A Web of Controversies: Complexity in the Burgess Shale Debate

Abstract

Using the Burgess Shale controversies as a case-study, this paper argues that controversies within different domains may interact as to create a situation of “com- plicated intricacies,” where the practicing scientist has to navigate through a context of multiple thought collectives. To some extent each of these collectives has its own dynamic complete with fairly negotiated standards for investigation and explanation, theoretical background assumptions and certain peculiarities of practice. But the intellectual development in one of these collectives may “spill over” having far reaching consequences for the treatment of apparently independent epistemic problems that are subject of investigation in other thought collectives. For the practicing scientist it is necessary to take this complex web of interactions into account in order to be able to navigate in such a situation. So far most studies of academic science have had a tendency to treat the practicing scientist as members of a single (enclosed) thought collective that stands intellectually isolated from other similar entities unless the discipline was in a state of crisis of paradigmatic proportions. The richness and complexity of Burgess Shale debate shows that this encapsulated kind of analysis is not enough.

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Baron, C. A Web of Controversies: Complexity in the Burgess Shale Debate. J Hist Biol 44, 745–780 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10739-010-9248-2

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Keywords

  • contingency
  • evolution
  • fossils
  • arthropods
  • paleontology
  • Burgess Shale
  • controversy interaction
  • weird wonders