Frames of Meaning: The Social Construction of Extraordinary Science ( London: Routledge, 1982) is the most peculiar book about the sociology of knowledge to come along since Paul Feyerabend Science in a Free Society. The authors, H. M. Collins and T. J. Pinch, are sociologists at the University of Bath. Pinch, who was trained as a physicist, is mainly responsible for the book's excellent chapter about rival interpretations of quantum mechanics and the possibility that quantum laws underlie psi phenomena. Collins was in the news in 1975 when he and Brian Pamplin, a physicist, conducted an experiment with British children who pretended they could bend cutlery by PK (psychokinesis). Watching through a secret one-way mirror, Collins and Pamplin were amazed by how crudely the children cheated.
The authors view themselves as radical Kuhnians. Although Thomas Kuhn has made clear that in his famous book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions he did not mean to deny that science is a rational enterprise, Collins and Pinch prefer to believe what they thought Kuhn originally intended. Their approach is a relativism as extreme as Feyerabend's. No methods exist for the overall evaluation of competing scientific theories. Such theories are like disparate cultures--incommensurable ways of seeing reality. As the authors put it, "Rationality is discontinuous across cultures, and across time."
Instead of orderly progression toward better pragmatic truth, the history of science, in their view, exhibits a perpetual shifting of equally admirable paradigms. Although one can only guess what new paradigms will dominate future science, sociologists may profitably investigate how the culture of science operates while undergoing a revolutionary paradigm shift. Indeed, the authors claim that their book is the first attempt at just such an empirical study.
In choosing their potential paradigm, the authors agreed that it must be one in radical conflict with orthodoxy, as well as a challenge originating____________________