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What is scientonomy? How should it be defined?

As any empirical field of inquiry, scientonomy requires a proper definition of what it is and what it attempts to accomplish as a discipline. How is the field of scientonomy distinct from other fields attempting to shed light on science and human rationality, such as the philosophy of science, the history of science, the sociology of science, and cognitive science?

In the scientonomic context, this term was first used by Nicholas Overgaard, Hakob Barseghyan, Gregory Rupik and Paul Patton in 2016. The term is currently accepted by Scientonomy community.

In Scientonomy, the accepted definition of the term is:

  • A descriptive discipline that attempts to uncover the actual general mechanism of scientific change.

Broader History

To our knowledge, the usage of the term scientonomy as denoting a science of science was first advocated by historian of science Scott Weingart, who is, at the time of this writing, a digital humanities specialist at Carnegie Mellon University. The term has also previously been coined as part of a parody of the Church of Scientology, with a very different intent and definition. We are aware of no other previous uses of the term scientonomy. Although the name had not yet been adopted, the characteristics of this new field are clearly outlined in the first section of The Laws of Scientific Change, 1pp. 3-123 which deals with metatheoretical issues. These include the scope, possibility, and assessment of any theory of scientific change.

Scientonomy seeks to join a number of other disciplines that have dealt with the processes of scientific knowledge creation and change from a variety of perspectives.

Philosophy of Science

Philosophy of science deals with a variety of epistemological, metaphysical, and ethical questions arising from scientific inquiry.2 These include both the normative question of how one arrives at reliable scientific knowledge and the descriptive question of how scientists have done so. Philosophical works on the question of how one acquires scientific knowledge date at least to the works of Aristotle (384-322 BCE).

As a distinct modern academic discipline, philosophy of science had its origin with the Vienna Circle in the early twentieth century.32 The Vienna Circle was a group of European philosophers and scientists who met at the University of Vienna during academic terms from 1924 to 1936. It was organized by philosopher and physicist Moritz Schlick, and included the philosopher and logician Rudolf Carnap, the philosopher and sociologist Otto Neurath, and many others.4 Several members were involved in the founding of The Philosophy of Science Association in 1933. The association’s journal, ‘Philosophy of Science’ published its first issue in January 1934.5 The Vienna Circle sought to reconstruct empiricism based on new developments in mathematics, logic, and physics; especially Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. It became the birthplace of logical empiricism.63 The members of the circle saw themselves as champions of enlightenment, reason, and democracy in a time of metaphysical philosophy, mysticism, romanticism, and nationalism that preceded the rise of Adolf Hitler to power in Germany. They saw scientific rationality as a potent force for progressive social change.73

Logical empiricism was a loosely unified movement rather than a specific body of ideas, but a common thread of thought can nonetheless be identified. The circle sought to reject all metaphysical claims of an underlying 'hidden world' in favor of knowledge grounded in experience, and relationships specified by powerful new tools of formal logic. As Schlick put it, “what every scientist seeks, and seeks alone, are…the rules which govern the connection of experiences, and by which alone they can be predicted”.3p. 30 They made a distinction between two sorts of statements. The first were analytic statements that are necessarily true by convention and empty of factual content. All statements of the formal sciences; mathematics, and logic, are of this sort. The second were synthetic statements whose truth must be verifiable in experience, or from which verifiable statements could be deduced. All other statements, such as those of theology, were pseudo-statements devoid of meaning. They maintained that the diverse scientific disciplines could by unified by a common vocabulary.89 The logical empiricists believed it was possible to distinguish a context of discovery, having the do with the actual historical and psychological processes by which scientific ideas come about, and a context of justification, having to do with the logical structure of scientific claims, and how they can properly be defended and justified. They saw the interests of philosophers of science lying in the latter, ahistorical domain.63

The interests and goals of philosophers of science changed radically in the second half of the twentieth century because of a variety of serious problems with the bold project of logical empiricism. The proliferation of successful scientific theories involving unobservable entities like subatomic particles, molecules, and genes made the logical positivists rejection of the metaphysical notion that a hidden world underlies our experience increasingly untenable. Subsequent to the publication of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962, it became evident that the logic of science could not be understood independently of its history.3

History of Science

The field of history of science attempts to provide a descriptive account of how science has developed over time. Historical works about science have been written since ancient times.10 In modern times, the history of science was established as a distinct academic discipline in the early twentieth century with the founding of the History of Science Society in 1924. The society is the oldest and largest devoted to the discipline.11 It was founded by George Sarton, who also founded the field’s first journal, Isis. Sarton, trained as a chemist and mathematician, authored a three volume four thousand page history of science that covered every civilization from antiquity to the fourteenth century. Sarton defined science as the “totality of positive knowledge”, and maintained that “the history of science is the only history which can illustrate the progress of mankind. In fact, ‘progress’ has no definite and unquestionable meaning in other fields than the field of science”.12 Sarton’s ultimate goal was a philosophy of science that bridged the gap between the sciences and the humanities.

