adding democracy to Robert Merton’s CUDOS norms for science

Civic Science is an emerging scholarly conversation, and today we held a discussion of it at Tufts. In my group, we agreed that scientists are not value-free but are indeed defined by certain values. We went back to the list of four values that Robert K. Merton identified in 1942. Per Wikipedia, those are:

  • Communalism all scientists should have equal access to scientific goods (intellectual property) and there should be a sense of common ownership in order to promote collective collaboration, secrecy is the opposite of this norm.
  • Universalism all scientists can contribute to science regardless of race, nationality, culture, or gender.
  • Disinterestedness according to which scientists are supposed to act for the benefit of a common scientific enterprise, rather than for personal gain.
  • Organized Skepticism Skepticism means that scientific claims must be exposed to critical scrutiny before being accepted.

These “CUDOS” norms emerge from the practices of actual scientists, yet they areĀ  aspirational. In fact, they may be rarely honored in a given population of scientists, but they would still reflect the ideals of science. They thus provide tools for the critical assessment of actual science.

We proposed adding:

  • Openness: meaning not only openness to data and evidence, but to diverse perspectives and voices.
  • Democratic Engagement It’s not enough to decide that your scientific work is disinterested. You owe an argument to fellow citizens for why it actually is in the public interest. At the same time, you must influence public priorities. If, for instance, there is no funding for addressing a disease suffered by the world’s poor, that means that you cannot just go out and study it. But you can advocate for funding.
  • Service This goes beyond “the benefit of a common scientific enterprise” to encompass benefit to the world (human beings and other species)

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.
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