The DECAY of Merton’s scientific norms and the new academic ethos

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This article provides a conceptual reformulation of Merton’s scientific ethos widely known by the acronym CUDOS (i.e. communism, universalism, disinterestedness and organised scepticism). While Merton perceived the threat to the autonomy of science as coming from outside the walls of academe, mainly in the form of nationalism and racism, the subsequent rise of neoliberalism and global market forces means that the scientific ethos is being undermined largely from within the university itself, leading to the DECAY (i.e. differentialism, egoism, capitalism and advocacy) of CUDOS. The STEM-ification of the humanities and social sciences academic community has led to the rise of a post-academic ethos. This manifests itself in professional pragmatism with academics facing both ways at the same time by remaining largely committed to Mertonian norms in theory but needing to adapt to the performative demands of DECAY as a new set of institutional norms that prevails in practice. Copyright © 2023 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. 

Original languageEnglish
JournalOxford Review of Education
Early online dateSept 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Sept 2023


Macfarlane, B. (2023). The DECAY of Merton’s scientific norms and the new academic ethos. Oxford Review of Education. Advance online publication.


  • Communism, universalism, disinterestedness and organized scepticism (CUDOS)
  • Merton
  • STEM
  • Scientific ethos
  • Neoliberalism
  • Performativity


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