Friday, November 9, 2012

Opinion: On Eve Of GA, Time For Federations To Wake Up

Andres Spokoiny
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of one of the most influential books in the history of science, Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” In addition to describing how new ideas overtake the old, the work also coined the term “paradigm shift,” which, to Kuhn’s dismay, became a sort of over-encompassing management buzzword.

But despite its overwhelming relevance, Kuhn’s lesson hasn’t been fully internalized, and the world of Jewish communal organizations is no exception.

According to Kuhn, scientists cling to ideas long after they should reasonably have discarded them: old paradigms resist dying. When scientists start to see “anomalies” in their models, they generally ignore or dismiss them. Even when an anomaly can’t be ignored, they find ways to explain them away in a fashion that ultimately keeps the old paradigm intact.

Over time, the “anomalies” pile up. Better measurements make evident more errors in the calculations. And scientists added more epicycles. Finally, Copernicus unveiled the truth: the geocentric paradigm itself was wrong.

Looking at the federation system on the eve of its major annual convention, the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, taking place in Baltimore this week, it’s obvious that anomalies are piling up. -- Andres Spokoiny, NY Jewish Week

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