Archive for December, 2015

Top Posts for 2015

| Peter Klein |

Here are our most popular posts published in the last year. In 2015 we had 149,323 page views from 97,396 unique visitors. As noted last year, blog server stats are increasingly unreliable as more and more people read blog content via social media, Feedly, Flipboard, etc.; if you read an O&M post on Facebook or LinkedIn, our server doesn’t pick it up. Speaking of which, you can like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, add us to your RSS reader, or receive our carrier pigeon notices. Moreover, while Dick and Lasse are old-school hipsters, Nicolai and I have public Facebook pages here and here with additional content.

Thanks to all authors, readers, commenters, and sharers for a great 2015.

30 December 2015 at 10:32 am 1 comment

Azoulay on Star Scientists

| Peter Klein |

dd5a855b9c3941b0336b647acdb35582Pierre Azoulay has written a number of important and interesting papers on the economics and sociology of science: How does teamwork effect science? What are the relationships among scientists and students, collaborators, and rivals? A new paper with Christian Fons-Rosen, Joshua S. Graff Zivin looks at the unexpected death of a “star” scientist to identify the (exogenous) impact of the star’s research on her field. The main result — that stars matter — is perhaps not surprising, but the magnitude of the effect is remarkable.

Consistent with previous research, the flow of articles by collaborators into affected fields decreases precipitously after the death of a star scientist (relative to control fields). In contrast, we find that the flow of articles by non-collaborators increases by 8% on average. These additional contributions are disproportionately likely to be highly cited. They are also more likely to be authored by scientists who were not previously active in the deceased superstar’s field. Overall, these results suggest that outsiders are reluctant to challenge leadership within a field when the star is alive and that a number of barriers may constrain entry even after she is gone.

Read the whole thing, as well as related work by Toby StuartJoshua Graff Zivin, and others.

Update: Here is a non-technical summary on

14 December 2015 at 12:14 pm 2 comments

Can Junior Scholars Do Risky Research?

| Peter Klein |

The AOM’s Entrepreneurship Division listserv has been featuring an interesting discussion on the incentives facing junior (and senior) scholars for doing “high-risk” research. To be sure, most early-career scholars focus on making incremental contributions to well-established research programs; after securing tenure, the argument goes, they can be bolder and more experimental. The problem is that, in many academic fields, junior scholars have the greatest capacity for novelty and creativity (in mathematics, for example, you may be past your prime at 35). I’m not sure this true in the social sciences, which may place too much emphasis on clever technique over mature reasoning. But certainly many academics worry that the need to publish or perish makes it difficult for junior scholars to take chances, to the detriment of scientific progress.

I really liked Jeff McMullen‘s comments on the problem, reproduced here with permission:

Dean Shepherd and I wrote a paper about this issue several years ago, which grappled with some of these issues, especially what “risky research” means to tenure track researchers. Here’s the reference:

McMullen, J. S., & Shepherd, D. A. (2006). Encouraging Consensus‐Challenging Research in UniversitiesJournal of Management Studies43(8), 1643-1669.

I wanted to write that paper because I was starting off my career and wanted to do consensus-challenging research, but I also wanted to understand the consequences of employing such a career strategy. Much of what Dean and I discovered in that research has only intensified over the years as competitive pressures have made institutional incentives that much more uniform.

The challenge for me personally, however, is not the incentives and institutional pressures; instead, it is having the moral courage to conduct research that I believe is important and valuable even though I know the academy may not yet value it, at least not yet. Will I be able to meet the high productivity bar of my colleagues whose research or approach is more mainstream? Some of us are drawn to topics that are mainstream (count your blessings you lucky dogs), but some of us just have to let our freak flags fly. What is the cost of doing research we care about and do we have the courage to pay this price?

Like other innovations, consensus-challenging research is uncertain. Just like routine must be the norm for innovation to mean anything, incremental, consensus building research has to be the norm for any notion of uncertain, consensus-challenging research to make sense. Sometimes uncertainty bearing pays off economically, but more often it does not. Therefore, uncertain payoffs are likely to be motivated by incentives that are not economic — e.g., intrinsic motivation such as intellectual curiosity or feeling like we have said something original if that’s even possible. Perhaps, this is how it should be.

