7.2 The Merits and Defects of Competition in Science

Project 7.2 uses computational, agent-based, Bayesian modelling to study the emergence of macro-level epistemic effects in communities of researchers labouring under more or less competitive structures.

Project info

This project is situated at the disciplinary intersection of formal philosophy and social psychology. The overall setup for the challenge is as such: What are the effects, positive and negative, of structuring the scientific endeavour competitively, of placing individual scientists and groups thereof in structures that have them compete for scarce resources? The primary lens through which ‘effects’ are understood in this context is epistemology. Relative to a naturalistic, empiricist conception of science, knowledge and the world, it is sensible to study the verisimilitude of the scientific community, the accuracy and amount of knowledge produced, as well as the efficiency of this production process. Because and insofar they are epistemologically relevant, questions about the impacts of competition on the well-being, perceived purpose, interpersonal collaboration and cooperation, academic freedom, prejudice and conformity etc. of individual scientists within these systems – as they are of interest from the perspective of social psychology – are core to the project. This brief overview already surfaces the complexity that results from the interplay of the relevant factors: On the macro level of ‘scientific communities’ the project is concerned with market dynamics, network structures and resource distribution schemes. On the micro level of individual scientists, it is concerned with how students and researchers perceive their roles, incentives and strategies within said structures. The project thus requires a method of studying the impact of different structures on the behaviour and reasoning of individuals, and vice versa, of how the latter combine within the former to produce measurable and intelligible macro-scale epistemological outcomes.
Project start
End date
Behavioral theory
  • Identities
  • Networks
Klee Schöppl
Rijksuniversiteit Groningen
Prof.dr. Jan Willem Romeijn
Rijksuniversiteit Groningen
Prof.dr. Naomi Ellemers
Utrecht University
dr. Felipe Romero
Rijksuniversiteit Groningen
  • agent-based modelling
  • Bayesian epistemology
  • feminist epistemology
  • organization of science
  • Philosophy
  • Social psychology
  • Sociology
  • Trade unions
Work package
  • Work
Sustainability threat
  • External Shocks
  • Dealing with diversity
  • Identity flexibility and sustainable cooperation
  • Reshaping organizational forms
Theoretical background
The project rests on three methodological pillars: (1) Feminist (social) epistemology and philosophy of science offer a sound theoretical account of human reasoning and the scientific endeavour. They replace an intellectualistic conception of reasoners with one that is cognizant of their social identities and experiences and of the relevancy of epistemic diversity. As such, they are able to bridge the gap between the epistemological measures and desiderata on the one hand, and social psychology on the other. (2) Agent-based modelling bridges the gap between the individual and collective scales of the challenge: In ABMs, the emergence of macro-scale effects can be systematically studied in a two-step process: First, one specifies and implements the behaviour, reasoning and perspectives of individual agents. In the case of my project, these are informed by social psychology, economics and feminist epistemology. Then, these agents are placed within structures, where they interact to influence each other in complex dynamics. As I model competition in scientific communities, structures of interest will be communication- and collaboration networks, as well as systems for resource distribution. (3) The formal, normative, Bayesian framework will allow me to represent and compute the individual perspectives and reasoning of scientists in my ABM probabilistically. As such, it allows the application of measures to the macro-scale epistemological fallout of competitive structures against the backdrop of normatively and epistemically sound reasoning behaviour. The effects of deviations from rationality and other epistemic desiderata can thus be isolated and observed during experimental comparison of the effectiveness of alternative structures.
Research design
Successfully combining these three methods and approaches requires building and applying a computational, Bayesian, agent-based model of scientific communities which offers the relevant semantic depth to faithfully capture and represent core notions from feminist epistemology and philosophy of science, namely standpoints, situated knowledge, epistemic violence and injustice, and epistemic diversity. This model can then be applied to study the epistemic effects of select interventions in how competetively academia is structured.


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