Risk, reward, and the choices we face as scientists

Kevin Gross (North Carolina State University)

April 5, 2024, 12:45–13:45


Room Auditorium 4 (First floor - TSE Building)


Scientific research requires taking risks, as the most cautious approaches are unlikely to lead to the most rapid progress. Yet much funded scientific research plays it safe and funding agencies bemoan the difficulty of attracting high-risk, high-return research projects. Why don't the incentives for scientific discovery adequately impel researchers toward such projects? Here I adapt an economic contracting model to explore how the unobservability of risk and effort discourages risky research. The model suggests that, because the scientific community is approximately self-governing and constructs its own reward schedule, the incentives that researchers are willing to impose on themselves are inadequate to motivate the scientific risks that would best expedite scientific progress. In other words, while the scientific community may be perpetually frustrated by its inability to impel investigators to take bigger risks, this frustration is not necessarily evidence of poor institutional design; it may instead be an unavoidable consequence of information asymmetries inherent in the scientific endeavor. I will also present a brief and idiosyncratic overview of the emerging field of ‘meta-science’, a burgeoning, multi-disciplinary research area that explores how scientific institutions shape scientific activity.


Kevin Gross (North Carolina State University), Risk, reward, and the choices we face as scientists, IAST Lunch Seminar, Toulouse: IAST, April 5, 2024, 12:45–13:45, room Auditorium 4 (First floor - TSE Building).