ESEP 12:35-51 (2012)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esep00118

Demand or discretion? The market model applied to science and its core values and institutions

Ylva Hasselberg*

Department of Economic History, Uppsala University, Box 513, 751 20 Uppsala, Sweden

ABSTRACT: This paper addresses the hypothetical consequences of applying the rationality of the market model to the core activities of science, viz. reading, writing texts, and posing and answering scientific questions. What would happen to science and to our ideas and norms regarding science if we ascribed to the individual scientist the rationality of ‘economic man’? The starting point is a discussion of scientific norms and driving forces in the sociology of science. A central conclusion is that science has until now been perceived as being judgment driven, and that scientific judgment historically has been formed in a setting where intersubjectivity has been central. This analysis bridges the gap between classical Mertonian sociology of science and science and technology studies. What then happens to discretionary decision making if we introduce economic rationality into science? Economics tends to treat science from a Mertonian viewpoint, presupposing a value-based rationality, and when economic rationality (the supply/demand mechanism) is introduced, these values are not affected. However, the conclusion of this article is that this would indeed deeply affect scientific rationality. Discretionary decision making would be downplayed, as focus would shift from the text as a means of communicating the result, to the text as a commodity in a market of publication. This would disembed the credibility cycle, and it would alter the character of scientific work and undermine intersubjectivity. Consumption would be disembedded from the context of use and from the norms regarding the use of texts and their value. The knowledge base necessary for intersubjectivity would decrease.


KEY WORDS: Discretion · Demand · Scientific rationality · Commodification · Norms · ­Professional judgment · Academic capitalism · Intersubjectivity


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Cite this article as: Hasselberg Y (2012) Demand or discretion? The market model applied to science and its core values and institutions. Ethics Sci Environ Polit 12:35-51. https://doi.org/10.3354/esep00118

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