Paula Stephan: Practices and Attitudes Regarding Risky Research

Scientists are often portrayed as taking risk when it comes to designing research projects. Funding organizations often list “high risk, high gain” as a top program priority and design programs to encourage risky research. Yet there is considerable evidence that cultural norms discourage risk taking, both on the part of panel members making grant decisions and on the part of scientists.

The talk will discuss evidence that review panels are risk averse, presenting results concerning 8 years of funding decisions made by the Euro- pean Research Council, and discuss factors in addition to risk aversion that may contribute to the finding. The presentation will also focus on factors that discourage risk taking among scientists such as citation practices that in the short run penalize articles that can be characterized as risky, hence discouraging scientists from undertaking research that has an uncertain outcome.

Paula Stephan

Professor, Georgia State University

Paula Stephan is professor of economics, Georgia State University and a research associate, National Bureau of Economic Research. Her research focuses on the economics of science and the careers of scientists and engineers. Recent work examines how bibliometric measures discourage risk taking in science, the relationship between international mobility and scientific productivity, how gender pairing between student and advisor relates to the productivity of PhD recipients and the economics of the postdoctoral position. She is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and member of the Board of Reviewing Editors, Science. She was named ScienceCareers’ first Person of the Year in 2012. Stephan is a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar for the 2018-2019 academic year.