ArticlePDF Available

Communism, Universalism and Disinterestedness: Re-examining Contemporary Support among Academics for Merton’s Scientific Norms

Authors:

Abstract and Figures

This paper re-examines the relevance of three academic norms to contemporary academic life – communism, universalism and disinterestedness – based on the work of Robert Merton. The results of a web-based survey elicited responses to a series of value statements and were analysed using the weighted average method and through cross-tabulation. Results indicate strong support for communism as an academic norm defined in relation to sharing research results and teaching materials as opposed to protecting intellectual copyright and withholding access. There is more limited support for universalism based on the belief that academic knowledge should transcend national, political, or religious boundaries. Disinterestedness, defined in terms of personal detachment from truth claims, is the least popular contemporary academic norm. Here, the impact of a performative culture is linked to the need for a large number of academics to align their research interests with funding opportunities. The paper concludes by considering the claims of an alternate set of contemporary academic norms including capitalism, particularism and interestedness.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Communism, Universalism and Disinterestedness:
Re-examining Contemporary Support among Academics
for Mertons Scientific Norms
Bruce Macfarlane &Ming Cheng
Published online: 4 March 2008
#Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2008
Abstract This paper re-examines the relevance of three academic norms to contemporary
academic life communism, universalism and disinterestedness based on the work of
Robert Merton. The results of a web-based survey elicited responses to a series of value
statements and were analysed using the weighted average method and through cross-
tabulation. Results indicate strong support for communism as an academic norm defined in
relation to sharing research results and teaching materials as opposed to protecting
intellectual copyright and withholding access. There is more limited support for
universalism based on the belief that academic knowledge should transcend national,
political, or religious boundaries. Disinterestedness, defined in terms of personal
detachment from truth claims, is the least popular contemporary academic norm. Here,
the impact of a performative culture is linked to the need for a large number of academics to
align their research interests with funding opportunities. The paper concludes by
considering the claims of an alternate set of contemporary academic norms including
capitalism, particularism and interestedness.
Keywords Academic values .scientific norms .Merton .Weber
Introduction
There is renewed interest in the values that define academic life prompted, in part, by
policy-led attempts to professionaliseaspects of academic practice (e.g. Higher Education
Academy 2006) and contemporary debate about the limits of academic freedom. However,
the policy-led agenda defines academic values largely in relation to the teaching function
J Acad Ethics (2008) 6:6778
DOI 10.1007/s10805-008-9055-y
B. Macfarlane (*)
Department of Curriculum and Quality Enhancement, University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, UK
e-mail: bruce.macfarlane@port.ac.uk
M. Cheng
University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
while debates concerning academic freedom tend to exclude consideration of broader
academic values. Historical accounts of academic values provide a useful starting point in
re-examining academic values and are linked to a broad religious and secular conception of
academic life as a vocationrather than just a profession.
This paper will re-examine these influential accounts of academic values and develop a
contemporary interpretation of the values that underpin commitment to the academic
vocation. The empirical part of the paper, which represents work in progress, will test out
the contemporary relevance of Mertons institutional norms through a web-based survey of
academic values. In questioning the contemporary sway of Mertons norms they will be
contrasted with an alternative set of academic values: capitalism (or individualism),
interestedness and particularism.
Webers Academic Values
The notion of academic values is widely associated with the extensive literature that
surrounds discussion and debate about academic freedom. This literature is often restricted
to considerations concerning academic staff rather than students. In understanding the
broader concept of academic values, a useful starting point is provided by Max Webers
address to a student association of the University of Munich on the topic of Science as a
vocation.Byscience, Weber was referring to the scholarship of academics not just
engaged in the hardsciences, but what is sometimes termed the softor social sciences.
He argued that academics needed to be specialists to achieve anything of note and pursue a
research question with unwavering intent. In his words, the scientist needed to put blinders
on himself(Weber 1919:59). Ultimately, whatever an academic might achieve would be
quickly outmoded by the work of others. Realisation of this reality meant that the academic
must work without vanity with the sincere hope that their work would be superseded in the
continual search for truth and knowledge. Webers account paints academic life as a lonely
and self-sacrificing vocation. As one might expect from the author of The Protestant Ethic
and the Spirit of Capitalism, Webers vision is based on secular asceticism. Another
element of this asceticism was Webers demand for self-restraint. This referred to the
responsibility of academics, as Weber saw it, to keep their own political and moral beliefs
in check. He was opposed to the academic who uses the lecture theatre as a platform to
propagate his own ideals(Weber 1919:22).
Webers lecture needs to be understood in the context of the German university in the
early twentieth century and his concerns regarding the growing power and influence of
politicians and bureaucrats. The later complicity of many members of the academic class
during the subsequent rise of Nazi power demonstrates the prescience of Webers analysis
(Shils 1973). Webers vision of what it means to be an academic is a lasting one:
specialisation, individual self-sacrifice and ethical neutrality. It represents the popular
planks of the modern research university based, as it is, almost entirely on Wissenschaft (i.e.
the making of knowledge via research) as opposed to collegial or spiritual virtues (Schwen
1993).
Mertons Institutional Norms
In The Social Structure of Science, Robert Merton (1942) identifies four normswhich he
believed applied to the work of scientists. While Merton used the word scientistthis, in
68 B. J. Macfarlane and M. Cheng
effect, included academics from social as well as human sciences and may be taken to apply
to the academic community more generally. It is in this context that we will use the word
academicin place of Mertons use of the word scientist. The first of Mertons norms is
communism. While this word carries complex linguistic and historic connotations, Merton
was clear that for academics communism implied that the results of their research should be
the common property of the whole scientific community.
