Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Exemplar, in the sense of Thomas Kuhn, is a well known usage of a scientific theory. According to Kuhn, scientific evolution alternates between normal science and revolutions. During normalcy, scientists tend to agree in a large body of knowledge and methods. Normal science presents a series of puzzles that are solved as scientists explore their field. The solution to some of these puzzles become well known and are the exemplars of the field.
Kuhn introduced the concept of exemplar in a postscript to the second edition of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. He notes that
- "[b]ecause the term [paradigm] has assumed a life of its own ... I shall here substitute ‘exemplars.’ By it I mean, initially, the concrete problem-solutions that student encounter from the start of their scientific education, whether in laboratories, on examinations, or at the ends of chapters in science texts. ... All physicists, for example, begin by learning the same exemplars: problems such as the inclined plane, the conical pendulum, and Keplerian orbits; instruments such as the vernier, the calorimeter, and the Wheatstone bridge."
Those who study a scientific discipline are expected to know its exemplars. There is no fixed set of exemplars, but for a physicist it certainly includes the harmonic oscillator from mechanics, and the hydrogen atom from quantum mechanics. For a biologist the set includes the population variations of the European pepper moth (Biston betularia), and the convergent evolution of wings.
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