The Input Relationship between Co-Authors in Economics: A Production Function Approach

Article excerpt



IN HIS THEORY OF the normative structure of science, sociologist Robert K. Merton (1973) argues that the institutional goal of science is the extension of certified knowledge. In particular, the emphasis is on research originality, since it is originality that most advances scientific knowledge. Scientific inquiry is characterized by a market process in which scientists publish the results of their research using the prior research of others to which they give and receive recognition.

Merton's view on the structure of science assumes that the reward structure in science is congruent with the norms of science: common ownership of scientific knowledge, objective evaluation of scientific knowledge, and dissemination of scientific knowledge for verification and extension. The reward structure in science compensates scientists principally in the coin of recognition accorded research by fellow scientists. Rewards to scientists are distributed in accordance with the degree of accomplishment, primarily by some form of visible professional recognition (e.g., Nobel Prize, awards, memberships in honorary academies of science). In this specific way, the reward structure of science reinforces and perpetuates the institutional emphasis on research quality and cognitive content. The reward system provides greater incentives for scientists to undertake research that makes the largest contributions to scientific knowledge.

Published research offers many positive benefits to academic economists. First, publications provide evidence that an economist has done work that is relevant to the current research frontier. Second, publications are used by most economics departments to ascertain productivity differences. Most economics departments link tenure, promotion, and salary increases to publication performance. Third, published research is one of the most important means for communicating one's findings, while protecting a researcher's property rights for creative ideas and original contributions.

The second half of the 20th century has seen a fundamental change in the means used to produce economic knowledge: there has been a substantial increase in the incidence of co-authorship in economics (Durden and Perri 1995). Sole authorship of research publications in economics has become less commonplace. This notable change in the method used to produce economic research may have an effect on the advancement of scientific knowledge. The collaborative arrangement may affect the productivity of collaborators and concomitantly the extent of scientific progress. Understanding the input relationship between co-authors in economics is of interest not only to economists but also to sociologists, historians of science, and physical and natural scientists because the incentive structure in academia encourages and rewards collaboration. Many universities and grant-giving agencies promote and reward collaboration because of the belief that collaboration has a positive impact on research productivity (Laband and Tollison 2000).

Empirical evidence on the input relationship between co-authors in economics is a topic of dispute. Almost all of the empirical research has focused on the impact of collaboration on article production by economists. The empirical evidence is mixed. McDowell and Smith (1992), using cross-sectional data from 89 men and 89 women who received their doctorates in economics between 1968 and 1975, found that cumulative article production is not increased by an individual's propensity to co-author. Durden and Perri (1995), using time-series data on total economics article production between 1969 and 1992, found that the percentage of articles co-authored was positively related to the total and per capita economics article production. Hollis (2001) examined the 1981 publication records of 339 members of the American Economic Association whose last names begin with the letters a, b, c, d, s, t, u, and v. …


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