The Economics of Scientific Collaboration

I just finished reading Michael Nielsen’s book, “Reinventing Discovery”, which I highly recommend. One of my favorite discussions in the book is also explored in his 2008 essay “The economics of scientific collaboration”. Nielsen’s concept of “expert attention” as a scare resource provides a unique lens through which to explore the economic aspects of scientific research, as a market in and of itself. While there are plenty of debates on the economics of science in the typical ‘discovery > technology > commercial products > quality of life’ arc, Nielsen explores the market aspects of doing science, as opposed to the output of science. I find his perspective refreshing.

One real-world example Nielsen cites as an implementation of these ideas is Innocentive, which is a platform for issuing rewards for solving scientific challenges. In the time since Nielsen wrote that essay, examples of new business models for soliciting “expert attention” have cropped up. The example that immediately comes to mind is Fluence, where creatives can pay media experts for feedback and exposure. Could a structure like Fluence work in science? Perhaps there are other examples in technical fields I’m unaware of. How do these structures change the way research is done? Does it help or hurt scientists?

I’ll echo Nielsen’s final question of the essay:

Might scientific problems now regarded as out of reach become accessible with more effective ways of structuring scientific attention?