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Scooped! Estimating Rewards for Priority in Science


The scientific community assigns credit or “priority” to individuals who publish an important discovery first. We examine the impact of losing a priority race (colloquially known as getting “scooped”) on subsequent publication and career outcomes. To do so, we take advantage of data from structural biology where the nature of the scientific process together with the Protein Data Bank — a repository of standardized research discoveries — enables us to identify priority races and their outcomes. We find that race winners receive more attention than losers, but that these contests are not winner-take-all. Scooped teams are 2.6 percent less likely to publish, are 20 percent less likely to appear in a top-10 journal, and receive 21 percent fewer citations. Getting scooped has only modest effects on academic careers. If researchers are scooped early in the process, they find ways to pivot their research to minimize the effect. Finally, we present evidence that the priority reward system reinforces inequality of reputation in science. On the whole, these estimates inform both theoretical models of innovation races and suggest opportunities to re-evaluate the policies and institutions that affect credit allocation in science.


Working Paper


Ryan Hill, Carolyn Stein

Date Published



Hill, Ryan, and Carolyn Stein. 2024. Scooped! Estimating Rewards for Priority in Science.


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