The scientists claim to hisintellectual propertyis limited to that of recognition
and esteem…’
(Merton 1942, p 273)
Universalism is the second of Mertons norms. This term was used by Merton to refer to
the application of preestablished impersonal criteria(p 270) in judging the validity of
knowledge claims. This norm asserts the importance of the scientist staying detached and
analysing all data in an objective way which enables the creation of universal or objective
knowledge. Truth claims are thus related to objective data and transcend race, class,
political and/or religious barriers.
The Haber process [the scientific method of producing ammonia developed during
the Second World War] cannot be invalidated by a Nuremberg decree nor can an
Anglophobe repeal the law of gravitation.
(Merton 1942, p 270)
Disinterestedness is the third of Mertons norms and carries with it the expectation that
scientists should have no emotional or financial attachments to their work. Merton assigned
high moral standards of personal integrity to scientists who, he argued, were motivated and
rewarded through recognition of their achievements rather than monetary gain. Scientists,
according to Merton, are interested in finding out the truth even if the truth proves the
scientist wrong.
Mertons final norm is organised skepticism. This demands remaining skeptical about
the results of research, including the potential shortcomings of ones own work, until all the
facts are established. It implies caution in reaching conclusions rather than conviction that
they have something more to offer than findings that are tentative trials that are
inconclusive. Organised skepticism further refers to the expectation that academics will
continually challenge conventional wisdom in their discipline.
Weber and Merton Norms Today
Sometimes Mertons four institutional norms are also known through the acronym
C.U.D.O.S.. They are closely related to and owe a large debt to Weber. For example,
the ethical neutrality that Weber promotes is about the disinterestedness and total
dedication to pursue the objective truth rather than being distracted, as Weber saw it, by
politics. While Mertons norms have been subsequently criticised as idealised, they
represent, at least at a superficial level, a persuasive formulation of the academic:
detached, methodical and committed to the search for the truth rather than personal
Communism, universalism and disinterestedness 69
glorification. Both Weber (1919) and Merton (1942) offer classic accounts of the values
that define academic life as a vocation. Webers vision of what it means to be an academic
may be characterised in terms of the value(s) of specialisation, individual self-sacrifice and
ethical neutrality. Merton reinforced Webers secular asceticism through his set of
institutional norms.
However, the expansion of higher education in the twentieth and twenty first centuries
means that the disciplinary and professional traditions of those now working as academics
in universities has also widened considerably. In particular, the growth of commercial and
allied health related subjects has brought a new cadre of professionals into higher education
institutions from nursing, business and the creative arts. The subject base of university
education is not the only thing to have changed over the last 60 years since Merton
identified his four institutional norms. University education has undergone a radical
transformation in its funding structure and dependence on national government as well as
levels of participation. Academic life has also been increasingly exposed to the culture of
research audit and the particular competitive pressures such processes bring in their wake.
Therefore, the academic values asserted by Weber and Merton need to be tested for their
contemporary relevance.
Methodology
A web-based survey instrument was designed to test out the extent to which academics
agree with three of Mertons four institutional norms. Four value statements were designed
to test out the extent to which respondents either agreed or disagreed with communism,
universalism and disinterestedness. The value statements were carefully constructed to
represent an equal number of confirming and disconfirming perspectives with respect to
Mertons values. For example, in relation to the norm of communism, the following two
statements represent an affirmation and a disconfirmation of this value respectively:
Question 6: I am in favour of sharing my teaching materials with my peers
Question 13: I feel it is important to protect my individual property rights
The survey tested out these value statements through a four point Likert agreement scale
that deliberately created a forced choice. To avoid habituation in response affirming
(positive) and disconfirming (negative) value statements were interchanged. This technique
was adopted to encourage the respondent to think carefully about each statement before
responding. Organised skepticism was excluded from this analysis for two reasons. Firstly,
prior analysis of the literature did not suggest that this value had necessarily shifted or been
challenged in the same way as the first three: communism, universalism and disinterest-
edness. Secondly, difficulties were encountered in constructing value statements that
adequately reflected positive and negative positions with respect to organised skepticism as
a value.
The survey data were analyzed in three steps. Firstly, the method of weighted
average was calculated. This computes an arithmetic mean of a set of numbers in which
some elements of the set carry more importance (weight) than others. Weighted average
was achieved through counting responses that indicate levels of agreement or
disagreement with statements associated with each norm. In the analysis, the level of
agreement or disagreement was not taken into account in order to create a simple
70 B. J. Macfarlane and M. Cheng
agreeor disagreedichotomy. In each affirming statement responses that agreed were
scored as 1, and those that disagreed were scored as 1. However, in each disconfirming
statement, responses that agreed were scored as 1 and those that disagreed were given a
score of 1. The weighted average of the three norms thus lies between 1 and 1. If the result
is close to 1, this suggests that respondents were more likely to agree with the related norm.
In contrast, if the result is close to 1, it suggests that the respondents in general are more
likely to disagree with that related norm. In this way, it is possible to calculate levels of
agreement with each of the three norms presenting a general picture of the respondents
attitudes.
In the second step, simple statistics were generated to reveal the extent to which
respondents agreed or disagreed with each of the value statements. The responses to each
set of four statements related to each norm were collated and analysed. The third step
involved cross-tabulating the results by gender, subject area, length of experience and level
of seniority, aiming to reveal which attributes of the respondents had had some influence on
their responses to the questions. The Chi-Square test was applied to the data set to
determine if there were any statistically significant relationships between the different
factors where the p-value was smaller than 0.05.
