Shifting the level of selection in science

Karthik Panchanathan
Life Sciences Center 572

Shifting the Level of Selection in Science 

Criteria for recognizing and rewarding scientists typically focus on individual contributions. This creates a conflict between what is best for scientists’ careers and what is best for science. In this paper, we show how principles from the theory of multilevel selection provide a toolkit for modifying incentives to better align individual and collective interests. A core principle is the need to shift the level at which selection operates, from individuals to the groups in which individuals are embedded. This principle is used in several fields to improve collective outcomes, including animal husbandry, professional sports, and professional organizations. Shifting the level of selection has the potential to ameliorate several problems in contemporary science, including accounting for scientists’ indirect contributions, reducing individual-level competition, and promoting specialization. We discuss the difficulties associated with changing the level of selection and outline directions for future development in this domain.