The Moral Limits of the Market: Science Commercialization and Religious Traditions

  • Jared L. PeiferEmail author
  • David R. Johnson
  • Elaine Howard Ecklund
Original Paper


Entrepreneurs of contested commodities often face stakeholders engaged in market excluding boundary work driven by ethical considerations. For example, the conversion of academic scientific knowledge into technologies that can be owned and sold (i.e., science commercialization) is a growing global trend and key stakeholders have different ethical responses to this contested commodity. Commercialization of science can be viewed as a good thing because people believe it bolsters economic growth and broadly benefits society. Others view it as bad because they believe it discourages basic research that ought to be freely shared without concern for profit. Taking a descriptive sociological approach, we posit that the stance of a religious tradition toward capitalism will help shape individual scientists’ views on science commercialization and test whether the religious tradition of scientists correlates with their attitude toward the commercialization of science. To maximize variance on the religious tradition dimension, we analyze pooled data from a cross-national survey of university biologists and physicists encompassing France, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Taiwan, Turkey, UK and the USA. We indeed find religious tradition differences. Hindus and scientists with no religious tradition are more likely to agree that commercialization of science “harms a university’s commitment to knowledge production” than Protestants. We end with a discussion on business ethics and the moral limits of the market as well as implications for entrepreneurs of contested commodities.


Academic capitalism Contested commodity Religion 



Data collection for this paper was funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation, Religion among Scientists in International Context Study TWCF0033/AB14, Elaine Howard Ecklund PI, Kirstin R. W. Matthews and Steven Lewis, Co-PIs.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jared L. Peifer
    • 1
    Email author
  • David R. Johnson
    • 2
  • Elaine Howard Ecklund
    • 3
  1. 1.Loomba Department of ManagementBaruch CollegeNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.University of NevadaRenoUSA
  3. 3.Rice UniversityHoustonUSA

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