Everybody Act Normal

Scientists have to follow a lot of rules. We have IRB rules, journal submission rules, university rules – lots of rules. But some of the most important rules in science aren’t rules at all – they are norms. Guiding principles that shape the work we do. In this episode, we discuss a classic paper by the sociologist Robert Merton on 4 norms that govern scientific work. Are these norms an expression of scientific values, or just a means to an end? How well do scientists follow them, individually or collectively? Is science doing as well today as Merton thought it was back in 1942 – and is following these norms really the way to make science work right? Plus: We answer a letter about question to ask a prospective PhD advisor.


The Black Goat is hosted by Sanjay Srivastava, Alexa Tullett, and Simine Vazire. Find us on the web at www.theblackgoatpodcast.com, on Twitter at @blackgoatpod, on Facebook at facebook.com/blackgoatpod/, and on instagram at @blackgoatpod. You can email us at letters@theblackgoatpodcast.com. You can subscribe to us on iTunes or Stitcher.

Our theme music is Peak Beak by Doctor Turtle, available on freemusicarchive.org under a Creative Commons noncommercial attribution license. Our logo was created by Jude Weaver.

This is episode 67. It was recorded on October 8, 2019.