See Rafe Champion’s post on Prematurity in Scientific Discoveries by Ernest B Hook (Ed). Scientific explanations can be “premature,” i.e., arrive too early to be accepted or understood. Gunther Stent’s explanation for prematurity is that the “premature hypothesis cannot be connected to canonical knowledge by a simple series of logical steps.” This implies that “data which cannot be transformed into a structure isomorphic with canonical knowledge are a dead end.” The book provides many cases, such as the work done by French scientists on tic behavior (and the Tourette syndrome) in the late 19th century and which took nearly 70 years to come to the attention of the scientific community.
In a private email Rafe seems to be saying that the same could be said of Austrian economics (AE), it has arrived prematurely on the scientific scene. AE’s hypothesis could not be connected to the canonical knowledge of pre-WWII and mid-twentieth century economics and social sciences.
In Mises’s view, there was no “Austrian economics” before WWII. In his mind the opposition was not with neo-classical economics but with historicism. This being said, it is true that what has come to represent the body of AE today was developed roughly since the 1920s (economic calculation, the role of knowledge, entrepreneurship, etc). So at a critical point around 1930, AE branched off from the rest of neo-classical theory. From this perspective, it could perhaps be said that it became premature in its development (compared to the rest of the discipline).
How long can a theory remain premature is a good question. It also relates to entrepreneurial discovery. A new theory is comparable to an entrepreneurial bet. Sometimes it takes a long time for others to realize the value of what has been created (in spite of the energy spent advertising the new creation). For decades, Mises and Hayek’s view of socialism and economic calculation remained unimpressive (unknown?) to most social scientists. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the approach suddenly became relevant (see Heilbroner’s “Reflections After Communism” in the New Yorker in 1990). My bet is that as the interest for innovation processes and new knowledge in markets increases, so will the interest in AE. Prematurity will come to pass…