Public agencies like the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) award tens of billions of dollars in annual science funding. How can this money be distributed as efficiently as possible to best promote scientific innovation and productivity? The present system relies primarily on peer review of project proposals. In 2010 alone, NSF convened more than 15,000 scientists to review 55,542 proposals. Although considered the scientific gold standard, peer review requires significant overhead costs, and may be subject to biases, inconsistencies, and oversights. We investigate a class of funding models in which all participants receive an equal portion of yearly funding, but are then required to anonymously donate a fraction of their funding to peers. The funding thus flows from one participant to the next, each acting as if he or she were a funding agency themselves. Here we show through a simulation conducted over large-scale citation data (37M articles, 770M citations) that such a distributed system for science may yield funding patterns similar to existing NIH and NSF distributions, but may do so at much lower overhead while exhibiting a range of other desirable features. Self-correcting mechanisms in scientific peer evaluation can yield an efficient and fair distribution of funding. The proposed model can be applied in many situations in which top-down or bottom-up allocation of public resources is either impractical or undesirable, e.g. public investments, distribution chains, and shared resource management.
Collective allocation of science funding: from funding agencies to scientific agency
Johan Bollen, David Crandall, Damion Junk, Ying Ding, Katy Boerner