RE: socially selected memes

Gatherer, D. (
Wed, 28 Jul 1999 09:26:43 +0200

Date: Wed, 28 Jul 1999 09:26:43 +0200
From: "Gatherer, D. (Derek)" <>
Subject: RE: socially selected memes
To: "''" <>

By constrast the transmission of scientific meme is largely dependant on
non social factors. While peer review and other socially related factors
are certainly factors in acceptance of a scientific meme, just as important
is the ability of the meme to explain observable phenomena.
Are there any texts out there that have addressed this specific set of
contrasts? I would be interested in finding out what others have had to


There are loads of things about this, from Karl Popper's 'The Logic of
Scientific Discovery' and 'Objective Knowledge: an Evolutionary Approach',
to Thomas Kuhn's 'The Structure of Scientific Revolutions' and Paul
Feyerabend's 'Against Method', and a whole school of sociology of science
based at the University of Edinburgh (and unfortunately mostly buried in
sociology journals)

The main contrast between the above is that Popper would claim that the
ability of an idea to explain observable phenomena is the most important
factor in the long run, whereas Kuhn and Feyerabend are sceptical about this
and draw attention to the non-scientific factors involved. This also makes
them pessimists with regard to scientific 'progress'.

In Popper's work the evolutionary strand is explicit, and in Feyerabend's a
bit more implicit - but Feyerabend's quasi-ecological picture of science as
a sort of jungle ecology of competing ideas is very persuasive. Feyerabend
is also very readable (unlike the other two), and I suspect that his
argument is not really as good as he presents it. (He studied with Brecht
and the physics iconoclast/charlatan Felix Ehrenhaft, so I suppose he know
before McLuhan did that the medium is the message). His forays into Greek
pottery, Renaissance politics, and the technicalities of handmade telescopes
are a joy to read - but is it a hoodwink?????

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