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Christina's LIS Rant
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
  Norms, Counter-Norms, Ideology?
Dr Free-Ride, in basic concepts posts (1,2,3,) describes the Mertonian scientific norms as well as anti-norms found in empirical studies by Mitroff.

I have a bunch of Merton and one Mitroff[*] on my comps readings and one of my readers (thanks, Ken) suggested Mulkay[**] - which actually links these two and then goes further - maybe into a bit of controversy. Definitely worth talking about.

Mertonian norms - from RK Merton[***] - are
Often mentioned with these are rationality, humility, and emotional neutrality [**].

Mitroff spent a bunch of time talking to and studying the Apollo scientists and showed with evidence in the form of quotes and well-crafted explanation that indeed the scientists sometimes report the scientific norms, but in everyday work, practice counter-norms. Now these counter-norms are not evil, but necessary. Mulkay provides several examples.
So there are norms and counter norms both there at the same time in science. Mulkay asks, "To what extent are these norms institutionalized?" Institutionalized means that they are positively connected to the reward system of science. Well, the reward system of science revolves around formal scholarly communication - publish peer-reviewed journal articles, get promoted, grad students, a better lab... But, for the most part, Mertonian norms don't come into play when selecting, reading, or citing an article. Most of the personality is taken out of them. They do play in getting to the position in which you can do the science (disadvantages due to race, gender, class, prestige of the institution are examples Mulkay gives).

According to Mulkay, the difference can be attributed in part to how the data was gathered for the two views. Merton and others studied the work of and talked to "great scientists" - these are the people who have the most invested in making their lab look good. Mitroff talked to and watched practicing scientists.

Here comes the somewhat controversial part. Mulkay says that scientists have, over history, intentionally provided the incomplete and misleading view of science to further their own interests - they use a "vocabulary of justification" to promote what becomes an ideology.

He gets to this point by looking bit of history. Post-Civil War (US) scientists started to argue for the autonomy and independence of science. Scientists say: Science is self-regulating because we have these norms and all, non-scientists can't really understand and judge value. By the first world war, there was little popularization, and scientists were quite isolated. Post war, there was a need to get more support for science - and funding - from the government so there was a move to paint science as the "source of national progress" (isn't it?). The view of scientists that was advertised was as virtuous and all good things like humble, patient, altruistic...

So he makes the point that there are these "vocabularies of justification which are used to evaluate, justify, and describe the professional actions of scientists, but which are not institutionalized within the scientific community such that conformity is maintained" and that scientist use this "occupational ideology" to maintain some autonomy and freedom from governmental control.

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I think ideology might go a bit far - I think scientists are brought up with the Mertonian norms but are pretty pragmatic when work needs to be done. No doubt modeled on their advisor and shaped by bad experiences, they do keep certain secrets, and save time (rightfully so) by judging work on the impact factor of the journal, prestige of the affiliation, or past history of the researcher. Dr. F-R talks a bit more about malfeasance or intentional bad things - but there are a lot of things which don't fit into the Mertonian norms but are just fine within the actual social norms of the local social circle of scientists.

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[*] Mitroff, I. I. (1974). Norms and counter-norms in a select group of the Apollo moon scientists: a case study of the ambivalence of scientists. American Sociological Review, 39(4), 579-595.
[**] Mulkay, M. J. (1976). Norms and ideology in science. Social Science Information, 15(4-5), 637-656. DOI:10.1177/053901847601500406
[***]Merton, R. K. (1973). The normative structure of science. In N. W. Storer (Ed.), The sociology of science: theoretical and empirical investigations (pp. 267-278). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Original work published 1942).

Update: comps tag added

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Comments:
Thank you Christina. I am a PhD student in Higher Education Leadership at Indiana State University. My dissertation interest focuses on the commercialization of academic research. Merton is peppered through the literature on this topic. I was looking for an instrument that measures Mertonian norms, or Mitroff's counter-norms, and stumbled across your blog. If you have any ideas on where I might find an instrument other than the 1977 Survey of the American Professoriate, which attempts to incorporate Merton's norms, I would be exceedingly indebted to you.

Thank you again.

Eric Motycka

emotycka1@indstate.edu

If I can be of any assistance to you, please, let me know.
 
This is kind of cool- three years later I'm reading Mitroff and Merton prepping for my own field exam and I end up reading your overview after getting confused by Mullkay . Open science win! See you next week in N.O.
 
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This is my blog on library and information science. I'm into Sci/Tech libraries, special libraries, personal information management, sci/tech scholarly comms.... My name is Christina Pikas and I'm a librarian in a physics, astronomy, math, computer science, and engineering library. I'm also a doctoral student at Maryland. Any opinions expressed here are strictly my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer or CLIS. You may reach me via e-mail at cpikas {at} gmail {dot} com.

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