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Death of the Salesman, But Not the Sales Force: How Interested Promotion Skews Scientific Valuation

Pierre Azoulay, J. Michael Wahlen, Ezra W. Zuckerman Sivan

NBER Working Paper No. 24591
Issued in May 2018, Revised in September 2019
NBER Program(s):The Productivity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship Program

Whereas recent research has demonstrated how disinterested social validation may skew valuation in meritocratic domains, interested promotion may be at least as important a factor. As suggested by research on reputational entrepreneurship, a producer's death shifts promotion opportunities in two respects. First, it prevents the producer (or “salesman”) from engaging in promotional activity. Second, it also mobilizes others (the “sales force”) to step up their promotional activity on behalf of the deceased. Analysis of the impact made by the premature death of 720 elite life scientists on the citation trajectories of their articles indicates that death results in a long-lasting, positive increase in citation rates, relative to the trajectories for equivalent articles by counterfactual, still-living scientists. This effect seems due largely to the memorialization efforts made by the sales force as compared to recognition efforts on behalf of the still-living scientists, and is strongest for articles that had received relatively little attention prior to the death, as well as those authored by stars who died at a relatively young age. The upshot is clear evidence of informational inefficiency, which derives from the challenges of absorbing the massive volume of scientific knowledge produced. Scientists' identities thus play an important role in determining scientific valuations, despite ostensible norms that enjoin the scientific community to divorce the researcher's identity from her work.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w24591

Forthcoming, American Journal of Sociology

 
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