Sociology of Science

Most institutions demand unqualified faith; but the institution of science makes skepticism a virtue.” ― Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure
Most institutions demand unqualified faith; but the institution of science makes skepticism a virtue.”― Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure

Robert K. Merton is seen as the “father” of the sociology of science. His research posed the question: What are the social and cultural bases of knowledge? For example, Merton examined the role of socioeconomic status, work, ethnicity, power and other social processes of competition and conflict. The cultural bases of science include the values, the dominant ideas in broader culture.

Merton also focused on the mental processes that affect knowledge production. He discussed the “spheres of mental productions” that impact on scientific studies. This includes issues of morality, beliefs, ideology, philosophy, religion, social norms, technology and the scientific process itself (that is, how research is actually carried out). Merton focused on the phenomena being studied, the hypotheses formed, data collection, ideals of validity and reliability, and other intellectual activities.

Merton also called into question the process by which scientific ideas are related. For example, how cause and effect arguments are formulated, and the way in which logic is formulated. He also questioned why certain scientific ideas become related. That is, how power relationships within scientific circles manage criticism of their discipline. Merton also studied how scientific relations lead to new theories.

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