Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Merit Based Research Allocation

Polanyi's The Republic of Science: Its Political and Economic Theory is an example of spontaneous order and has some excellent points.I really was interested in the merit based system which has evolved in regards to how scientist decide what they research. It is indeed interesting to compare this to a priced based system. In a sense they are very similar as the concept of value is key to both systems. Value is is subjective, but it is what the demand curved is based on if there is less of something we value it more and hence the price is pushed upward. Though this basic concept of a demand curve is not in present in Polanyi's explanation as to how the scientific system of order is obtained as research on the Fairbanks inebriates that poop in Josh's walkway is scarce but not considered to be highly valuable in the scientific world. According to Polanyi the allocation is still based on a subjective value but this is the value that other scientists put upon researchers based on according to Polanyi the following: plausibility, scientific value "a value that is composed of the following three coefficients: (a) its accuracy (b) its systematic importance" and originality of a discovery which "is assessed by the degree of surprise which its communication should arouse among scientists." In a sense it is very ironic that so much subjectivity is involved in determining the value of the research in a field which is praised for looking at the world objectivity. I think though that this shows how economics is indeed connected to everything.

As I was reading the article I thought about how one involved in this system would react to the concept of sunk costs in regards to their own research. It is hard enough to look at decisions in the present and realize that the money and time spent on it(whatever your deciding to do or not)can not gotten back and hence is a sunk cost, but how is this issue approached when your reputation as a scientist is lost? This to me seems like it would be hard to shake off as just another "sunk cost." especially in a merit based system where one's research value is determined by how the collective "science force" (te he he this is the best term ever!) view it. I know that I am just a "soft" scientist so maybe I am completely off on this point so maybe some of you can offer some input on this thought.

P.S. Was I the only one disturbed by the fact that Polanyi only refers to scientists of the male gender with all of his pronoun use revolving around him, he, his (unless he is talking about women shelling peas)? Sorry I mean not go all fem-o-nazi on you all I just expected more as it was written in the 1960's after all.


  1. The 1960's were exciting times. Where the women shelled peas, and the men loved them for it.

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  3. You know i was very annoyed by that too. In fact I have his sentence " ...young men are trained to become members of the scientific profession." circled with a big red WTF