Polycentric structure and informal norms: competition and coordination within the scientific community

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The success of the scientific community challenges in many ways our theories of social cooperation and public goods production. It is a very large-scale, decentralized, international organization lacking any central management or a formalized legislative or rule-enforcement body. Even the entry/exclusion rules are lax and unclear. By many standards it should not work. But, instead, it is one of the most successful human endeavors of all time. This paper provides an updated institutionalist theory of how this community works, with an extended discussion of its informal norms, prestige mechanisms, decentralized resource allocation, and interactions with states and civil society. Second, the paper discusses the ways in which the scientific community can fail at its truth-seeking task as a result of distortions created by outside political pressure and interactions with self-interested funding sources arguing that, as long as the polycentric structure is kept in place and the informal norms are preserved, the distortions are likely to be minor.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)63-80
Number of pages18
JournalInnovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • economics of science
  • informal norms
  • polycentricity
  • prestige
  • signaling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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