Behavioral symmetry, rent seeking, and the Republic of Science

Diana W. Thomas, Michael D. Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Scientific inquiry, like all other human activity, cannot be separated from the humans conducting the inquiry. While public discourse often treats science as sacrosanct and scientists as devoid of any but the purest motives, the science of science literature has long understood scientific inquiry as a fundamentally social activity undertaken by self-interested, partial, human choosers with limited information (Polanyi in Minerva 1(1):54–73, 1962; Kuhn in The structure of scientific revolutions. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1962; Leonard in J Econ Methodol 9(2):141–168, 2002). In this essay, we review the assumptions of two of the original contributions to the science of science literature regarding human agents and compare them to the assumptions underlying economic models. We assert that Michael Polanyi and Thomas Kuhn did for the science of science literature what Buchanan and Tullock (The calculus of consent: Logical foundations of constitutional democracy. Liberty Fund, Indianapolis, 1962) did for politics in the 1950s, which is to reassert behavioral symmetry. We then extend some of Buchanan’s insights from his study of politics and constitutions, public choice and constitutional political economy, to the study of science and draw out implications for interest-group influence in the republic of science.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)443-459
Number of pages17
JournalPublic Choice
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics


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