How Research Goes Astray: Paths and Equilibria

26 Pages Posted: 21 May 2019

Date Written: April 22, 2019


Some research disciplines persist for long periods despite contributing very little to our understanding of the world. In the presence of imperfect information about the quality of a given item of research and the existence of informational externalities, multiple equilibria can exist in which path dependence leads to disciplines going astray because researchers are incentivized to invest in low value lines of research. Research fields which have high social value are more likely to thrive, as are fields in which results are subject to evidentiary testing for their contribution to knowledge. When the allocation of resources responds strongly to research productivity, disciplines which focus on an agenda of low productivity may gradually disappear. Survivorship bias can lead to a distribution across disciplines in which weak disciplines have more talented researchers than do stronger disciplines.

Keywords: Research, multiple equilibria, science

JEL Classification: B00, O3

Suggested Citation

Startz, Richard, How Research Goes Astray: Paths and Equilibria (April 22, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Richard Startz (Contact Author)

UCSB ( email )

Department of Economics
University of California
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9210
United States
805-893-2895 (Phone)

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