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In an article in the Guardian about how ideas in nutrition science have advanced and have influenced dietary advice to the public, the authors quote Max Planck as having said, famously:

“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

They argue that the way nutritional advice to the public has been derived demonstrates the truth of this. But they also argue that there is evidence from analysis of scientific publications after the unexpected deaths of leading researchers supports the idea in a number of fields. The central idea seems to be that powerful people promote ideas compatible with their own and inhibit the publication of ideas that disagree with their ideas.

This is a fruitful topic for philosophical debate about how science advances. But the Guardian article references a scientific paper that claims to be able to show the effect with statistical evidence based on how publications in particular fields change when a leading expert dies unexpectedly. This means the idea is, in principle, addressable with statistical evidence not just philosophising.

So, is there statistical evidence that supports Max Planck's idea that strong and influential scientists inhibit innovation in their fields and that their deaths make their fields more open to new ideas?

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    Well Planck is dead, and people still seem to agree with him, so.... :)
    – Benjol
    Apr 8 '16 at 13:48
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    @Oddthinking The quote is much older than that (being from Max Planck). The question, raised in the article, is whether there is any objective evidence that addresses it. Maybe the referenced paper does that, maybe there is other evidence. I'd like to see whether the paper or any other evidence supports Planck's idea. Addressing the credibility of the paper is part of an answer to that.
    – matt_black
    Apr 8 '16 at 16:33
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    I believe this is a feature of Thomas Kuhn's argument in "The Structure of Scientific Revolution". Kuhn argues that history shows science advancing through three periods : Normal Science, Crisis, and Revolution. The status-quo is maintained during the period of crisis until the supporters of the discredited theory have all died or retired. He gives many examples.
    – user22684
    Apr 8 '16 at 16:47
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    @DikranMarsupial I agree that the problem is that scientists are people. But the question is to what extent does that affect the speed of progress in some areas of science. That is, apparently, empirically testable from publication data. I'm not sure that it isn't a big issue in practice (as the debate in nutritional advice suggests) but I'm open to evidence.
    – matt_black
    Apr 8 '16 at 19:26
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    @jamesqf It isn't a theory that says all science is held back, just some. Evolution is a bad example as it was widely believed pre-darwin (from some ancient greeks to Darwin's own grandfather). Darwin gave a reasonable mechanism which moved the debate forward. But plate tectonics, for example, was proposed 50 years before the geological community took it seriously which suggests a sometimes might be the answer.
    – matt_black
    Apr 8 '16 at 19:29

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