Discussion paper

DP12514 Beetles: Biased Promotions and Persistence of False Belief

This paper develops a theory of promotion based on evaluations by the already promoted. The already-promoted show favoritism toward candidates with similar beliefs, just as beetles are more prone to eat the eggs of other species. With such egg-eating bias, false beliefs may not be eliminated by the promotion system. The main application is to scientific revolutions: when tenured scientists show favoritism toward tenure candidates with similar beliefs, science may not converge to the true paradigm. We extend the statistical concept of power to science: the power of the tenure test is the probability (absent any bias) of denying tenure to a scientist who adheres to the false paradigm, just as the power of any statistical test is the probability of rejecting a false null hypothesis. The power of the tenure test depends on the norms regarding the appropriate criteria to use in promotion and the empirical evidence available to apply these criteria. Economics and other social sciences are particularly at risk of capture by false paradigms because they have low power. Another application is to hierarchical organizations.


Michaillat, P and G Akerlof (2017), ‘DP12514 Beetles: Biased Promotions and Persistence of False Belief‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 12514. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp12514