Sunday, 12 June 2011

The value of research

What is the value of the research we do? Can we workout the contribution we make to social welfare? The Economic Logician writes,
Robert Hofmeister tries to give research some value. The approach is to consider the scientific process through cohorts, where each wave provides fundamental research as well as end-applications based on previous fundamental research. A particular research results thus can have a return over many generations. It is an interesting way to properly attribute the intellectual source of a new product or process, but the exercise is of little value if it is not possible to quantify the social value of the end-application. Indeed, Hofmeister goes back to using citations in Economics for a data application, which is equivalent to evaluate research only within the scientific community. In terms of the stated goal of the paper, we are back to square one. In terms of getting a better measure of citation impact, this is an interesting application of an old idea. And the resulting rankings of journals and articles look very much like those that are already available.
My guess would be that most research adds nothing to social welfare. I see no real social value in anything I've written or in most of what I read.

The abstract of the Hofmeister paper reads,
This paper proposes a generational accounting approach to valuating research. Based on the flow of scientific results, a value-added (VA) index is developed that can, in principle, be used to assign a monetary value to any research result and, by aggregation, on entire academic disciplines or sub-disciplines. The VA-index distributes the value of all applications that embody research to the works of research which the applications directly rely on, and further to the works of research of previous generations which the authors of the immediate reference sources have directly or indirectly made use of. The major contribution of the VA index is to provide a measure of the value of research that is comparable across academic disciplines. To illustrate how the generational accounting approach works, I present a VAbased journal rating and a rating of the most influential recent journal articles in the field of economics.

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