UCL Division of Biosciences


CDB Seminar - Prof Carl Bergstrom, University of Washington

21 October 2021, 5:00 pm–6:00 pm

photo of carl bergstrom

Title: Grant proposal contests and peer review filters: modeling the consequences of scientific incentives.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to







Michael Wright – Cell and Developmental Biology

Abstract: Scientific researchers may be driven by curiosity, but they are constrained by the realities of the scientific ecosystems in which they operate and motivated by the incentives with which they are confronted. We can use mathematical models of the research enterprise to understand how scientific norms and institutions shape the questions we ask, the efficiency with which we work, and the discoveries we make about the world around us. In this talk I present two models, both of which were developed in collaboration with statistician Kevin Gross at NCSU. In the first vignette, we consider the efficiency consequences of grant proposal competitions, in which research funding is allocated by a contest mechanism with grant proposals as the outputs. We illustrate the huge inefficiencies of this approach and consider alternative mechanisms including partial lotteries for funding. In the second, we look at how peer review filters — ex ante review as for grant proposals and ex post review as for completed manuscripts — shape the types of questions that researchers pursue. We show that ex ante and ex post review select for different kinds of work, we discuss strategies that scientists may take to navigate both types of review, and we look at how ex ante review discourages risky research projects. Our scientific norms and institutions are not god-given; we create and maintain them. If we can understand their consequences, we have the potential to nudge the norms and institutions in directions better tailored to our contemporary research questions and technologies.

illustration by Carl T Bergstrom

Hosts: Tom Dufor and Matthew Bostock


Meeting ID: 988 1147 8589
Passcode: 901767

About the Speaker

Carl Bergstrom

Professor at University of Washington

I am a Professor of Biology at the University of Washington. Though trained in evolutionary biology and mathematical population genetics, I enjoy working across disciplines and integrating ideas across the span of the natural and social sciences.

The unifying theme running throughout my work is the concept of information. Within biology, I study how communication evolves and how the process of evolution encodes information in genomes. In the philosophy and sociology of science, I study how norms and institutions influence scholars’ research strategies and, in turn, our scientific understanding of the world. Within informatics, I study how citations and other traces of scholarly activity can be used to better navigate the overwhelming volume of scholarly literature. Lately I've become concerned with the spread of disinformation on social networks, and interested in figuring out what we can do about it.

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