Skip to main content
Mind the Gap: Formal Ethics Policies and Chemical Scientists' Everyday Practices in Academia and Industry
Science, Technology, & Human Values (2015)
  • Laurel Smith-Doerr, University of Massachusetts - Amherst
  • Itai Vardi, Boston University

Asymmetrical convergence is the increasing overlap between academic and industrial sectors, but with academia moving closer toward for-profit industrial norms than vice versa. Although this concept, developed by Kleinman and Vallas, is useful, processes of asymmetrical convergence in daily laboratory life are largely unexplored. Here, observations of three lab groups of chemical scientists in academic and industry contexts illustrate variation in interactions with ethics-related policies (as defined by the respondents). Findings show more tension for academic science with business-based practices, such as the move toward greater accountability, than for industrial science with academic practices. This asymmetry is evident in the process of purposive decoupling: for example, where academic scientists use humor to distance themselves from the performance of compliance in required reporting and top-down ethics training requirements. This distancing from meaningless requirements (formalism) contrasts with mentoring around practices of professional behavior that are thought to matter (engagement). Convergence is evident in how safety policies seem more engaging than other kinds of policies. Yet, power structures shape engagement. Academic engagement often means rule following, and flows vertically from professor’s authority to student apprenticeship. Industry engagement includes collaborative problem solving and flows along a more horizontal peer structure where informal power is less visible.

Publication Date
March, 2015
Publisher Statement
Science, Technology, & Human Values 2015, Vol. 40(2) 176-198 ª The Author(s) 2014 doi: 10.1177/0162243914557950
Citation Information
Laurel Smith-Doerr and Itai Vardi. "Mind the Gap: Formal Ethics Policies and Chemical Scientists' Everyday Practices in Academia and Industry" Science, Technology, & Human Values Vol. 40 Iss. 2 (2015)
Available at: