24 July 2010

Researching Researchers ~ Tech Review Survey

Technology Review has an interesting survey piece Measure for Measure, which covers recent work by MIT economists and management scientists who are "researching the researchers" trying to understand what makes science effective, especially since...
"...until recently, no one has really studied what makes scientists productive. "There are a lot of anecdotes and stories but no serious empirical basis for studying the funding of science," says Julia Lane, program director for the Science of Science and Innovation Policy group at the NSF. Within the last decade, however, a number of economists with MIT links have been shedding new light on the ways scientists work. "This topic has had a high ratio of pontificating to actual research achievements," says Pierre Azoulay, PhD '01, an associate professor at MIT's Sloan School of Management. "But we want to bring the scientific method to bear on the scientific enterprise." [...] In the 1990s, a few labor economists (including MIT's Joshua Angrist) discovered new ways to conduct "natural experiments," studies that mimic laboratory-style randomized trials. They began using historical data to pinpoint the impact a single difference makes between two otherwise equivalent groups of workers. At the same time, detailed Internet citation databases began cropping up, giving economists a source of hard data for natural experiments that assessed the influence, productivity, and teamwork of equivalent groups of scientists. These developments enabled economists to study scientists closely for the first time, says Scott Stern of Kellogg, a former MIT economist and a prominent figure in the analysis of science."
For results, read the piece -- and, of course, the scientific papers published by these researchers!

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