European Journal of Sociology

Trois études sur la science

Resistance to the Systematic Study of Multiple Discoveries in Science

Robert K. Merton

The pages of the history of science record thousands of instances of similar discoveries having been made by scientists working independently of one another. Sometimes the discoveries are simultaneous or almost so; sometimes a scientist will make anew a discovery which, unknown to him, somebody else had made years before. Such occurrences suggest that discoveries become virtually inevitable when prerequisite kinds of knowledge and tools accumulate in man's cultural store and when the attention of an appreciable number of investigators becomes focussed on a problem, by emerging social needs, by developments internal to the science, or by both. Since at least 1917, when the anthropologist A. L. Kroeber published his influential paper dealing in part with the subject (I) and especially since 1922, when the sociologists William F. Ogburn and Dorothy S. Thomas compiled a list of some 150 cases of multiple independent discoveries and inventions (2), this hypothesis has become firmly established in sociological thought.