The idea that scientific development involved the continuous accumulation of positive knowledge was challenged by physicist and historian of science Thomas Kuhn in 1962 in his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.13 Inspired by his studies of the Copernican Revolution, and drawing primarily on examples from the physical sciences, Kuhn argued that scientific development involved revolutionary discontinuities. He spoke of scientific paradigms, which are the reigning scientific conceptual frameworks of non-revolutionary periods. Paradigms are constellations of theoretical beliefs, values, methods, and techniques shared by a scientific discipline. Normal, non-revolutionary science consists in solving problems and explaining new phenomena using the tools provided by the paradigm. A scientific revolution occurs when one paradigm is replaced by another. One groundbreaking aspect of Kuhn's work is that it greatly expanded the scope of what historians generally recognized as science. He argued that the Aristotelian framework that preceded modern science was recognizable as a reasonable scientific framework in terms of its times. Many philosophers of science, steeped in logical empiricism, found Kuhn's notion of the incommensurability of paradigms troubling. It seemed to call into question the rationality of theory choice. On the other hand, Kuhn's work tapped pre-existing philosophical interest in a more historicist and naturalistic view of scientific rationality.14 Post-Kuhnian debates led to the abandonment of the notion of a distinct context of discovery and context of justification. Social scientists saw it as grounds for positing influence by social and political factors external to science on its content. Particularist historical critics questioned the general applicability of Kuhn's ideas. Kuhn's large scale vision had limited influence on historians, who were generally moving towards more small-scale projects.1415

Early work in the history of science usually maintained an internalist focus on science itself, while post-Kuhnian work often seeks to place such work into context within the larger society. Historians of science are interested in the work of particular scientific practitioners, in the instruments and techniques they used to study nature, the ways they represented and communicated their work to others, the institutional arrangements they made to promote their research, and their ideas and arguments, as recorded in surviving manuscripts and papers.16 Historians of science have lacked a generally accepted guiding theoretical interpretive framework.

History and Philosophy of Science

As a joint discipline, history and philosophy of science seeks to create a historicised philosophy of science. The descriptive task of understanding scientific development and the normative task of prescribing reliable methods of seeking knowledge are often not distinguished. Academic programs in the history and philosophy of science were established at both Princeton University and Indiana University in 1960.17 The Indiana department was founded by Norwood Russell Hanson.18 Hanson’s book ‘Patterns of Discovery’, published in 1958 19, stressed the theory-ladenness of observation and the historical nature of scientific rationality in an exploration of modern particle physics.20 As a work in the history of science, Kuhn’s ‘Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ attracted considerable attention from philosophers, in part because some philosophers besides Hanson, including Stephen Toulmin, had been working on rather similar ideas.17 History and philosophy of science programs proliferated in the 1960's and 1970's, fueled in part, by interest in Kuhn's work and in part by the Cold War willingness of western governments to fund projects that promoted interest in science.21 Historicist views of scientific epistemology and rationality have subsequently been dominant. Imre Lakatos presented scientific development in terms of research programs that progressed when they made successful novel predictions, and degenerated when they failed to do so, and when core assumptions were adjusted in an arbitrary manner to avoid falsification.322 Empirical historical evidence led philosophers to reject the notion of a unitary scientific method that had remained fixed through history.23 Laudan’s reticulated model of scientific rationality posited during assessment of a theory, other theories, methods, and values all interact.24 Philosopher Ronald Giere dubbed the joining of history and philosophy of science a "marriage of convenience".25 Many question whether the two have formed a genuinely unified discipline because of the diverse interests and political commitments of those who study the development of science.26