Results
Six hundred and seventy one responses were received to the questionnaire between 23
May and 14 June 2007. The high number of responses was achieved through the co-
operation of a number of subject centres within the UK Higher Education Academy.
This resulted in the online survey being included in a number of electronic
communications by subject centres. Hence, the sample was self-selecting with most
respondents drawn from UK universities. While the sample includes a broad range of
academic staff from different disciplinary fields and levels of experience, this does not
necessarily imply that it is representative of the academic profession as a whole.
Nevertheless, published statistics indicate that the male/female percentage ratio of UK
academics is 58:42 (HESA 2007) and the sample closely reflected this ratio with male
respondents (54 per cent) slightly in the majority. Most respondents identified their
subject area as either Arts and Humanities (44.7 per cent) or Social Sciences (20.1 per
cent). The majority of respondents identified their current role as that of a lecturer (65.1
per cent), or equivalent in a North American context, while full professors represented
just over 1 in 10 of respondents. In the UK, official statistics indicate that 9.1 per cent of
academics are employed at professorial level, the equivalent of full professorial status in
North America (HESA 2007). In terms of working experience in higher education,
respondents were relatively evenly spread between those with less than 10 years (48.2 per
cent) and those with 11 or more years (51.8 per cent).
Communism
Communism, in academic life, refers to the common ownership of intellectual property.
The weighted average method resulted in a score of 0.5034 indicating support for
communism as a norm. Responses to the individual statements affirming communism as
a value demonstrated very high levels of support. 507 out of 671 respondents supported
these affirming statements. One example is that 95% respondents favoured the sharing
Communism, universalism and disinterestedness 71
of teaching materials with peers and the results of their research in progress (see
Fig. 1).
In contrast, just 44 per cent of respondents were in support of disconfirming
statements in relation to communism which were intended to test support for statements
that represent capitalist norms such as protection of individual property and competition
within the academic community to be the firstrather than share knowledge freely. For
example, three out of four respondents agreed that it was important to protect their
individual property rights. Respondents were also asked about whether they tend to be
secretive about their research in progress due to a concern that someone else may beat
them to publication (Fig. 2). While most disagreed with this statement (87.9 per cent),
just over one in ten respondents agreed with the statement to some extent illustrating
the importance of competition, and the presence of distrust, in academic life for these
individuals.
Cross-tabulation of responses by subject area indicated some variation based on
disciplinary differences. More than 1 in 5 respondents from the natural sciences (21 per
cent) agreed that they were secretive about their work in progress compared with 13 per
cent of those from both the social and applied sciences and 11 per cent of academics from
the Arts. However, using Chi-Square tests, the variation based on disciplinary differences is
not statistically significant suggesting that respondentsperception of secrecy about their
work in progress is largely independent of their disciplines. Similarly differences in
responses to value statements by gender were unremarkable with no statistically significant
relationship between respondentsperception of secrecy about their work in progress and
gender although male respondents (14 per cent) indicated that they were slightly more
likely to act in a secretive manner than their female counterparts (10 per cent). The Chi-
Square tests suggest that the level of seniority of respondents did not affect significantly
their responses to whether it was important to protect intellectual property rights. Academic
managers (89 per cent) indicated a higher level of agreement with the importance of
protecting intellectual property rights compared to lecturers (71 per cent) while the seniority
of respondents did not affect their perception of intellectual property rights in a significant
way.
1.7
10.4
22.8
65.1
0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
60%
70%
Stron
g
l
y
a
g
ree A
g
ree Disa
g
ree Stron
g
l
y
disa
g
ree
Fig. 2 I tend to be secretive
about my research in progress
as I am concerned that someone
else may beat me to
publication (n=57)
0.75
4.2
45.9 49.1
0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
60%
Stron
g
l
y
a
g
ree A
g
ree Disa
g
ree Stron
g
l
y
disa
g
ree
Fig. 1 Respondents in favor of
sharing teaching materials with
peers and results of their research
in progress (n=671)
72 B. J. Macfarlane and M. Cheng
Universalism
Universalism refers to the belief that academic knowledge should transcend national, political,
or religious boundaries. The weighted average for universalism indicated modest, if slight,
agreement (0.0443). Four statements were contained in the survey designed to affirm and
disconfirm the value of universalism, examples of which appear as Figs. 3and 4, respectively.
The survey data reveal that respondents were only slightly more in favour of universalism
affirming statements (434 responses) as opposed to those disconfirming it (404 responses).
Of the statements affirming universalism, 82 per cent of respondents agreed that it is
important to be able to claim that ones research is generalisable or valid beyond its
immediate context although just over half (53 per cent) also indicated their agreement with
the statement that their intellectual work was influenced by their personal beliefs and
values. This finding was confirmed by responses to an allied statement that indicated that
over 90 per cent of respondents believe that their teaching and research is substantially
influenced by their own personal values. This differs from the implication of universalism
that academic knowledge can be neatly divided off from such contextual factors. This
finding is perhaps a reflection of varying perspectives about the nature of knowledge.
Mertons principle of universalism and the value neutralacademic represent the basis of a
positivistparadigm. A positivist frame of reference holds that the researcher can remain
independent of the phenomenon being scrutinised. This is what Brew (2001) terms one of
the traditional rulesof the research process and is part of a tradition more closely
associated with the hardsciences where large data sets are used to test out hypotheses.
However, support for interpretative or social constructivist perspectives has grown since
the 1960s (Berger and Luckmann 1966). Here, academics across a range of disciplines
argue that individuals socially construct their own version of reality rather than discovering
facts. They may also hold to the belief that an objective viewpoint is illusory because of
the role political power plays in the development of knowledge (Foucault 1972).
