Recent experience has once again made me think about how progress is made individually as a scientist and as an intellectual movement. And what causes intellectual stagnation and frustration with progress in the world of scientific economics. I believe there is some confusion about Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and the idea of paradigm shift. In the standard account anomalies pile up that the currently fashionable research paradigm cannot explain (or didn't predict). The old within the discipline are resistant to change, but the young and bold push for a scientific revolution. The "normal science" of one age, gives way to the "extraordinary science" of the new.
In the community of Austrian economists this account of Kuhn's model of scientific belief was first introduced (I believe) by Murray Rothbard in a 1971 essay that is both contra-Whig and 'Kuhnian'. It then became a theme for the resurgence generation of Austrian economists with Edwin Dolan's introductory essay to The Foundations of Modern Austrian Economics entitled "Austrian Economics as Extraordinary Science."
So far so good. I was inspired by this picture when I first became serious about studying Austrian economics at the highest level possible and pursuing a career as a professional economist. I try to inspire students with the story of paradigm shifts as well. But the word "paradigm" and the phrase "paradigm shift" are probably the most overused and abused in the world of the social sciences.
There is, I would argue, an interpretation of Kuhn that is misleading. Before Kuhn wrote The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, he wrote an essay entitled "The Essential Tension." In that essay, Kuhn argued that paradigm shift cannot be accomplished by "outsiders" but instead are accomplished by "insiders" who make an "outsider" move. In other words, John Maynard Keynes, Paul Samuelson, Milton Friedman, etc. Your works can push for a radical departure in the prevailing scientific practice only if you are considered within the scientific community. This, I would suggest, is extremely important for the way one thinks about their profession and it doesn't radically change because of the world of blogs, the internet, and e-lists. In fact, unless you believe that within the next 50 years we will see the University of Phoenix out-compete Harvard in the market for elite students, or the blogosphere to out-compete the AER, JPE and QJE in scholarly reputation, you should stick with Kuhn's story in "The Essential Tension" and/or Michael Polanyi's discussion in "The Republic of Science".
If you want to pull off a "paradigm shift" you need to expose the anomalies within the prevailing paradigm insides of that paradigm --- thus the "essential tension". Once you get the scientific establishment on its heels, the younger members of the scientific community (well trained enough to give them credibility) can peck away and eventually turn the tide and get a new paradigm to prevail.
The anomalies can be either empirical or theoretical, e.g., stagflation and microfoundations. The paradigm change occurs when the theoretical change enables a better understanding of the empirical anomaly. But it has to emerge from the pens of those who are considered the best and the brightest, not those truly outside of the mainstream or even the community of scientists. Amateur economists, individuals without advanced degrees, or those not teaching in research universities, who spend their time writing in blogs or in journals not listed by SSCI cannot pull off the desired paradigm shift. This is a form of economic discourse, perhaps even an important one, but not one that matters scientifically.
There is a wonderful essay by David Colander entitled "Surviving as a Slightly Out of Sync Economist" that provides information to aspiring economists that I found particularly useful. But even there we have to recognize that David (who has had a wildly successful career) teaches at Middlebury (an outstanding academic institution) cannot possibly pull off a paradigm shift in economics. His advice is how one can individually survive and perhaps even flourish as someone out of sync, but not how out of sync ideas can get wide-spread acceptance and come to be in fact those that are in sync. Which I take as the ultimate goal of any out of sync economist. If you believe your ideas better "track truth", then of course you want other to think in terms of these ideas so we can gain a better understanding of truth.
For me the challenge to Austrian economists is to achieve progress on both fronts -- that of individual careers and that of the intellectual movement. Careerism without a concern for the fate of ideas is empty, and self-satisfaction over intellectual purity without regard to careers or wider spread acceptance among those who matter most in the world of ideas is self-defeating. Only outsiders with a claim to inside legitimacy can move ideas from being outside to those that are now inside. The essential tension remains, for me, the critical issue to grapple with when one thinks seriously about how to advance an alternative scientific paradigm.