Sociology of Scientific Knowledge

The field of sociology, the scientific study of human social structures, was founded by Robert Merton. In the 1940’s Merton began studying the sociology of scientific communities. However, his studies had little contact with epistemology or philosophy of science, except in the general sense of identifying the social conditions under which scientific inquiry is possible and fruitful. Merton assumed a view of scientific knowledge similar to that of the logical empiricists.3 The philosophers John Stuart Mill, Charles Sanders Peirce, and Karl Popper stressed the social dimension of scientific epistemology, but their view did not become the dominant one until after the publication of Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions.7 The ‘strong program’ of the sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK) began in the 1970’s at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, under the leadership of sociologist Barry Barnes and philosopher David Bloor. Proponents of SSK view knowledge as a collective social product, and seek a naturalistic account of its production. In effect, they seek to use the methods of social science to study science itself.327 A central principle of the ‘strong program’ is the symmetry principle, in which normative epistemological concerns are ‘screened out’ for the sake of illuminating social interactions and relationships involved in the production of knowledge. Its value is most evident when considering knowledge processes far removed from our own by time and culture, such as when understanding how western astronomy disentangled itself from astrology in seventeenth century Europe.26 Social constructivism has sometimes been criticized as an attempt to “explain away” science as nothing but social power structures.7 However, recent attempts to introduce cognitive science concepts into social epistemology hold much promise of naturalizing rationality, and thereby obviating such concerns.2829

Scientonomic History

The term scientonomy was adopted to denote an empirical descriptive science of science subsequent to the publication of The Laws of Scientific Change.1

Acceptance Record

Here is the complete acceptance record of this term (it includes all the instances when the term was accepted as a part of a community's taxonomy):
CommunityAccepted FromAcceptance IndicatorsStill AcceptedAccepted UntilRejection Indicators
Scientonomy1 January 2016This is when the community accepted its first definition of the term, Scientonomy (Barseghyan-2015), which indicates that the question is itself considered legitimate.Yes

All Theories

The following definitions of the term have been suggested:
TheoryFormulationFormulated In
Scientonomy (Barseghyan-2015)A descriptive discipline that attempts to uncover the actual general mechanism of scientific change.2015
If a definition of this term is missing, please click here to add it.

Accepted Theories

The following definitions of the term have been accepted:
CommunityTheoryAccepted FromAccepted Until
ScientonomyScientonomy (Barseghyan-2015)1 January 2016

Suggested Modifications

According to our records, there have been no suggested modifications on this term.

Current Definition

In Scientonomy, the accepted definition of the term is Scientonomy (Barseghyan-2015).

Scientonomy (Barseghyan-2015) states: "A descriptive discipline that attempts to uncover the actual general mechanism of scientific change."

Scientonomy is defined as an academic discipline that aims to describe and explain the process of scientific change. While still very much in the process of inception, it is conceived to have two major branches - theoretical scientonomy and observational scientonomy. Theoretical scientonomy attempts to shed light on the ontology and dynamics of the process of scientific change. Observational scientonomy attempts to trace and explain historical and contemporary instances of scientific change.

The Scope of Scientonomy

The field of scientonomy

The term scientonomy refers to the newly emerging science of science. If science is considered the systematic study of the natural universe, then the science of science is the systematic study of the social and cognitive processes involving knowledge production. Scientonomy approaches this study in a distinctive way. It is generally accepted nowadays that the body of theories accepted by epistemic agents - individual scientists or epistemic communities - and the methods employed by these agents to evaluate them change over time.1pp. 217-225 As the empirical scientific study of this process of scientific change, scientonomy aims at providing a new approach to developing a naturalistic account of how individuals and communities acquire knowledge. It differs from related fields of inquiry, such as history of science or the sociology of scientific knowledge, in that it maintains that the process of scientific change, despite its varied guises, exhibits certain general patterns. It attempts to study and document those patterns by giving them precise formulations. As in any other field of empirical science, the findings of scientonomy are inevitably fallible and are open to modification in the light of new evidence.

The basis for this newly emerging field is Barseghyan's theory of scientific change as propounded in his 2015 book, The Laws of Scientific Change.1 It builds on the ideas of Kuhn, Lakatos, Laudan, and others, all of which can be considered precursors of scientonomy. The field of scientonomy, given its distinctive concern for both general theory and the explanation of historical particulars is envisioned as having two branches. First, a theoretical branch attempts to uncover the ontology and the general mechanism of scientific change. Secondly, an observational branch attempts to trace and explain individual changes in the mosaics of various epistemic agents.1pp. 72-80

