Like anybody actively teaching STS, I imagine that you too reach back to teach a little of Thomas Kuhn‘s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Well, among the many other lessons about “normal science” relevant to students (periods of shared vision regarding what constitutes a “legitimate” scientific question, general consensus about “proper” methodological techniques, etc), how “anomalies” mount under the conditions of normal science until eventually scientists come to the realization that these “errors” or “unaccounted for findings” were a kind of data in themselves, and then, of course, all the insights about how entrenched scientists protect their privileged positions as purveyors of truth as more recently trained scientists make new, unorthodox, or counter-intuitive claims (in search of achieving their own legitimacy and recognition.
I have two examples to use in the classroom: one that I’ve used for years, and another I only learned about today (thanks Alexander Stingl).
So, there is obviously a lot to Kuhn, but I like to focus on a couple of points for students, mainly, the relationship between normal science and how truth operates. In particular, I find that student glom-onto lessons about scientific discoveries that were made that were essentially unintelligible to scientists operating within a shared paradigm of normal science. Put another way, when a scientist finds something other scientists did not bother to even look for (usually because it is so obvious, taken-for-granted, or something like that).
An example I use in class a lot is deep water hydrothermal vents or “smokers” (students oddly love that nickname).
At any rate, life like this at the bottom of the ocean was thought unreasonable given that life required light, at least, that was the dominant thinking in the previous paradigm. Now, there are excellent videos (for example, here) showing these vents and even some talk a bit about the history of the findings (for example, this short National Geographic special, and, if memory serves, there is even some commentary in The Blue Earth that tackles these issues too — that may even be where I heard of them first).
There is another case I found out about today that is similar to this and I think students will like it: “How a Guy From a Montana Trailer Park Overturned 150 Years of Biology.“ It is a story about this: “Biology textbooks tell us that lichens are alliances between two organisms—a fungus and an alga. They are wrong.”
Toby Spribille, against some troubling odds, became a scientists and challenged a paradigm of thinking thought almost unquestionable for 150 years, which is that lichens are really not a single living organism and instead lichen are a symbiotic relationship between a fungus (supplies water and nutrients) and algae (transforming the sun’s rays into energy) — in fact, lichens are sometimes noted to be the origin of the concept of symbiosis in the first place! (this makes the case even cooler, of course) What Spribille finds, of course, disconfirms that two organism paradigm, but nicely re-confirms the symbiosis hypothesis as Spribille demonstrates that three organisms constitute lichen, which, true to form, co-exists in a symbiotic relationship.
There is even a nice closing remark about how Spribille may be credited with the discovery, but he did not make the discovery alone (a great commentary about credit in science, the reality of group work in laboratories, etc.): “But he didn’t work alone, Watkinson notes. His discovery wouldn’t have been possible without the entire team, who combined their individual expertise in natural history, genomics, microscopy, and more. That’s a theme that resonates throughout the history of symbiosis research—it takes an alliance of researchers to uncover nature’s most intimate partnerships.”