot, 1866/9. H. KOPP,Die Entwickelung der Chemie in der neueren Zeit, Munich, Oldenburg, 1873. E. von MEYER (trans. by G. M'GOWAN),A History of Chemistry, London, Macmillan, 1891. W. A. TILDEN,The Progress of Scientific Chemistry in Our Own Time, 2nd ed., London, Longmans Green, 1913. W. OSTWALD (trans. by M., DUFOUR),L'Evolution d'une Science-La Chimie, 2nd French ed., Paris, Flammarion, 1919. I. MASSON,Three Centuries of Chemistry, London, Benn, 1925. E. THORPE,History of Chemistry, London, Watts, 1930. E. J. HOLMYARD,Makers of Chemistry, London, Oxford University Press, 1931. T. M. LOWRY,Historical Introduction to Chemistry, 3rd ed., London, Macmillan, 1936. A. FINDLAY,A Hundred Years of Chemistry, London, Duckworth, 1937. S. J. FRENCH,The Drama of Chemistry, New York, The University Society, 1937. F. J. MOORE,A History of Chemistry, 3rd ed., New York, McGraw-Hill, 1939. A. J. BERRY,Modern Chemistry, London, Cambridge University Press, 1946. H. M. SMITH,Torchbearers of Chemistry, New York, Academic Press, 1949. J. R. PARTINGTON,A Short History of Chemistry, 2nd ed., London, Macmillan, 1951. H. M. LEICESTER, H. S. KLICKSTEIN,A Source Book in Chemistry 1400–1900, New York, McGraw-Hill, 1952. A. J. BERRY,From Classical to Modern Chemistry, London, Cambridge University Press, 1954. H. M. LEICESTER,The Historical Background to Chemistry, New York, Wiley, 1956. E. FABER,Great Chemists, New York, Interscience, 1961. J. R. PARTINGTON,A History of Chemistry, Vols 2–4, London, Macmillan, 1961/4. A. J. IHDE,The Development of Modern Chemistry, New York, Harper and Row, 1964. R. P. MULTHAUF,The Origins of Chemistry, London, Oldbourne, 1966. H. M. LEICESTER,A Source Book in Chemistry 1900–1950, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1968. E. FABER,The Evolution of Chemistry, New York, Ronald Press, 1969. C. A. RUSSEL,History of Valency, Leicester, Leicester University Press, 1971. I. ASIMOV,A Short History of Chemistry, London, Heinemann, 1972. This bibliography lists 26 separate works all by different and single authors or editors save for one work by a pair of editors, four writers contributing two works each and one (with coeditorship) contributing three. Most of these multiple contributions are not duplications in the corpus. For example, H. M. LEICESTER'S twoSource Books (one with H. S. KLICKSTEIN) cover mutually exclusive periods, and so are regarded as a single item in the corpus (reducing by 1 the maximum count any historical chemist could receive) and these two books in turn differ greatly from LEICESTER'SHistorical Background of Chemsitry. Similarly E. FABER'S collected biographies inGreat Chemists are a separate kind of historical review from his historyThe Evolution of Chemistry. Furthermore J. R. PARTINGTON'S two histories were taken as separate contributions to the corpus by virtue of one being monumental (History of Chemistry yielded nearly a third of the total 14 000 references to men in the whole corpus) and the other so concise (419 men) thatA Short History of Chemistry was in effect PARTINGTON'S own selection of outstanding chemists and as such was a valuable opinion to be retained in the attempt to identify them. On the other hand A. J. BERRY'S two works in part entitledModern Chemistry have the character of being two volumes in a developing historical account and as such are best regarded as another single item in the corpus. Thus the 26 separate works become 24 independent sources of reference and it happens the maximum count gained by any chemist was 24. Note: the names of chemists in SMITH'STorchbearers of Chemistry were taken from the table of listed contents only and similarly in FABER'SGreat Chemists; the names of chemists in LEICESTER'SSource Book in Chemistry 1900–1950 were taken only from listed subjects in the bibliography of biographies.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    The corpus of 27 independent general science biographical dictionaries and histories in order of publication date was: I. C. POGGENDORF,Biographisch-Literatisches Handworterbuch zur Geschichte der Exacten Wissenschaften, Vols 1 and 2, Leipzig, Johann Ambrosius Barth, 1863. W. T. SEDGWICK, H. W. TYLER,A Short History of Science, New York, Macmillan, 1918. A. BORDEAUX,Histoire de Sciences Physiques, Chimiques et Geologiques au XIX Siecle, Paris, Libraire Polytechnique, 1920. L. L. WOODRUFF,The Development of the Sciences, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1923. R. J. HARVEY-GIBSON, A.W. TITHERLEY,Two Thousand Years of Science, 2nd ed., London, Black, 1931. P. ROUSSEAU,Histoire de la Science, Paris, Libraire Artheme Fayard, 1945. W. C. DAMPIER,A History of Science, 4th ed., London, Cambridge University Press, 1948. W. P. D. WIGHTMAN,The Growth of Scientific Ideas, Edinburgh, Oliver and Boyd, 1950. A. V. HOWARD,Chambers Dictionary of Scientists, London, Chambers, 1951. A. R. HALL,The Scientific Revolution 1500–1800, London, Longmans Green, 1954. C. SINGER,Short History of Scientific Ideas to 1900, Oxford, Clarendon, 1959. A. C. CROMBIE,Augustine to Galileo, London, Mercury Books, 1961. E. J. DIJKSTERHUIS (trans. by C. DIKSHOORN),The Mechanization of the World Picture, Oxford, Clarendon, 1961. N. O. IRELAND,Index to Scientists of the World from Ancient to Modern Times, Boston, F. W. Faxon, 1962. W. B. SILL, N. HOSS,The New Popular Science Encyclopedia of the Sciences, New York, Popular Science Publishing, 1963. R. TATON (trans. by A. J. POMERANS),A General History of the Sciences, Vols 1–4, London, Thames and Hudson, 1963. A. W. BETTEX,The Discovery of Nature, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1965. J. R. NEWMAN,The International Encyclopedia of Science, London, Nelson, 1965. H. T. PLEDGE,Science Since 1500, 2nd ed., London, H.M.S.O., 1966. J. D. BERNAL,Science in History, 4th ed., London, Watts, 1969. T. I. WILLIAMS,Biographical Dictionary of Science, London, Black, 1969. C. C. GILLESPIE,Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Vols 1–14, New York, Scribner, 1970–76. D. STEELE,History of Scientific Ideas, London, Hutchinson Educational, 1970. M. WHITROW,ISIS Cumulative Bibliography 1913–65—Personalities and Institutions, London, Mansell Information Publishing, 1971. I. ASIMOV,Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, 2nd ed., Garden City, Doubleday, 1972. A. KOYRE,Etudes d'Historie de la Pensee Scientific Paris, Gallimard, 1973. O. PEDERSON, M. PIHL,Early Physics and Astronomy, New York, Elsevier, 1974.Google Scholar
  4. 11.
    D. de SOLLA PRICE, private communication of paper read at The Intern. Symp. on Quantitative Methods in the History of Science, Berkeley, 1976.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Akadéemiai Kiadó 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. C. Sheldon
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Physical and Inorganic ChemistryUniversity of AdelaideAdelaide

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