Buying Collaboration II

On Monday, I described a controversial auction by William Tozier of Ann Arbor, Michigan. The highest bidder would win the chance to collaborate and write an academic article with him.

A number of readers sent interesting comments. Some, like Davis King, pointed out that collaboration for pay already exists and is quite common in some fields like computer science. He also pointed out a lot of de facto collaboration for pay, such as when undergraduates pay tuition and get the opportunity to co-author papers with professors.

Two readers noted that at least one scientist, Miriam Rothschild – a noted bug scientist, was independently wealthy and funded a long string of collaborations in fields that weren’t receiving much attention. The resulting work is well accepted in biology and her self-funding didn’t seem to raise suspicions about her work.

One reader noted that pay for collaboration might be hard to distinguish from research assistance. This is a good point, but I think there is a simple response – research assistants merely carry out the instructions of the researchers while paid collaborators are compensated for original, creative work.

Mr. Tozier himself wrote to me and told me about his current project, an online forum that would facilitate collaboration among non-academic researchers. I think the future probably holds a continuum of possibilities – universities will probably sponsor only “altruistic” research while scientists outside the academy will probably work together in more varied contexts.