For those of us who haven’t spent a career in academic medicine, we tend to think of research and publishing as driven by the quest for knowledge. Harvard University Press recently released a book by Paula Stephan (Professor of Economics at Georgia State University) focusing on how science – grants, research topics and, ultimately careers - is influenced by money to a much larger degree than most people realize.
In Stephan’s discussion of collaboration in journal articles, for example, she makes the point that papers are increasingly written by teams of authors rather than a single author. This is due in part to the rising costs of research supplies, equipment and staff. About the only cost that has been decreasing is the cost of global communication which has added to collaborative endeavors. Increased collaboration also reflects the fact that researchers are increasingly narrowing and deepening their areas of specialty.
Interestingly, team-authored articles receive more citations than sole-authored articles in virtually all scientific fields; and in the US, scientific articles coauthored with a collaborator at another institution will have a higher impact factor than scientific articles from authors working together at the same institution.
In addition to these substantive points, Stephan also mentions a number of facts that are interesting and fun. What layman would know that “off the shelf” research mice sell for $17-$60 each, or that some mice predisposed to a certain disease can cost several thousand dollars a piece? How could a layman know the details of the IceCube Neutrino Observatory which sits under the South Pole and lists all 256 project members as authors of articles coming from the project.
How Economics Shapes Science by Paula Stephan, is very readable and fascinating for anyone with an interest in scientific and medical research and how they are influenced by money.