Immunology A Brief Historical Perspective

Edward S Golub, Pacific Center of Ethics and Applied Biology, California, USA

Immunology as a discipline has its roots in both applied and theoretical science. It has sought practical methods of immunizing and vaccinating to prevent specific infectious disease, and an understanding of the mechanisms involved in the induction of specific immunity. This entry is not an attempt to identify and catalog specific events in the history of immunology. Rather, it describes the large trends and sets them in a historical and intellectual context. In that sense, it is an intellectual history of immunology.

One philosophical approach to the history of science as intellectual history refers to the concept of a 'paradigm'; this approach is exemplified by Kuhn's book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. According to Kuhn, a paradigm is a viewpoint held by a community of scientists. Paradigms form the foundation of experimental design and, most important, of interpretation of experimental results.

Kuhn has argued that a science becomes a 'mature' science only when it has a paradigm, and that it changes only when this paradigm changes, an event that happens only rarely. When a paradigm does change, there is a revolution in the way that the relevant science views itself. I refer here to the Kuhnian notion of a paradigm because it provides an instructive perspective from which to look at the history of immunology. I am fully aware that there are other ways to look at scientific progress and change (see Lakatos and Musgrave, Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge).

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