Abstract: Systems of Values in Conflict? Scientific Research in a Pharmaceutical Firm

Michael C. Schneider


Scientific research rests, in the view of the sociologist Robert K. Merton, on a set of moral values which, in a condensed form, present themselves as a coherent ''scientific ethos.'' Among those very idealized values are virtues such as ''communism''—the notion that the outcomes of research belong to the scientific community as a whole, with reputation for the researcher in exchange—and ''disinterestedness,'' which are necessary preconditions of scientific work. Although a bit outdated, this concept nevertheless seems relevant to address the question whether this set of scientific norms, understood as ''virtues,'' can be reconciled with the virtues of an entrepreneurial environment: striving after yields, carefully watching over scientific results, and judging them as the property of the firm—virtues which in a scientific environment clearly would count as ''vices.'' After addressing some of the consequences of those presupposed irreconcilabilities, the paper turns to the case of the pharmaceutical firm E. Merck in Darmstadt, Hesse, in the decades after 1900. Here I discuss to what extent the surrounding of business virtues did compensate for the partial absence of scientific virtues in order to ensure the scientific foundation of research that led to new products.