Daniel Lemire's blog

, 1 min read

Large well-funded laboratories…

Your intuition is probably that large well-funded research laboratories produce more research… One part of this intuition is flat out wrong. Small teams are consistently more productive:

(…) small sized laboratories are more productive. This result is consistent with the results previously obtained in the literature (…) (Carayol and Matt, 2004)

And while abundant funding does help to produce more papers, there are not necessarily better ones. And the increase in productivity (a few percentage points per million dollars) is lower than you might think. Moreover, not all funding sources have a positive outcome. Earmarked or infrastructure funding may lead to lower quality research.

(…) the receipt of an NIH research grant (worth roughly $1.7 million) leads to only one additional publication over the next five years, which corresponds to a 7% increase. (…) (Jacob and Lefgren, 2011)

Public contractual funding (per permanent researcher) is the only significant funding variable: It plays positively on the publication intensity (not weighted for impact) [but] its impact is rather low. (Carayol and Matt, 2006)

As a first approximation, increasing federal research funding on the margin results in more, but not necessarily higher quality, research output. (Payne and Siow, 2003)

Conclusion: Small teams receiving maybe modest amounts of funding are probably a winning recipe most of the times. It is also a model that is compatible with professors doing hands-on work and having time to teach. We should be skeptical of large centralized projects in research.