Constructal self-organization of research: Empire building versus the individual investigator
"Empire building" is a phenomenon that dominates today's research landscape. Large groups, national priorities and research centers dwarf the spontaneous individual investigators. Administrators and the thirst for higher rankings encourage this trend. Yet, the individuals do not disappear. This paper explains why. It attributes the emergence of the large group to the pursuit of greater visibility for the institution as a whole. The visibility (V) is modeled as a product of the production (P) of ideas in the institution, and the support (S) that the institution secures for the production of ideas. The coalescence of some investigators into a large group tends to increase S and decrease P. On the other hand, an increase in the number of individual investigators has the opposite effect. From this trade-off emerge the main and well-known features of contemporary research organization: the proportionality between the size of the large group and the size of the entire institution, the strong relationship between the visibility of an institution and its size, and the fact that large groups occurred first in the largest and most research-intensive institutions. The paper also shows that as the incentives for large-group research become stronger, smaller and smaller institutions find it beneficial to abandon the individual investigator mode and seek a balance between research empires and individual investigators. The individual researcher will not disappear. © 2008 WIT Press.
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