However, while respondents were cognisant of the extent to which their own personal
values impact on the search for universal truths, this did not dim their support for
developing research and scholarly work that could transcend its immediate context. Almost
half of the respondents (47.3 per cent) agreed that they try to ensure that their intellectual
work is not influenced by their personal beliefs and values (see Fig. 3).
82 per cent of respondents (see Fig. 4) agreed that it is important for research to be
generalisable or valid beyond the national context, for example. This level of difference
6.4 10
42.7
40.9
0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
Stron
g
l
y
a
g
ree A
g
ree Disa
g
ree Stron
g
l
y
disa
g
ree
Fig. 3 As far as possible, I try to
ensure that my intellectual work
is not influenced by my personal
beliefs and values (n=60)
1.5
16.5
22.2
59.8
0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
60%
70%
Stron
g
l
y
a
g
ree A
g
ree Disa
g
ree Stron
g
l
y
disa
g
ree
Fig. 4 I think the extent to which
research maybe generalisable or
valid beyond its immediate con-
text is important (n=54)
Communism, universalism and disinterestedness 73
between respondents in the applied sciences and the arts was apparent in responses to the
other three questions in relation to universalism.
In applying the Chi-Square test it was found that there are statistically significant
differences between respondents on the basis of cross-tabulating the results by subject area.
This suggests that respondentssupport for making research generalisable or valid beyond
its immediate context depends on their subjects. For example, respondents from the applied
sciences (90 per cent) were much stronger supporters of making research generalisable or
valid beyond its immediate context than their colleagues from the arts area (78 per cent). In
respect to gender, female respondents (93 per cent) were slightly more likely to agree that
their personal values have a substantial impact on their teaching and research than male
respondents (89 per cent). However, the Chi-Square tests result suggests that respondents
agreement is independent of their gender.
Analysis of responses by level of seniority revealed slight differences of emphasis rather
than substantive disagreement, but these differences are not statistically significantly in
spite of the fact that academic managers (63 per cent) showed strongest support for the
statement that intellectual work should not be influenced by personal beliefs and values,
while research assistants showed the least support for this statement (35 per cent).
Interestingly, full professors placed less emphasis on the importance of generalising results
or keeping their personal values out of the intellectual arena than lecturers.
Disinterestedness
Disinterestedness is about being personally detached about truth claims in the sense of
being swayed only by the evidence rather than campaigning for a particular point of view or
outcome. In Webers terms, it is about being neutral. However, it is also associated with
pursuing a research (and teaching) agenda that reflects personal academic interests rather
than the demands of funding agencies, government priorities or university strategies.
The survey data indicate that the norm of disinterestedness is perceived as the least
popular contemporary academic value behind communism and universalism (see Fig. 5).
Only 376 out of 671 respondents agreed with disinterestedness affirming statements. More
respondents (423) agreed with disinterestedness disconfirming statements. This means, in
effect, that academics are not supportive of the norm and suggests that interestednessmay
more appropriately characterise contemporary attitudes (see later discussion).
Over half of respondents (63 per cent) showed emotional and financial attachments to
their work. For example, two fifths (42 per cent) linked their research with funding
opportunities (see Fig. 6), in spite of the fact that 80 per cent stated that they only pursued
research that was of personal interest to them (see Fig. 7).
In further testing out commitment to disinterestedness, respondents were asked whether
they should stay out of public debates unless this related directly to their own discipline or
0.5034
0.0443
-0.06702
-0.2
0
0.2
0.4
0.6
Communism Universalism Disinterestedness
Fig. 5 Weighted average of three
norms (Agree= 1, Disagree = 1)
74 B. J. Macfarlane and M. Cheng
subject specialism. However, the majority (68 per cent) disagreed and indicated support for
the idea of academics expressing their views in public debates regardless of the extent to
which they could draw on subject expertise to support such interventions. Respondents
were further supportive of the idea that their research might be applied for the good of
societywith only around 15 per cent disagreeing with this statement.
Cross-tabulation by subject area indicated substantial differences in relation to some
questions. The likelihood of respondents aligning their research interests with funding
opportunities is statistically related to their subject field. For example, two thirds of those
from the applied sciences (66 per cent) indicated that they aligned their research interests
with funding opportunities. This compares to just 32 per cent of respondents from the
natural sciences and the arts. Similarly, the Chi-Square tests reveal that respondents
perception of whether academics should keep out of public debates is closely related
with their subjects. For example, just 23 per cent of social scientists felt that they should
keep out of public debates unless they related directly to their subjects while substantially
more respondents from the natural sciences (37 per cent) and engineering (40 per cent) felt
it was right to do so. Finally, the desire to pursue research for the good of society was related
to the subjects of the respondents. For example, respondents from social scientists (92 per
cent) were more likely to consider it important than respondents from the arts (76 per cent).
Gender was statistically related to the extent to which respondents would align their
research interests with funding opportunities. Females (46 per cent) were more likely to
align their research interests with funding opportunities than males (38 per cent). However,
differences in level of seniority were slight and not statistically significant. Both research
assistants (57 per cent) and academic managers (52 per cent) were similarly more likely to
align their research interests with funding opportunities than either lecturers (39 per cent) or
full professors (41 per cent). Full professors (77 per cent) were also the most likely to
support the idea of academics taking part in public debates even where this did not relate to
their discipline or subject area.
Merton Re-shaped?
