Planck's principle

In sociology of scientific knowledge, Planck's principle is the view that scientific change does not occur because individual scientists change their mind, but rather that successive generations of scientists have different views.


This was formulated by Max Planck:[1]

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 ...

An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents: it rarely happens that Saul becomes Paul. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out, and that the growing generation is familiarized with the ideas from the beginning: another instance of the fact that the future lies with the youth.

— Max Planck, Scientific autobiography, 1950, p. 33, 97

Colloquially, this is often paraphrased as "Science progresses one funeral at a time".


Planck's quote has been used by Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend, Moran Cerf and others to argue that scientific revolutions are non-rational, rather than spreading through "mere force of truth and fact".[2][3][4][5] [6]


Whether age influences the readiness to accept new ideas has been empirically criticised. In the case of acceptance of evolution in the years after Darwin's On the Origin of Species, age was a minor factor.[2] On a more specialized scale, it also was a weak factor in accepting cliometrics.[7] A study of when different geologists accepted plate tectonics found that older scientists actually adopted it sooner than younger scientists.[8] However, a more recent study on life science researchers found that following the deaths of preeminent researchers, publications by their collaborators rapidly declined while the activity of non-collaborators and the number of new researchers entering their field rose.[9]


  1. ^ Planck, Max K. (1950). Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers. New York: Philosophical library.
  2. ^ a b Hull DL, Tessner PD, Diamond AM (17 November 1978). "Planck's Principle". Science. 202 (4369): 717–23. Bibcode:1978Sci...202..717H. doi:10.1126/science.202.4369.717. PMID 17807228. S2CID 40962458.
  3. ^ T. Kuhn. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press, 1970. p. 151
  4. ^ P. Feyrabend, in Criticism and the growth of knowledge, I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave, eds. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1970, p. 203
  5. ^ Pierre Azoulay, Christian Fons-Rosen, Joshua S. Graff Zivin: Does Science Advance One Funeral at a Time? 2015, doi:10.3386/w21788.
  6. ^ John T. Blackmore (1978). "Is Planck's 'Principle' True?". British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. 29 (4): 347–349. doi:10.1093/bjps/29.4.347. JSTOR 687097.
  7. ^ Arthur M. Diamond, Jr. (December 1980). "Age and the Acceptance of Cliometrics". The Journal of Economic History. 40 (4): 838–841. doi:10.1017/S002205070010021X. JSTOR 2120004. S2CID 145262032.
  8. ^ Peter Messeri (1988). "Age Differences in the Reception of New Scientific Theories: The Case of Plate Tectonics Theory". Social Studies of Science. 18 (1): 91–112. doi:10.1177/030631288018001004. JSTOR 285378. S2CID 145775475.
  9. ^ Pierre Azoulay, Christian Fons-Rosen, Joshua S. Graff Zivin (August 2019). "Does Science Advance One Funeral at a Time?". American Economic Review. 109 (8): 2889–2920. doi:10.1257/aer.20161574. PMC 6814193. PMID 31656315.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)