Breaking the grant cycle: On the rational allocation of public resources to scientific research projects


The thesis presents a reformative criticism of science funding by peer review. The criticism is based on epistemological scepticism, regarding the ability of scientific peers, or any other agent, to have access to sufficient information regarding the potential of proposed projects at the time of funding. The scepticism is based on the complexity of factors contributing to the merit of scientific projects, and the rate at which the parameters of this complex system change their values. By constructing models of different science funding mechanisms, a construction supported by historical evidence, computational simulations show that in a significant subset of cases it would be better to select research projects by a lottery mechanism than by selection based on peer review. This last result is used to create a template for an alternative funding mechanism that combines the merits of peer review with the benefits of random allocation, while noting that this alternative is not so far removed from current practice as may first appear.

PhD thesis.

No-one can assess proposals better than peers, but are they biased?

Science is more like climbing mountains in a fog than finding lost dogs.

We should fund science that will make our lives better eventually.

Each project’s impact will be determined by a complex causal mess.

Random selection can outperform peer review in simulations.

Let us be honest about the random aspect of science funding.

Shahar Avin
Research Associate