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July 11, 1896|
|Died||June 5, 1961
Ness Ziona, Israel
|Nationality||Polish and Israeli|
|Fields||Philosophy of science
Sociology of science
Ludwik Fleck (11 July 1896 – 5 June 1961) was a Polish and Israeli physician and biologist who did important work in epidemic typhus in Lwów, Poland, with Rudolf Weigl and in the 1930s developed the concept of the "Denkkollektiv" ("thought collective").
The concept of the "thought collective" is important in the philosophy of science and in logology (the "science of science"), helping to explain how scientific ideas change over time, much as in Thomas Kuhn's later notion of the "paradigm shift" and in Michel Foucault's concept of the "episteme".
Fleck was born in Lemberg (Lwów in Polish; Lvov in Russian; now L'viv, Ukraine) and grew up in the cultural autonomy of the Austrian province of Galicia. He graduated from a Polish lyceum (secondary school) in 1914 and enrolled at Lwów's Jan Kazimierz University, where he received his medical degree.
In 1920 he became an assistant to the famous typhus specialist Rudolf Weigl at Jan Kazimierz University. From 1923 to 1935 Fleck worked in the department of internal medicine at Lwów General Hospital, then became director of the bacteriological laboratory at the local social assurance authority [?]. From 1935 he worked at the private bacteriological laboratory which he had earlier founded.
With Nazi Germany's occupation of L'viv, Fleck was deported with his wife, Ernestina Waldmann, and son Ryszard to the city's Jewish ghetto. He continued his research in the hospital and developed a new procedure in which he procured a vaccine from the urine of typhus patients. Fleck's work was known to the German occupiers and his family were arrested in December 1942 and deported to the Laokoon pharmaceutical factory to produce a typhus serum. He and his family were arrested again and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp on February 7, 1943. His task was to diagnose syphilis, typhus and other illnesses using serological tests. From December 1943 until the liberation of Poland on April 11, 1945 Fleck was detained in Buchenwald concentration camp.
Between 1945 and 1952, he served as the head of the Institute of Microbiology of the School of Medicine of Maria Sklodowska-Curie University of Lublin. In 1952, he moved to Warsaw to become the Director of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Mother and Child State Institute. In 1954 he was elected a member of the Polish Academy of Sciences. Fleck's research during these years focused on the question of the behavior of leucocytes in infectious and stress situations. Between 1946 and 1957 he published 87 medical and scientific articles in Polish, French, English and Swiss journals. In 1951 Fleck was awarded the National Prize for Scientific Achievements and in 1955 the Officer's Cross of the Order of the Renaissance of Poland.
In 1956, after a heart attack and the discovery that he was suffering from lymphosarcoma, Fleck emigrated to Israel where a position was created for him at the Israel Institute for Biological Research. He died in 1961 at the age of 64 of a second heart attack.
Fleck wrote that the development of truth in scientific research was an unattainable ideal as different researchers were locked into thought collectives (or thought-styles). A "truth" was a relative value, expressed in the language or symbolism of the thought collective in which it belonged, and subject to the social and temporal structure of this collective. To state therefore that a specific truth is true or false is impossible. It is true in its own collective, but incomprehensible or unverifiable in most others. He felt that the development of scientific insights was not unidirectional and does not consist of just accumulating new pieces of information, but also in overthrowing the old ones. This overthrowing of old insights is difficult because a collective attains over time a specific way of investigating, bringing with it a blindness to alternative ways of observing and conceptualization. Change was especially possible when members of two thought collectives met and cooperated in observing, formulating hypothesis and ideas. He strongly advocated comparative epistemology. This approach anticipated later developments in social constructionism, and especially the development of critical science and technology studies.
- 1954: Fleck became a member of the Polish Academy of Sciences.
- 1955: He was honored with the Order of Polonia Restituta (Officer's Cross).
- The Problem of Epistemology  (in R.S. Cohen and T. Schnelle (eds.), Cognition and Fact - Materials on Ludwik Fleck, Dordrecht: Reidel, 1986)
- The Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact, (edited by T.J. Trenn and R.K. Merton, foreword by Thomas Kuhn) Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979. This is the first English translation of his 1935 book titled Entstehung und Entwicklung einer wissenschaftlichen Tatsache. Einführung in die Lehre vom Denkstil und Denkkollektiv Schwabe und Co., Verlagsbuchhandlung, Basel.
- Erfahrung und Tatsache. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1983, ISBN 3-518-28004-X (Essays, with a complete Bibliography of Ludwik Fleck, Reihe Suhrkamp Wissenschaft, stw 404).
- Investigation of epidemic typhus in the Ghetto of Lwów in 1941–1942. (PDF-Datei; 31 kB)
- T Tansey (2014) Typhus and tyranny, Nature 511(7509), 291.
- Arthur Allen, The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl: How Two Brave Scientists Battled Typhus and Sabotaged the Nazis, Norton, 2014, ISBN 978-0393081015.
- Sady, Wojciech. "Ludwik Fleck". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- Short introduction to Fleck's philosophy and sociology of science
- Polish Philosophy Page: Ludwik Fleck at the Wayback Machine (archived January 15, 2008)
- 4S Ludwig Fleck Prize
- How Scientists Created A Typhus Vaccine in a 'Fantastic Laboratory'. Fresh Air, NPR books author interviews, July 22, 2014. 'Listen to the Story' for excerpts related to Ludwik Fleck