January 3, 2019

Allocating reseach funds by lottery

Contest models highlight inherent inefficiencies of scientific funding competitions

Research funding needs reform. In PLOS Biology, you'll find a controversial proposal: lotterys.
As fewer grants are funded, the value of the science that researchers forgo while preparing proposals can approach or exceed the value of the science that the funding program supports. As a result, much of the scientific impact of the funding program is squandered.
Unfortunately, increased waste and reduced efficiency is inevitable in a grant proposal competition when the number of awards is small. How can scarce funds be allocated efficiently, then?
As one alternative, we show that a partial lottery that selects proposals for funding randomly from among those that pass a qualifying standard can restore lost efficiency by reducing investigators' incentives to invest heavily in preparing proposals.
My impression is that we are not prepared to accept such a mechanism for allocating resources. In a world that claims for transparency, research funding allocated by the chance of winning a lottery seems like a joke. (Fortunately the authors of the article didn't received any fund!)