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Reading Robert K Merton: Priorities Part 1

date: 2013-10-08 20:44

Some notes on reading “Priorities in Scientific Discovery” in The Sociology of Science: Theoretical and Empirical Investigations 1) by Robert K. Merton.

Note: Science is often rife with conflict over priority.

For the moment, it is enough to note that these controversies, far from being a rare exception in science, have long been frequent, harsh, and ugly. They have practically become an integral part of the social relations between scientists. Indeed, the patter is so common that the Germans have characteristically compounded a word for it, Prioritätsstreit (p. 289).

Note: Merton makes a very important point here about causation and disputes over priority.

The bunching of similar or identical discoveries in science is only an occasion for disputes over priority, not their cause or their grounds (p. 289).

And this line lays out the work for him in this article–to explain what that cause is.

Note: Merton's causal explanation–emphasis to point out the causal factor:

In this sense, fights over priority, with all their typical vehemence and passionate feelings, are not merely expressions of hot tempers, although these may of course raise the temperature of controversy; basically, they constitute responses to what are taken to be violations of the institutional norms of intellectual property [emphasis added] (p. 293).

Where the “institutional norms of intellectual property” are here a subset of the institutional norms of science:

it is these norms that exert pressure upon scientists to assert their claims (p. 293).

And here's the implication (or the kicker):

This means that long before we know anything about the distinctive personality of this or that scientist, we know that he will be under pressure to make his contributions to knowledge known to other scientists and that they, in turn, will be under pressure to acknowledge his rights to his intellectual property (p. 294).

And here's the other part of that:

But the great frequency of struggles over priority does not result merely from these traits of individual scientists but from the institution of science, which defines originality as a supreme value and thereby makes recognition of one's originality a major concern (p. 294).
blog/reading-robert-k-merton-priorities-part-1.1488893319.txt.gz · Last modified: 2017/03/07 08:28 by seanburns