Theoretical scientonomy

Though highly relevant to the traditional field of philosophy of science, theoretical scientonomy differs from it in that, as a descriptive scientific field, it does not include the normative question of how science should be conducted so as to produce reliable knowledge. In the past, when a unitary and fixed scientific method was believed to exist, the descriptive question of how the process of scientific change actually works was often conflated with the normative question of how it should work if reliable knowledge is to be produced. Scientonomy seeks a clear distinction between the two, and claims only the former as its subject matter.1pp. 12-20 This restriction is motivated by the same concerns as Bloor's symmetry postulate in the sociology of scientific knowledge.26 Scientonomy's descriptive account, however, does include the descriptive study of normative propositions espoused by scientific practitioners such as those contained in their openly accepted norms such as scientific methods or ethical imperatives.30 Theoretical scientonomy concerns itself specifically with two major tasks:

  1. the formulation of a standard ontology of epistemic entities and relations involved in the process of scientific change; and
  2. the unearthing of the general patterns that underlie the process of scientific change.

The search for fixed general laws obviates the charge of incoherent relativism sometimes leveled at the sociology of scientific knowledge.31 By seeking such laws, scientonomy hopes to illuminate questions such as the nature of scientific rationality, and the naturalistic epistemological question of how knowledge has been acquired.

Observational scientonomy

Observational scientonomy is seen as differing from the current history of science discipline in significant ways. History of science currently lacks a guiding theory; specifically, the lack of a standardized ontology often results in incommensurable historical narratives. It also often focuses on the level of individual scientists, their work, and their social context, rather than on epistemic communities. By contrast, scientonomy aims at theory-driven investigations of both individual and communal epistemic agents. It seeks to confront its current theory of scientific change with evidence that may force its alteration, refinement, or replacement, and to apply it to an expanding range of particular cases, thereby enhancing our general understanding of the processes of scientific change.

Scientonomy vs. Particularism

Scientonomy and the lack of a universal scientific method

The approach of scientonomy contrasts with that of the particularism favored by some historians, social scientists, and philosophers. Particularism holds that the process of scientific change does not possess the sort of regularities that would render it amenable to any general theory. Its proponents typically make the tacit assumption that in order for a general mechanism of scientific change to exist, there must be a universal and unchanging method of science.1pp. xi-xvi, 81-97 Historical evidence now clearly indicates that the methods used by scientists to assess new theories have altered radically over time and between communities. For example, the Aristotelian-medieval method held that a scientific theory should be a set of axioms from which other propositions may be deduced. The axioms should be intuitive in the sense that any person with sufficient experience with the subject should be able to appreciate them.1pp. 143-144 Modern physicists would instead maintain that a theory must make novel predictions that are confirmed by observation and experiment.1p. 145 Scientonomy accepts the evidence that scientific methods have changed over time and differ between communities, but rejects the implication that this renders a theory of scientific change impossible. Instead, it supposes that changes in both theory and method obey a certain set of laws. It is these laws and not the methods of science, that scientonomy takes to be fixed.1pp. 82-8324pp. 33-41

Individual and communal

Individual scientists differ one from another in their goals, desires, and criteria for theory appraisal. This too might seem to be grounds for rejecting the possibility of a general theory of scientific change. But the decisions to accept new theories, or to employ new methods, are made collectively by scientific communities rather than by individuals acting alone. 32 Such communities have emergent properties and behaviors that cannot be understood solely in terms of the properties which their members possess separately. Scientonomy supposes that the general regularities it seeks are to be found at the level of whole scientific communities, rather than with the unruly particulars of the work of individual scientists. It thus focuses its investigations at that level.1pp. 43-52

The apparent lack of general features in science

The particularist claim that science appears, to superficial observation at least, to possess no general features that have remained fixed through history is not grounds for dismissing the possibility of a theory of scientific change. Theories often reveal that unexpected regularities underlie seemingly disparate phenomena. On the face of it, a point of light revolving in the heavens and a falling apple seem to have nothing whatsoever in common. Newton’s theory of Universal Gravitation asserted, however, that both are movements under the influence of a gravitational force. The theory was highly successful in accounting for both falling bodies and the movements of the planets using a small set of simple general principles. The similarities between the two classes of phenomena only became evident through the formulation of the theory. Success in theory formulation often depends on the ability to identify such unexpected connections.1p. 86



In Scientonomy, it is currently accepted that "There is such a thing as scientonomy."


In Scientonomy, there are currently no accepted subtypes of Scientonomy.


In Scientonomy, there are currently no accepted supertypes of Scientonomy.


In Scientonomy, there are currently no accepted associations of Scientonomy.


In Scientonomy, no classes are currently accepted as disjoint with Scientonomy.

