Posted by: Dirk | August 15, 2007

Cha Cha Cha – the rythm of scientific discovery?

Daniel E. Koshland Jr., a former editor-in-chief for Science, has developed the Cha-cha-cha Theory of Scientific Discovery. It has been published posthumously in Science. It begins like this:

Scientific discoveries are the steps–some small, some big–on the staircase called progress, which has led to a better life for the citizens of the world. Each scientific discovery is made possible by the arrangement of neurons in the brain of one individual and as such is idiosyncratic. In looking back on centuries of scientific discoveries, however, a pattern emerges which suggests that they fall into three categories–Charge, Challenge, and Chance–that combine into a “Cha-Cha-Cha” Theory of Scientific Discovery. (Nonscientific discoveries can be categorized similarly.)

Further down the cha cha chas are explained:

  • “Charge” discoveries solve problems that are quite obvious–cure heart disease, understand the movement of stars in the sky–but in which the way to solve the problem is not so clear.
  • “Challenge” discoveries are a response to an accumulation of facts or concepts that are unexplained by or incongruous with scientific theories of the time.
  • “Chance” discoveries are those that are often called serendipitous and which Louis Pasteur felt favored “the prepared mind.

So maybe it’s possible to come up with some examples in Economics. Ricardo solved the problem of why free trade is beneficial – “Charge”. Krugman explained the puzzle of intra-industry trade among developed countries with a New Trade Theory model – “Challenge”. Von Thünen, in his treatise on land rent, discovered that transport costs play a significant role in the location of industry – “Chance”. Is this OK? Do be honest, I think that “Charge” and “Challenge” are quite close concepts.

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