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Limiting “Garbage Can” Bias: Time and Not Resources Affects Research Perseverance (WP-23-25)

Philip Moniz, James Druckman, and Jeremy Freese

What factors contribute to researcher productivity? Scholars have documented various biases in the publication process, perhaps most notably the file drawer bias (i.e., an inability to publish null results, leading them to be put in the file drawer). Much less attention is paid to a distinct bias, what Moniz, Druckman, and Freese coin the “garbage can” bias: where a researcher abandons a project (i.e., throws the entire idea in the garbage can) due to an inability to acquire funds needed for data collection. They leverage a survey with applicants to a National Science Foundation funding program—Time-Sharing Experiments in the Social Sciences—to identify variables that facilitate perseverance (i.e., the pursuit of a project after being declined, thereby avoiding the garbage can). They find that much more important than alternative financial resources is having the time to pursue the project. This suggests that institutions need to ensure scholars, particularly those early in their career, have sufficient time to recover from what are often the sunk costs of a failed grant application.

Philip Moniz, Department of Government, University of Texas at Austin

James Druckman, Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and IPR Fellow, Northwestern University

Jeremy Freese, Professor and Chair of Sociology, Stanford University

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