The results of this limited survey indicate that there is still substantial support for at least
one of Mertons norms, namely communism. However, it is also clear that they are being
2.1
52.3
17.7
27.8
0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
60%
Stron
g
l
y
a
g
ree A
g
ree Disa
g
ree Stron
g
l
y
disa
g
ree
Fig. 7 I only pursue research
that is of personal interest to me
(n=61)
3
9.6
48.4
39
0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
60%
Stron
g
l
y
a
g
ree A
g
ree Disa
g
ree Stron
g
l
y
disa
g
ree
Fig. 6 I align my research inter-
ests with funding opportunities
(n=57)
Communism, universalism and disinterestedness 75
re-shaped by a number of contemporary trends and influences. While most academics in
this survey were supportive of communism as a norm there are more capitalist and
individualistic forces at work. There is a strong sense of the importance of protecting
intellectual property rights partly, it might be speculated, by a heightened awareness of such
rights in a context in which universities have developed more explicit policy positions in
recent years on such matters. These policies are designed to maximise the commercial
benefits derived from academic work for individual universities rather than share the results
of research for the benefit of all. Academic life is becoming increasingly performative
characterised by an emphasis on evaluating the efficiencyof academic labour through
internal and external quality control and audit procedures (Skelton 2005). This means, inter
alia, that academics are encouraged to seek a public profile rather than shy away from self-
promotion opportunities. It also means that academics, especially those working in
research-intensive universities, are under pressure to generate external funding even where
such funds are not critical to the conduct of research (Lucas 2006). Academic time, as well
as resources, must be paid for in a market model of higher education. Audit of research
quality in the UK and in other national contexts, such as Australia, further encourage a
quasi-market capitalism among universities that threaten the basis of Mertons norm of
communism. This norm is also at odds with what Weber referred to as the cult of the
personality. On the other hand, the World Wide Web acts as a powerful vehicle for those
who are committed to making academic knowledge freely available rather than an
economic resource to be leveraged for maximum financial gain.
The pressures of performativity mean that academics can no longer afford to be as
committed as they might like to be to disinterestedness as a norm. Indeed, the survey indicates
more opposition than support for this norm. Interestednessappears to have displaced
disinterestedness. Most respondents indicated that they were comfortable with the idea of
contributing to public debate in areas that fall outside their expertise. While Weber would regard
such an attitude as an abuse of academic privilege, contemporary academics may regard such
interventions as a right as a citizen and as a legitimate extension of academic freedom. Many
academics are also prepared to direct or re-direct their efforts toward available funding
opportunities. Gaining funding for research and directing ones research agenda in the direction
of the contemporary concerns of public policy makers is a fact of life that has re-shaped attitudes
to disinterestedresearch. For example, research councils, and other grant-making bodies, are
placing increasing emphasis on assessing the economic impactof research work (Walker
2007). Here, there is a risk that researchers will chase grant opportunities where they can
demonstrate short-term benefits of their research rather than focus on longer-term, theoretically
driven work sometimes referred to as blue skies thinking.
Modern academics are keenly aware of the extent to which their personal beliefs and values
shape their intellectual work but most still strive to universalise their research findings. This
may be partly due to the performative pressures of research assessment. This creates an
expectation that research should be international (rather than justnational) and have a
demonstrable impact. Such claims are difficult to sustain if one is more committed to
particularism rather than universalism even though this represented the position of a substantial
Merton’s norm Alternative norm
Communism
Universalism
Disinterestedness
Capitalism
Particularism
Interestedness
Fig. 8 Mertons norms and their
alternates
76 B. J. Macfarlane and M. Cheng
minority of respondents. According to Bourdieu (1989), the intellectual rejects particularism
and asserts universalism because they feel that they have things to say that transcend national,
cultural and other social boundaries. In a more sharply competitive environment that rewards
universalist claims, few academics can afford not to aim at this value in respect to at least one
aspect of their research work. This analysis suggests that new norms can be contrasted with
those of Merton that represent a re-shaping of academic values (see Fig. 8).
These contrasting norms represent an alternative politico-economic orientation to the set
of values proposed by Merton. In contrast with communism, capitalism as a norm would
imply a belief in maximising individual financial return on academic endeavour in a market
economy. Here, conceptualising the role of research as an income generation activity
affirms this alternative norm. Particularism implies a belief that knowledge is individually
constructed on the basis of social experiences and political forces. It implies a rejection of
absolute social, cultural or religious values in favour of moral relativism. A particularist
stance might further be characterised by opposition to the cultural hegemony of Western
products, systems and modes of thought. Finally, interestedness is closely related to the
belief that academic enquiry can never be a value-free, dispassionate analysis of the observed
facts. It is a norm that essentially rejects the positivist paradigm.
Conclusion
The results of the survey do not necessarily represent a shiftin values as Mertons norms were
not based on empirical data. While this research sample was broadly representative of academic
staff by gender, this does not necessarily imply that it is representative of the academic
profession in all respects. However, contemporary performative pressures on academic life may
be having an impact in shaping, or perhaps re-shaping, some Mertonian norms. This is
particularly apparent in respect to the norm of disinterestedness where large numbers of
academics pragmatically align their research interests with funding opportunities. This finding
may be related to a more competitive market-based university environment apparent in the UK
and elsewhere internationally where it has been argued that the canons of scientific inquiry have
been compromised by commercial pressures (Bok 2003). Despite these pressures, the norm of
communism, in particular, still attracts strong popular espoused support which crosses
disciplinary fields. The balance of evidence from this survey, though, suggests that market-
based and commercial pressures might be beginning to subvert the Mertonian ideal. However,
respondentssupport of universalism and disinterestedness varies with their subjects. In
general, respondents from applied sciences showed stronger support for these two norms than
respondents from the other subject fields.
