Norms are specific to a social group, though the group may be very broadly defined. The term “norm” is used in two distinct ways in the social science literature: norm may be a behavior that is typical within the social group, or it may refer to a behavior that is deemed desirable or ideal for the social group. These two types of norms have been described, respectively, as statistical versus professed (Barnes and Dolby, 1970), and descriptive versus injunctive (Christensen, Rothgerber, Wood and Matz, 2004).
The American sociologist Robert Merton (1942) sought to give shape (literally, “structure”) to the normative system of science overall by specifying norms that fairly and uniquely characterize the system. His pithy formulation of four norms was never intended as an exhaustive specification of the entire normative system of science. He specifically omitted from consideration what he termed “technical norms” (such as empirical evidence and logical consistency) that had to do with methodology. He chose norms that were not only manifest but also appeared to him to have high, if not universal, rates of subscription among scientists. Each norm was matched by what he later referred to as a “counter-norm,” that is, an impetus for action contrary to that enjoined by the norm. Finally, these norms, unlike rules or policies, were to be understood as largely informal in expression and transmission. The Mertonian norms are communality, universalism, disinterestedness, and organized skepticism.
The four Mertonian norms (often abbreviated as the CUDOS-norms) can be summarised as: communalism
: all scientists should have common ownership of scientific goods (intellectual property), to promote collective collaboration; secrecy is the opposite of this norm. universalism
: scientific validity is independent of the sociopolitical status/personal attributes of its participants disinterestedness
: scientific institutions act for the benefit of a common scientific enterprise, rather than for the personal gain of individuals within them organized scepticism
: scientific claims should be exposed to critical scrutiny before being accepted: both in methodology and institutional codes of conduct.
Ian Mitroff’s (1974) study of the Apollo moon scientists provided empirical evidence of the influence of “counternorms” in science. These counternorms (solitariness, particularism, interestedness and organized dogmatism, in Mitroff’s words) are point-for-point contrary to the Mertonian norms. Mulkay (1976) has argued that these counternorms “can also be interpreted, by participants as well as by observers, as being essential to the furtherance of science” (p.639). For example, scientists see a bias in favor of the work of those whom they trust as a matter of efficiency, without likely or perceptible loss of quality.
Mitroff identified a parallel set of four "counternorms", which Anderson describes as follows: Particularism
: Scientists assess new knowledge and its applications based on the reputation and past productivity of the individual or research group. Individualism
: Scientists protect their newest findings to ensure priority in publishing, patenting, or applications. Self-interestedness
: Scientists compete with others in the same field for funding and recognition of their achievements. Organized dogmatism
: Scientists invest their careers in promoting their own most important findings, theories, or innovations
British sociologist of science Michael Mulkay (1976, 1980) has argued that neither the Mertonian norms, nor Mitroff’s counternorms, nor both together represent the normative structure of science. Instead, he argues that the (Mertonian) norms are “better conceived as vocabularies of justification, which are used to evaluate, justify and describe the professional actions of scientists, but which are not institutionalised within the scientific community in such a way that general conformity is maintained” (1976, p.653–654). Their use is in providing a kind of verbal shorthand by which scientists reference ideologies that support their interests, political and otherwise, in the funding and social arenas of science. (For a rebuttal, see Zuckerman (1988, p.517).
Mulkay’s perspective suggests that the Mertonian norms exist largely as part of scientists’ intentional presentation of science to outsiders. Institutional theories of organizations (Meyer and Rowan, 1977) emphasizes the critical importance of such facades as a means of protecting an institution’s core activities from external interference and maintaining institutional legitimacy, which is the basis for continued support from external agents. The Mertonian norms then can be seen as reflecting and supporting the “social stereotype” (Mulkay, 1976, p.647) of scientists. They are statements that align with the expectations of outsiders.
This perspective not only rejects the role of norms as binding on behavior, but also suggests that it is more critical for normative statements to reflect the behavioral expectations of outsiders than to correspond to those of insiders. One might argue, then, that relative newcomers to science (students, postdoctoral fellows) would exhibit levels of subscription to standard formulations of normative principles that are at least as high as, if not higher than, those of established scientists.
Others have likewise criticized the Mertonian norms. Barnes and Dolby (1970) argue against the binding nature of the norms on scientists’ behavior. Gibbs (1981) raises a five-point challenge to norms in general, and concludes that the notion of norms be abandoned and replaced by a focus on the “normative properties” (p.18) of behaviors. Slaughter and Rhoades (2004) note that critical and social constructionist strands in the literature on norms and values in science have raised challenges to Merton’s formulation of the norms.
Controversies about the Mertonian norms have raised and clarified certain points relevant to the interpretation of the norms. Despite occasional renewed objections to the norms, many of the major points of controversy have been largely settled. Do the Mertonian norms, with their positive valence, adequately represent the norms of science? No, as Mitroff’s work has shown.
Do the Mertonian norms together with Mitroff’s counternorms adequately represent the norms of science? No, as there have been suggestions (not based on empirical evidence) that principles such as autonomy and rationality (Barnes and Dolby, 1970; Barber 1952), emotional neutrality and emotional commitment (Mitroff, 1974), individualism (Hess, 1997), independence (Hagstrom, 1965), originality (Ziman, 2000) and openness (Slaughter and Rhoades, 2004) be added to the list. Are the norms binding on behavior or expressive of ideal behaviors? Hess represents the majority view: “For decades the consensus among social scientists has been that, as descriptions of the norms that actually guide scientists’ action, Merton’s norms do not exist in any pervasive form…. It is possible to salvage Merton’s delineation of the norms of science, but only as a prescription of how scientists should behave ideally” (1997, p.57). Ziman concurs: “Indeed, norms only affirm ideals; they do not describe realities.
They function precisely to resist contrary impulses” (2000, p.31).2
Two other points of controversy relate directly to our own analysis below. First, are the norms of science directed to insiders in their prescriptions of ideal behavior, or are they aimed at outsiders as Mulkay has suggested? It seems likely that both perspectives are at least partially valid, and that the issue can be addressed empirically. If the norms are essentially a part of the culture of science, then insiders might be expected to subscribe to the norms more strongly than outsiders and even newcomers. If, instead, they function largely as signals and points of reference for outsiders, then the insiders might be expected to show lower levels of subscription to the norms. The same kind of test could be applied to determine whether the norms are largely the province of the scientific elite or of the scientific community in general.
Second, do the norms (and counternorms) adequately capture the overall normative system of science? The consensus is that they do not -- nor could any finite list of normative principles represent the complex normative system. In an analysis of normative statements by scientists studying pulsars, Mulkay has noted the “striking contrast between the simplicity and uniformity of sociologists’ version of the norm of communality and the complexity and diversity” of scientists’ interpretations of the rules for communicating results (1980, p.121). The normative system of science is affected by interpretation (Mulkay, 1980), context, contingencies, and differential power (Gibbs, 1981), among other factors. If the normative system of science is largely latent, as we have argued above, then it remains largely unknowable. One might conclude, then, that the construct of “norm” must then be omitted from empirical analyses of scientists and their behavior.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995462/