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Steve, great post - that's a collective action problem I'd never really thought about.

I wonder if you would care to speculate on the other collective action problem - i.e. that if I was to apply to SSHRC I would almost certainly be unsuccessful, but I would raise the amount of funds available for the economics committee. There is, however, no way for me to cash in on the positive externality I'm creating by applying for SSHRC. And do you think this collective action is worse in hierarchical disciplines like econ, where everyone pretty much knows how they rank compared to other potential candidates, than in mulit-paradigmatic disciplines like political science, where it can be hard to say how, say, a political economy type ranks as compared to a comparativist, say?

As I mentioned in my comment on your first post in this series, I have pretty much given up on SSHRC as a consistent supporter of social science research in Canada given the low success rates that seem to have become the norm. I think the research grant system has generally always provided the most support for an elite of researchers at the largest and most research intensive universities and that is probably as it should be. At the same time, I don't believe the top 20% of researchers are the only ones worth funding and that anyone outside that top fifth is not doing any worthwhile research. Many active researchers ( as measured by publishing in refereed journals) need only fairly modest support to assist their activity and the tendency towards larger average grants for the top 20 percent simply makes the lives of active researchers outside the top 20% more difficult. Really, what separates a researcher in the top 20% from one in the top 30%? Why not create even higher standards by handing all the money to the top 5% or 10% of ranked research proposals? It a farce to argue that there simply is not enough money to fund all worthwhile projects if we are simply piling the money into whatever government bureaucrats determine the top percentiles should be. Only funding the top fifth may also reduce innovation and research in Canada in the long run if researchers outside the top fifth are simply not funded (assuming that some innovation is generated outside Canada's top 20% of university researchers) but of course that is only an opinion and I certainly cannot back that up with evidence. Not sure about you but it would be difficult to go to bat for SSHRC if a future government decides to simply wind up their funding. After all, if 80 percent of us can conduct research and publish refereed articles with no support, why do we need SSHRC? Cheers. L.

Livio - Yes, that's really the issue, that the SSHRC grant program will fall into a death spiral. Low acceptance rates leading to people abandoning SSHRC completely.

Frances - Back in 2007 or so, I circulated a letter to econ department chairs making the point that according to SSHRC budgetary policies in force at the time, more money requested for economics projects automatically translated into a bigger economics budget. We could have hired undergrads to write up 6 pages of absolute crap, added a grotesquely-inflated budget and cashed in big time. I suspect that to some extent, this is still the case.

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