While the value statements in the survey have sought to represent the norms originally
conceived by Merton, it is recognised that other interpretations may prevail. Further
research might use a broader set of value statements to more deeply reflect differences in
attitudes to academic values. Alternately, it might centre on a depth study of just one of
Mertons norms being able, in the process, to elaborate the dimensions in more detail.
References
Berger, P. L., & Luckmann, T. (1966). The social construction of reality. London: Penguin.
Bok, D. (2003). Universities in the marketplace: The commercialisation of higher education. Princeton:
Princeton University Press.
Communism, universalism and disinterestedness 77
Bourdieu, P. (1989). The corporatism of the universal. The role of intellectuals in the modern world. Telos,81
(Fall), 99105.
Brew, A. (2001). The nature of research: Inquiry in academic contexts. London: RoutledgeFalmer.
Foucault, M. (1972). The Archaeology of Knowledge. London: Tavistock Publications Translated by A.M.
Sheridan Smith.
HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) (2007) Staff Data Tables, 2005-06, Retrieved 7, December
2006, from http://www.hesa.ac.uk/dox/dataTables/staff/download/staff0506.xls.
Higher Education Academy (2006). The UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting
learning in higher education. York: HEA/SCOP/Universities UK/HEFCW/ Scottish Funding Council/
Department for Employment and Learning.
Lucas, L. (2006). The research game in academic life. Maidenhead: The Society for Research into Higher
Education/Open University Press.
Merton, R. K. (1942). The Normative Structure of Science. In N. Storer (Ed.) The sociology of science:
Theoretical and empirical investigations (pp. 267278). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Schwen, M. R. (1993). Exiles from Eden: Religion and the academic vocation in America. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
Skelton, A. M. (2005). Understanding teaching excellence in higher education: Towards a critical approach.
London: Routledge.
Weber, M. (1919). Science as a vocation. In E. Shils (Ed. and trans.) (1973) Max Weber on universities: The
power of the state and the dignity of the academic calling in Imperial Germany (pp. 5462). Chicago:
The University of Chicago Press.
78 B. J. Macfarlane and M. Cheng
... El hecho de considerar estos aspectos en las evaluaciones erosiona la integridad y la credibilidad de la institución científica. Por ello, esta norma enfatiza la importancia de que el científico se mantenga al margen y sea objetivo al momento de analizar los datos pues permite la creación de conocimiento universal (Macfarlane & Cheng, 2008). Lo anterior es importante pues garantiza que el progreso científico se desarrolle sin importar valoraciones personales. ...
... Es decir, que en sus actividades sólo debe predominar la búsqueda de la verdad científica que tenga un impacto positivo en los demás. Entonces, los investigadores no deben tener apego emocional o financiero con su trabajo (Macfarlane & Cheng, 2008). En adición, Kønig y sus colegas (2017) mencionan que los científicos deben aceptar las conclusiones con base en evidencia y no deben hacer campaña por un punto de vista o resultado particular. ...
... A comienzos de la década de 1980 con la aparición de leyes como la Bayh-Dole (Public Law 96-517, 1980), primero en Estados Unidos de América y luego en otras partes del mundo, las universidades y los centros de investigación se percataron de los beneficios económicos que podían obtener a partir del conocimiento científico. Como consecuencia de la capitalización del conocimiento, la innovación y la comercialización se volvieron parte fundamental de las universidades (Dzisah, 2010;Krishna, 2014;Macfarlane & Cheng, 2008). ...
Thesis
Full-text available
Hoy en día, existen diversas iniciativas que promueven la apertura de datos científicos; en consecuencia, es pertinente estudiar la postura de los investigadores sobre el tema y verificar como ésta coincide con la estructura normativa de la ciencia propuesta por Robert K. Merton e Ian I. Mitroff. El objetivo de esta tesis es analizar el interés de investigadores de ciencias sociales en compartir datos de investigación con base en el espectro de las normas y contra normas de la ciencia, a fin de comprender de qué forma ellos coinciden o difieren con la apertura de datos científicos. La investigación se desarrolló de acuerdo con el enfoque constructivista de la teoría fundamentada. Se realizaron entrevistas semiestructuradas a 12 investigadores sociales; quienes compartieron su postura y experiencia en torno a la apertura de los datos que poseen. Los testimonios de los investigadores entrevistados fueron procesados por medio del análisis comparativo constante y con el uso del programa ATLAS. ti versión 8. Los resultados revelan que en el interés de los científicos sociales en compartir datos está presente una inclinación por compartir selectivamente, perpetuar el sistema, proteger la privacidad y tener en cuenta los recursos disponibles. Asimismo, en dicha inclinación se manifiestan las normas y contra normas de la ciencia cuya presencia es variable según las circunstancias. Luego se emplea el concepto de ambivalencia sociológica para dar cuenta de las tensiones experimentadas por los participantes al tratar la distribución de datos y se plantea una redefinición de las normas y contra normas en el marco de la apertura de datos en la ciencia. Se considera que los hallazgos de esta investigación son importantes pues permiten comprender cuál es el interés de los investigadores sobre la apertura de datos en la ciencia y cómo éste se asocia con la estructura normativa de la ciencia. Finalmente, los resultados son relevantes pues se trata de un fenómeno que ha sido estudiado escasamente en el contexto mexicano; por lo anterior, podría ser de utilidad en la elaboración de lineamientos para promover la práctica de compartir datos en la ciencia.
