Psychology Colloquium: Prof Carl Bergstrom : The impediments to high-risk, high-return research
Prof Carl Bergstrom (University of Washington)
Scientific researchers may be driven by curiosity, but they are constrained by the realities of the scientific ecosystems in which they operate and motivated by the incentives with which they are confronted. We can use mathematical models of the research enterprise to understand how scientific norms and institutions shape the questions we ask, the efficiency with which we work, and the discoveries we make about the world around us. In this talk I present a pair of mathematical models aimed at revealing why scientists are reluctant to propose and conduct high-risk research. In the first vignette we look at how peer review filters — ex ante review as for grant proposals and ex post review as for completed manuscripts — shape the types of questions that researchers pursue. In the second vignette, we develop an economic “hidden action” model to explore how the unobservability of risk and effort discourages risky research. Scientific norms and institutions are not god-given; we create and maintain them. If we can understand their consequences, we have the potential to nudge the norms and institutions in directions better tailored to our contemporary research questions and technologies.