As Robert Merton discusses in “The Sociology of Science”, the Mertonian norms of science are communalism, universalism, disinterestedness, and organized skepticism. Merton believes these four norms of science are influenced by society and play out in the consciousness of scientists. The concept of universalism and communism apply in most fields of science: genomics, Newtonian physics, or Darwinian Evolution is shared knowledge across nations, race, and class divides and seen as common “heritage”(1) or introductory concepts before more advanced study.  Disinterestedness and organized skepticism also traits shared by most scientists. For example, Galileo and Einstein both challenged and redefined commonly held scientific notions of the universe during their time and created lasting impacts in their fields. As a science major, the four Mertonian norms deeply resonated with my experiences.

In theory, all four Mertonian norms have a role in the study of computer science and physics. Most computer science curriculums contain the work of research done across several decades, which is similar to how knowledge is shared in Mertonian communism. Computer science is still a relatively new field compared to physics so its growth is accelerated with the growing open-source software, which is a term used to describe software whose code is openly shared. Anyone from any background should be able to access open-source software; this is a form of universalism. Physics also shares traits of universalism: the laws of physics taught in one country should not differ much from another country. Physics also exhibits Mertonian communism: most introductory courses contain knowledge shared and passed down from centuries ago like Newton’s Law of Motion. Both fields also exhibit organized skepticism because in order to conduct research, it is necessary for “the temporary suspension of judgement and the detached scrutiny of beliefs in terms of empirical and logical criteria”.(1) For the purpose of research, scientists in both fields must consider “potentialities”(1) to the extreme and suppress most of their socially accepted beliefs. In the case of Nicolaus Copernicus, for example, he disproved a commonly held notion of geocentrism or the earth being the center of the universe. In general, scientists exhibit a sense of disinterestedness or being able to juggle the fine line between their research interests and rigorous policing by society.  

Merton’s description of the four norms of science resonated with my experiences as a science major. When learning the fundamentals of a field in science, a student must retain a high degree of objectivity. There may be thousands of years of accumulated knowledge in subjects like math and only several decades worth of knowledge in subjects like computer science.  Scientist also have to carefully consider how their research might challenge established notions of the universe. It seems necessary that most science disciplines reflect the four norms of science in order to further the advancement of that field.

(1) Robert K Merton (1973) [1942], “The Normative Structure of Science”