... El hecho de considerar estos aspectos en las evaluaciones erosiona la integridad y la credibilidad de la institución científica. Por ello, esta norma enfatiza la importancia de que el científico se mantenga al margen y sea objetivo al momento de analizar los datos pues permite la creación de conocimiento universal (Macfarlane & Cheng, 2008). Lo anterior es importante pues garantiza que el progreso científico se desarrolle sin importar valoraciones personales. ...
... Es decir, que en sus actividades sólo debe predominar la búsqueda de la verdad científica que tenga un impacto positivo en los demás. Entonces, los investigadores no deben tener apego emocional o financiero con su trabajo (Macfarlane & Cheng, 2008). En adición, Kønig y sus colegas (2017) mencionan que los científicos deben aceptar las conclusiones con base en evidencia y no deben hacer campaña por un punto de vista o resultado particular. ...
... A comienzos de la década de 1980 con la aparición de leyes como la Bayh-Dole (Public Law 96-517, 1980), primero en Estados Unidos de América y luego en otras partes del mundo, las universidades y los centros de investigación se percataron de los beneficios económicos que podían obtener a partir del conocimiento científico. Como consecuencia de la capitalización del conocimiento, la innovación y la comercialización se volvieron parte fundamental de las universidades (Dzisah, 2010;Krishna, 2014;Macfarlane & Cheng, 2008). ...
Thesis
Hoy en día, existen diversas iniciativas que promueven la apertura de datos científicos; en consecuencia, es pertinente estudiar la postura de los investigadores sobre el tema y verificar como ésta coincide con la estructura normativa de la ciencia propuesta por Robert K. Merton e Ian I. Mitroff. El objetivo de esta tesis es analizar el interés de investigadores de ciencias sociales en compartir datos de investigación con base en el espectro de las normas y contra normas de la ciencia, a fin de comprender de qué forma ellos coinciden o difieren con la apertura de datos científicos. La investigación se desarrolló de acuerdo con el enfoque constructivista de la teoría fundamentada. Se realizaron entrevistas semiestructuradas a 12 investigadores sociales; quienes compartieron su postura y experiencia en torno a la apertura de los datos que poseen. Los testimonios de los investigadores entrevistados fueron procesados por medio del análisis comparativo constante y con el uso del programa ATLAS. ti versión 8. Los resultados revelan que en el interés de los científicos sociales en compartir datos está presente una inclinación por compartir selectivamente, perpetuar el sistema, proteger la privacidad y tener en cuenta los recursos disponibles. Asimismo, en dicha inclinación se manifiestan las normas y contra normas de la ciencia cuya presencia es variable según las circunstancias. Luego se emplea el concepto de ambivalencia sociológica para dar cuenta de las tensiones experimentadas por los participantes al tratar la distribución de datos y se plantea una redefinición de las normas y contra normas en el marco de la apertura de datos en la ciencia. Se considera que los hallazgos de esta investigación son importantes pues permiten comprender cuál es el interés de los investigadores sobre la apertura de datos en la ciencia y cómo éste se asocia con la estructura normativa de la ciencia. Finalmente, los resultados son relevantes pues se trata de un fenómeno que ha sido estudiado escasamente en el contexto mexicano; por lo anterior, podría ser de utilidad en la elaboración de lineamientos para promover la práctica de compartir datos en la ciencia.
... Christensen et al. 2019b), albeit to a markedly different degree (cf. Macfarlane and Cheng 2008), and corresponding formulations regarding, for example, issues of transparency can be found in codes of conduct for safeguarding good scientific practice (e.g. DFG 2019). ...
Article
Full-text available
Based on available literature, this essay looks at trends in scholarly attitudes and academic practices, primarily within the sphere of social sciences, and asks whether they have been in line with Robert K. Merton’s institutional principles of science as they were formulated in his famous essay “The Normative Structure of Science.” This essay argues that these principles have not been fully imple­mented but have become increasingly recognised and widely accepted as normative points of refer­ence also in large parts of the social sciences. However, there have been both marked deviations and significant side effects. Given the internal heterogeneity of a discipline like sociology, practices that selectively interpret the Merton principles may add to existing internal cleavages.
Article
What differentiates scientific research from non-scientific inquiry? Philosophers addressing this question have typically been inspired by the exalted social place and intellectual achievements of science. They have hence tended to point to some epistemic virtue or methodological feature of science that sets it apart. Our discussion on the other hand is motivated by the case of commercial research, which we argue is distinct from (and often epistemically inferior to) academic research. We consider a deflationary view in which science refers to whatever is regarded as epistemically successful, but find that this does not leave room for the important notion of scientific error and fails to capture distinctive social elements of science. This leads us to the view that a demarcation criterion should be a widely upheld social norm without immediate epistemic connotations. Our tentative answer is the communist norm, which calls on scientists to share their work widely for public scrutiny and evaluation.
