The Role of the Priority Rule in Science

Published: Journal of Philosophy 100:2, 55–79, 2003.

Abstract: Science's priority rule rewards those who are first to make a discovery, at the expense of all other scientists working towards the same goal, no matter how close they may be to making the same discovery. The priority system has been in explained in various ways; I propose a new explanation that, better than other suggestions, accounts for the distinctive features the priority system.

The explanation regards the priority system, and more generally, any scheme of rewards for scientific endeavor, as a device for achieving an allocation of resources among different research programs that provides as much benefit as possible to society. I show that the priority system is especially well-suited to finding an efficient allocation of resources in those situations, characteristic of scientific inquiry, in which any success in an endeavor subsequent to the first success brings little additional benefit to society.

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Further Properties of the Priority Rule

Abstract: In The Role of the Priority Rule in Science, I show that science's priority system for distributing credit promotes an allocation of labor among research programs that maximizes science's payoff to society. This working paper extends this result by describing two ways in which the incentives induced by the priority rule change with the structure of the equation determining the payoff to society so as to maintain the optimality of the payoff even as the parameters determining the nature of the payoff vary. Two parameters are considered: the speed with which a research program is likely to realize its goal, and the correlation between the success of a given program and the successes of its competitors. This paper assumes familiarity with The Role of the Priority Rule in Science.

See a PDF version of "Further Properties of the Priority Rule".