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Beetles: Biased Promotions and Persistence of False Belief

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  • George Akerlof
  • Pascal Michaillat

Abstract

This paper develops a theory of promotion based on evaluations by the already promoted. The already promoted show some favoritism toward candidates for promotion with similar beliefs, just as beetles are more prone to eat the eggs of other species. With such egg-eating bias, false beliefs may not be eliminated by the promotion system. Our main application is to scientific revolutions: when tenured scientists show favoritism toward candidates for tenure with similar beliefs, science may not converge to the true paradigm. We extend the statistical concept of power to science: the power of the tenure test is the probability (absent any bias) of denying tenure to a scientist who adheres to the false paradigm, just as the power of any statistical test is the probability of rejecting a false null hypothesis. The power of the tenure test depends on the norms regarding the appropriate criteria to use in promotion and the empirical evidence available to apply these criteria. We find that the scientific fields at risk of being captured by false paradigms are those with low power. Another application is to hierarchical organizations: egg-eating bias can result in the capture of the top of organizations by the wrong-minded.

Suggested Citation

  • George Akerlof & Pascal Michaillat, 2017. "Beetles: Biased Promotions and Persistence of False Belief," NBER Working Papers 23523, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23523
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Timothy Perri, 2018. "Economics of evaluation (with special reference to promotion and tenure committees)," Economics of Governance, Springer, vol. 19(1), pages 1-19, February.
    2. Kasy, Maximilian & Frankel, Alexander, 2018. "Which findings should be published?," MetaArXiv mbvz3, Center for Open Science.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions
    • M51 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - Firm Employment Decisions; Promotions
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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