Chapter
Full-text available
1 Γιάννης Ζαϊμάκης 1. Εισαγωγή Κατά την εναρκτήρια ομιλία του στο Ετήσιο Συνέδριο της Παγκόσμιας Εμπορικής Ένωσης Ακαδημαϊκών Εκδόσεων των ΗΠΑ στις 11 Απριλίου 2019, ο Oliver Dumon, Διευθύνων Σύμβουλος Προϊόντων στην Elsevier, είπε ότι το σημαντικότερο πράγμα που συμβαίνει αυτήν τη στιγμή στον χώρο των επιστημών είναι ότι: «Ο κόσμος της έρευνας σύρεται στον καπιταλιστικό κόσμο» (Szadkowski & Krzeski, 2019: 404). Η δήλωση αυτή κορυφαίου αξιωματούχου ενός εκδοτικού κολοσσού που ελέγχει το 25% της αγοράς ακαδημαϊκών δημοσιεύσεων, συμπεριλαμβανομένων και επιστημονικών περιοδικών κύρους, διαθέτει τη φημισμένη βάση δεδομένων Scopus και ασκεί κυριαρχικό έλεγχο σε επιχειρηματικά επιστημονικά δίκτυα που παρέχουν υπηρεσίες σε πανεπιστημιακούς, έχει ιδιαίτερη αξία. Δείχνει τη σημασία που αποδίδουν οι ακαδημαϊκές ελίτ στην επι-χειρηματική αξιοποίηση της έρευνας στην τριτοβάθμια εκπαίδευση. Στις συνθήκες της ύστερης νεωτερικότητας, τα πανεπιστήμια καλούνται να διαμορ-φώσουν αποδοτικά ερευνητικά οικοσυστήματα που θα λειτουργήσουν ως κινητήριοι μοχλοί στην ανάπτυξη της οικονομίας της γνώσης, παράγοντας καταρτισμένο εργατικό δυναμικό προσαρμοσμένο στις ανάγκες μιας ευέλικτης αγοράς εργασίας. Σε παγκόσμιο επίπεδο, το δημόσιο πανεπιστήμιο πιέζεται να αναζητήσει πόρους που χάνονται από τις δραστικές περικοπές των δημόσιων δαπανών, και οι νεοφιλελεύθερες εκπαιδευτικές 1. Ευχαριστώ θερμά την Ελένη Φουρναράκη για τα εποικοδομητικά της σχόλια και τις κριτικές παρα-τηρήσεις, που βοήθησαν στην ανάπτυξη κάποιων θέσεων του κειμένου.
Article
Full-text available
Sixty years have passed since Merton’s famous publication of “a note on science and democracy,” outlining the scientific ethos via four sets of norms, namely communism, universalism, disinterest­edness, and organized skepticism (CUDOS). Merton’s rationale was that the implementation of this ethos was instrumental in realizing science’s institutional goal: “the extension of certified knowledge.” Throughout the ensuing decades, Merton’s conception has been at the center of heated debates in the emerging field of science and technology studies. It has also been addressed by em­pirical studies with a view to determine the scale at which CUDOS was supported by scientists them­selves in explicit terms and/or conformed to in their actual practice. Some of these studies also make room for the possibility that CUDOS might have evolved throughout the past decades, incrementally adapting the norm sets. This article contributes to such empirical endeavors. Building on ethno­graphic work at a technology assessment (TA) institute, I find that a distinct shared ethos is tangible in TA’s post-normal science practices—in collaborations with non-scientists as well as with “pure academics.” A reconstruction of TA’s distinct ethos from my empirical material results in the delin­eation of a post-normal scientific ethos, comprising “extended communism,” “diffracted uni­versal­ism,” “diffracted disinterestedness,” “extended organized skepticism,” “diffracted originality,” and “extended relevance.” These “extensions” and “diffractions” have ramifications for the organiza­tion of post-normal science and its interaction with academia, publics, and polities.
Article
Although adherence to Mertonian values of science (i.e., communism, universalism, organized skepticism, disinterestedness) is desired and promoted in academia, such adherence can cause friction with the normative structures and practices of Open Science. Mertonian values and Open Science practices aim to improve the conduct and communication of research and are promoted by institutional actors. However, Mertonian values remain mostly idealistic and contextualized in local and disciplinary cultures and Open Science practices rely heavily on third-party resources and technology that are not equally accessible to all parties. Furthermore, although still popular, Mertonian values were developed in a different institutional and political context. In this article, we argue that new normative structures for science need to look beyond nostalgia and consider aspirations and outcomes of Open Science practices. To contribute to such a vision, we explore the intersection of several Open Science practices with Mertonian values to flesh out challenges involved in upholding these values. We demonstrate that this intersection becomes complicated when the interests of numerous groups collide and contrast. Acknowledging and exploring such tensions informs our understanding of researchers' behavior and supports efforts that seek to improve researchers' interactions with other normative structures such as research ethics and integrity frameworks.
Article
Full-text available
Scientists’ interest in sharing research data based on Robert K. Merton’s ethos of science is analyzed. Thirty scientific documents from Scopus and Web of Science citation indexes were reviewed. The interpretative analysis of the content was done with the ATLAS. ti software. Among the findings, several factors associated with scientists’ refusal to share data in science stand out. Other positions were also found that promote awareness in favor of distributing them, since the common good is above private interests. Finally, it is verified that the ethos of science is an appropriate proposal to analyze the interest of researchers in the distribution of research data.
Article
Full-text available
Se analiza el interés de los científicos en compartir datos de investigación con base en el ethos de la ciencia de Robert K. Merton. Se revisaron treinta documentos científicos, resultado de búsquedas en bases de datos como Scopus y Web of Science; el análisis interpretativo del contenido se realizó con el programa ATLAS.ti. Entre los hallazgos destacan diversos factores asociados a la negación de los científicos para compartir datos en la ciencia. Asimismo, se encontraron otros posicionamientos que promueven una concientización a favor de distribuirlos, pues el bien común está por encima de los intereses particulares. Finalmente, se constata que el ethos es una propuesta apropiada para examinar el interés de los investigadores en la distribución de datos de investigación.
Article
What makes a university teacher 'excellent'? As debates rage about whether this is down to subject knowledge, communication skills, taking a research-led approach or being a technological whiz, this book provides the first in-depth examination of teaching excellence in higher education. Identifying and examining interpretations of teaching excellence, it considers what 'excellent' means and implies for practice.