Merton Normative Structure of Science by WX55L2Y


“The Normative Structure of Science”
**Which of Merton’s four core values of the scientific ethos was most flagrantly abused
in the case of global warming we discussed on Tuesday? Would there be any way of
interpreting the case of global warming such that none of these values were violated?

**On 268, Merton distinguishes 4 senses of the term ‘science.’ Which does he explore?
Which did the previous authors we’ve read explore? What is the relationship between
these different aspects of science?

**On 270, Merton discusses the goals, methods, and imperatives of science, concluding
that imperatives are binding “not only because they are procedurally efficient, but
because they are believed right and good” (270). What are the imperatives and why are
they not simply “procedurally efficient”?

**On 271, Merton says that “Ethnocentrism is not compatible with universalism.” I want
you to remember this quotation when we read Rorty and Harding in the coming weeks.

**On 275, Merton remarks that the “communism of the scientific ethos is incompatible
with the definition of technology as ‘private property’ in a capitalistic economy.” What is
the communism of the scientific ethos? Do you agree or disagree that it is at odds with
capitalism’s conception of technology?

Intro/Science and Society
Merton notes that science used to have an aura of invincibility and thus did not have to
reflect upon its social status. More recently, however, anti-intellectualism has become
more rampant, leading “scientists to recognize their dependence on particular types of
social structure” (267). In particular he cites scientists becoming aware of their
“obligations and interests” (268)

Merton disambiguates four senses of science:
   (1) A set of characteristic methods by means of which knowledge is certified;
   (2) A stock of accumulated knowledge stemming from the application of these
   (3) A set of cultural values and morés governing the activities termed scientific; and
   (4) Any combination of the foregoing.
Merton is concerned with item (3).

The Ethos of Science
Ethos of science: the “affectively toned complex of values and norms which is held to be
binding on the man of science. The norms are expressed in the form of prescriptions,
proscriptions, preferences, and permissions.” (268-9)

The goal of science is the extension of certified knowledge, which can be spelled out in
terms of its technical methods: “empirically confirmed and logically consistent
statements of regularities (these are often predictions).
The imperatives of science derive from the goal and the methods (e.g., Empirically
confirm statements of regularities, Be consistent, Seek knowledge, Certify knowledge,
etc.) More precisely, Merton thinks that empirical methodology is a “prerequisite for
sustained true prediction [and…] logical consistency, a prerequisite for systematica and
valid prediction” (270). These imperatives are binding “not only because they are
procedurally efficient, but because they are believed right and good” (270).

He then flags four institutional imperatives—universalism, communism,
disinterestedness, and organized skepticism—as comprising the ethos of modern
science—its “core values.”

The acceptance or rejection of a scientific claim should not depend upon the personal or
social background of the person offering that claim.

However science is always situated within a larger society, which may oppose
universalism. “Ethnocentrism is not compatible with universalism” (271) Here Merton
notes that even when violated the force of the norm is still evident.

Ex. In WWI, British, French, and German scholars charged each other with nationalistic
bias and a slew of other intellectual violations. In hindsight, we think this was
unscientific. The reason? Universalism. Without it, we’d think they were being patriotic.

Universalism also mandates that “careers be open to talents” i.e., that science be a
meritocracy. Since the goal of science is furthering our knowledge, and precluding
competent practitioners would impede this goal, access to scientific careers should
promote be based on competence alone. (272)

Universalism is also a (laissez-faire) democratic principle. As Merton writes,
“Impersonal criteria of accomplishment and not fixation of status characterize the open
democratic society.” (273)

Established scientific knowledge should be accessible to all members of the scientific
community to use, explore, etc.

In other words, data and theories are not like cars, houses, etc.

If a law, theory, etc. is named after a person, this only bestows prestige upon the person
so named, usually because the law or theory is a significant contribution. Since this is the
only privilege of ‘ownership’ of a theory, it becomes a prized possession. Merton notes
that originality and priority (who first came up with an idea) are “accented” because of
As a result communication of scientific results is prized and secrecy about them scorned.

Interestingly, Merton remarks that the “communism of the scientific ethos is
incompatible with the definition of technology as ‘private property’ in a capitalistic

Scientific claims should not be put forth solely to further one’s interests or advance one’s
own agenda.

Merton first notes that disinterestedness is an institutional obligation, which should not
be confused with any individual motive. Scientists may have any number of individual
drives and desires (fame, curiosity, altruism, etc.) that motivate them. The “institutional
control of a wide range of these motives” better characterizes what is central to science.

This explains why there is little fraud in science. Merton notes that this comes about
because scientists are well-“policed” by rigorous empirical tests performed by other
scientists (276)

Scientists also have a very different relationship to lay clientele than other professions.
When there is a stronger relationship between laypeople and scientists, incentives for
fraud and pseudoscience become more pressing.

Organized skepticism
Scientific claims should be evaluated by suspending judgment and scrutinizing claims in
terms of empirical and logical considerations alone.

This often puts science in conflict with other spheres of life, since those spheres often do
not suspend judgment and have fairly well entrenched commitments to certain ideas.

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