Negative incentives

This is a sobering blog post.

I have included this here because it conforms to my biases.

Negative incentives in academic research – Daniel Lemire’s blog

We have massively increased the number and importance of ‘extrinsic motivations’ in science. Broadly speaking, we can distinguish between two types of motivations… intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Winning prizes or securing prestigious positions are extrinsic motivations. Solving an annoying problem or pursuing a personal quest are intrinsic motivations. We repeatedly find that intrinsic motivations are positively correlated with long-term productivity whereas extrinsic motivations are negatively correlated with long-term productivity (e.g., Horodnic and Zaiţh 2015). In fact, extrinsic motivations even cancel out intrinsic motivations (Wrzesniewski et al., 2014). Extrinsically motivated individuals will focus on superficial gains, as opposed to genuine advances. Of course, the addition of extrinsic motivations may also create a selection effect: the field tends to recruit people who seek prestige for its own sake, as opposed to having a genuine interest in scientific pursuits. Thus creating prestigious prizes, prestigious positions, and prestigious conferences, may end up being detrimental to scientific productivity.

The simplest example here is the daily blog; I don’t boast of an impressive readership or specific “impressions”. I am not famous or have won prestigious awards or insanely successful, but any external metric. However, I have cracked the code for intrinsic motivation-reading and creating content gives me a better insight than those more successful than me. These are my claims and perspectives, and you can demonstrate your intrinsic motivation by consistently blogging, for example.

Scientific progress has moved away from refining processes to index of publication and gaming grants and creating “prestigious halos”. We need to shift towards the system rewarding the “eureka moments” and for practical applications (and scaled up processes). You often hear about the “breakthrough technologies” promising to improve efficiency gains by an x%. Yet, those breakthroughs don’t scale up commercially to be effective. These breakthroughs are reported to burnish the reputation of the involved “researchers, experts, and universities or non-profits”. Breaking through the clutter becomes more important than the research itself. This needs to change.

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