Mavericks and Lotteries


In 2013 the Health Research Council of New Zealand began a stream of funding titled ‘Explorer Grants’, and in 2017 changes were introduced to the funding mechanisms of the Volkswagen Foundation ‘Experiment!’ and the New Zealand Science for Technological Innovation challenge ‘Seed Projects’. All three funding streams aim at encouraging novel scientific ideas, and all now employ random selection by lottery as part of the grant selection process. The idea of funding science by lottery emerged independently in several corners of academia, including in philosophy of science. This paper reviews the conceptual and institutional landscape in which this policy proposal emerged, how different academic fields presented and supported arguments for the proposal, and how these have been reflected (or not) in actual policy. The paper presents an analytical synthesis of the arguments presented to date, notes how they support each other and shape policy recommendations in various ways, and where competing arguments highlight the need for further analysis or more data. In addition, it provides lessons for how philosophers of science can engage in shaping science policy, and in particular, highlights the importance of mixing complementary expertise: it takes a (conceptually diverse) village to raise (good) policy.

In Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A
Shahar Avin
Research Associate