So, the real question for me is and has been through much of my career: how much is it worth to me in terms of institutional status, job security, promotion, or raises to forgo incremental publications and the accolades that come with those to write papers I care about? What is the optimal blend that I might stay employed yet truly care deeply about what I write? Can I live with socio-emotional costs of not being as productive as my colleagues?

For the most part, I have been blessed to be surrounded by colleagues who have valued me and what I do, but I also sought to work for institutions and with colleagues who I believed valued what I valued or at least had that capacity.

Can the system be better? Absolutely, it could be more forgiving. We could lower the institutional costs of innovative research.  But, the system only has as much power as you and I choose to give it over our hearts and minds.  Great leaders throughout history ranging from Jesus to Gandhi to King to Mandela have confronted a similar choice between compliance and civil disobedience and have had the moral courage to choose civil disobedience despite consequences that dwarf what you and I face. Changing the system starts first with having the moral courage to make peace with the worst possible outcome and yet still having the conviction to advance what we believe in.

So, let us ask what we might change “out there” to make science more inclusive, but let us not forget to ask what we need to change in ourselves. Like the entrepreneurs we study, meaningful work has a price, and may only be meaningful because it does.

4 December 2015 at 5:01 pm 2 comments

Incentives, Ideology, and Climate Change

| Peter Klein |

1484We’ve written before on the institutions of scientific research which, like other human activities, involves expenditures of scarce resources, has benefits and costs that can be evaluated on the margin, and is affected by the preferences, beliefs, and incentives of scientific personnel (1, 2, 3). This sounds trite, but the view persists, especially among mainstream journalists, that science is fundamentally different, that scientists are disinterested truth-seekers immune from institutional and organizational constraints. This is the default assumption about scientists working within the general consensus of their discipline. By contrast, critics of the consensus position, whether inside our outside the core discipline, are presumed to be motivated by ideology or private interest.

You don’t need to be Thomas Kuhn, Imre Lakatos, or any modern historian or philosopher of science to find this asymmetry puzzling. But it is the usual assumption in particular areas, most notably climate science. A good example is this recent New York Times piece by Justin Gillis, “Short Answers to Hard Questions About Climate Change.” In response to the question, “Why do people question climate change?” Gillis gives us ideology and private interests.

Most of the attacks on climate science are coming from libertarians and other political conservatives who do not like the policies that have been proposed to fight global warming. Instead of negotiating over those policies and trying to make them more subject to free-market principles, they have taken the approach of blocking them by trying to undermine the science.

This ideological position has been propped up by money from fossil-fuel interests, which have paid to create organizations, fund conferences and the like. The scientific arguments made by these groups usually involve cherry-picking data, such as focusing on short-term blips in the temperature record or in sea ice, while ignoring the long-term trends.

Ignore the saucy rhetoric (critics of the consensus view don’t just question the theory or evidence, they “attack climate science”), and note that for Gillis, opposition to the mainstream view is a puzzle to be explained, and the most likely candidates are ideology and special interests. Honest disagreement is ruled out (though earlier in the piece he recognizes the vast uncertainties involved in climate research). Why so many scientists, private and public organizations, firms, etc. support the mainstream position is not, in Gillis’s opinion, worth exploring. It’s Because Science. The fact that billions of dollars are flowing into climate research — a flow that would slow to a trickle if policymakers believed that man-made carbon emissions are not contributing to global warming — apparently has no effect on scientific practice. The fact that many climate-change proponents are, in general, ideologically predisposed to policies that impose greater government control over markets, that reduce industrial activity, that favor particular technologies and products over others is, again irrelevant.

Of course, I’m not claiming that climate scientists in or outside the mainstream consensus are fanatics or money-grubbers. I’m saying you can’t have it both ways. If ideology and private interests are relevant on one side of a debate, they’re relevant on the other side as well. Perhaps the ideology and private interests of New York Times writers blind them to this simple point.

2 December 2015 at 5:45 pm 1 comment


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