Journal of Academic Ethics

, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 67–78

Communism, Universalism and Disinterestedness: Re-examining Contemporary Support among Academics for Merton’s Scientific Norms


DOI: 10.1007/s10805-008-9055-y

Cite this article as:
Macfarlane, B. & Cheng, M. J Acad Ethics (2008) 6: 67. doi:10.1007/s10805-008-9055-y


This paper re-examines the relevance of three academic norms to contemporary academic life – communism, universalism and disinterestedness – based on the work of Robert Merton. The results of a web-based survey elicited responses to a series of value statements and were analysed using the weighted average method and through cross-tabulation. Results indicate strong support for communism as an academic norm defined in relation to sharing research results and teaching materials as opposed to protecting intellectual copyright and withholding access. There is more limited support for universalism based on the belief that academic knowledge should transcend national, political, or religious boundaries. Disinterestedness, defined in terms of personal detachment from truth claims, is the least popular contemporary academic norm. Here, the impact of a performative culture is linked to the need for a large number of academics to align their research interests with funding opportunities. The paper concludes by considering the claims of an alternate set of contemporary academic norms including capitalism, particularism and interestedness.


Academic values scientific norms Merton Weber 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Curriculum and Quality EnhancementUniversity of PortsmouthPortsmouthUK
  2. 2.University of BristolBristolUK

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