If a question concerning the ontology of scientonomy is missing, please add it here.


If a question concerning the dynamics of scientonomy is missing, please add it here.

Related Topics

This term is also related to the following topic(s):


  1. a b c d e f g h i j k l  Barseghyan, Hakob. (2015) The Laws of Scientific Change. Springer.
  2. a b  Kitcher, Phillip. (2016) Philosophy of Science. In Encyclopedia Britannica (2016). Retrieved from
  3. a b c d e f g h i  Godfrey-Smith, Peter. (2003) Theory and Reality. University of Chicago Press.
  4. ^  Uebel, Thomas. (2016) Vienna Circle. In Zalta (Ed.) (2016). Retrieved from
  5. ^  Douglas, Heather. (2016) A History of the Philosophy of Science Association before 1970. Philosophy of Science Association website. Retrieved from
  6. a b  Creath, Richard. (2011) Logical Empricism. In Zalta (Ed.) (2016). Retrieved from
  7. a b c  Longino, Helen. (2015) The Social Dimensions of Scientific Knowledge. In Zalta (Ed.) (2016). Retrieved from
  8. ^  Cat, Jordi. (2014) Unity of Science. In Zalta (Ed.) (2016). Retrieved from
  9. ^  Hanfling, Oswald. (2004) Logical Positivism. In Shanker (Ed.) (2004), 193-213.
  10. ^  Zhmud, Leonid. (2006) The Origin of the History of Science in Classical Antiquity. Walter de Gruyter GmbH and Co..
  11. ^  History of Science Society. (2016) History of the Society. History of Science Society website. Retrieved from
  12. ^  Garfield, Eugene. (1985) The Life and Career of George Sarton: The Father of History of Science. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 40, 107-117.
  13. ^  Kuhn, Thomas. (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press.
  14. a b  Golinski, Jan. (2012) Thomas Kuhn and the Interdisciplinary Conversation: Why Historians and Philosophers of Science Quit Talking to One Another. In Mauskopf and Schmaltz (Eds.) (2012), 13-28.
  15. ^  Bird, Alexander. (2011) Thomas Kuhn. In Zalta (Ed.) (2016). Retrieved from
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  17. a b  Mauskopf, Seymour and Schmaltz, Tad. (2012) Introduction. In Mauskopf and Schmaltz (Eds.) (2012), 1-12.
  18. ^  Hickney, Thomas. (2016) Twentieth Century Philosophy of Science: A History. T. J. Hickney. Retrieved from
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  20. ^  Lund, Matthew. (2010) N. R. Hanson: Observation, Discovery, and Scientific Change. Humanity books.
  21. ^  Miller, David. (2012) The History and Philosophy of Science History. In Mauskopf and Schmaltz (Eds.) (2012), 29-48.
  22. ^  Lakatos, Imre. (1978) Philosophical Papers: Volume 1. The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes. Cambridge University Press.
  23. ^  Grobler, Adam. (1990) Between Rationalism and Relativism: On Larry Laudan's Model of Scientific Rationality. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 41 (4), 493-507.
  24. a b  Laudan, Larry. (1984) Science and Values. University of California Press.
  25. ^  Giere, Ronald. (2012) History and Philosophy of Science: Thirty Five Years Later. In Mauskopf and Schmaltz (Eds.) (2012), 59-66.
  26. a b c  Golinski, Jan. (1998) Making Natural Knowledge: Constructivism and the History of Science. Cambridge University Press.
  27. ^  Barnes, Barry; Bloor, David and Henry, John. (1996) Scientific Knowledge: A Sociological Analysis. University of Chicago Press.
  28. ^  Giere, Ronald and Moffatt, Barton. (2003) Distributed Cognition: Where the Cognitive and the Social Merge. Social Studies of Science 22 (2), 301-310.
  29. ^  Giere, Ronald. (2002) Scientific Cognition as Distributed Cognition. In Carruthers, Stitch, and Siegal (Eds.) (2002), 285-299.
  30. ^  Sebastien, Zoe. (2016) The Status of Normative Propositions in the Theory of Scientific Change. Scientonomy 1, 1-9. Retrieved from
  31. ^  Siegel, Harvey. (2011) Relativism, Incoherence, and the Strong Program. In Schantz and Seidel (Eds.) (2011).
  32. ^  Longino, Helen. (2016) The Social Dimensions of Scientific Knowledge. In Zalta (Ed.) (2016). Retrieved from