Research Moneyball

You should go read Jason Preim‘s excellent commentary in Nature –  Scholarship: Beyond the Paper but I wanted to call out a bit that I’ve talked about with a number of people and I think is important. We should be looking at how we build the best teams of scientists and not just looking for the single best individual:

Tenure and hiring committees will adapt, too, with growing urgency. Ultimately, science evaluation will become something that is done scientifically, exchanging arbitrary, biased, personal opinions for meaningful distillations of entire communities’ assessments. We can start to imagine the academic department as a sports team, full of complementary positions (theorists, methodologists, educators, public communicators, grant writers and so on). Coming years will see evaluators playing an academic version of Moneyball (the statistical approach to US baseball): instead of trying to field teams of identical superstars, we will leverage nuanced impact data to build teams of specialists who add up to more than the sum of their parts.

Science is a big team sport especially with today’s need for interdisciplinary and large-scale experiments. We need to encourage the building of teams in sciences.

  1. the “Moneyball” concept is based on optimizing for a pre-determined goal – on maximizing for “utility.” while there are lots of opptys to refine and apply existing science breakthroughs, i am skeptical that the creativity needed for new, unforeseen discoveries is amenable to the Moneyball model.

  2. paulgroth said:

    Mike – I think what we are optimizing for teams to do innovative science – we look at research track records of individual scientists now – I think it’s worth looking at the track record of whole teams and appreciating the role that each individual plays on that team. I agree that we don’t have as easy numbers to measure as in baseball but we do have both numbers and judgements around quality.

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