Algorithmic Allocation: Untangling Rival Considerations of Fairness in Research Management
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionPolitics and Governance. 2020, 8 (2) 10.17645/pag.v8i2.2594
Marketization and quantification have become ingrained in academia over the past few decades. The trust in numbers and incentives has led to a proliferation of devices that individualize, induce, benchmark, and rank academic performance. As an instantiation of that trend, this article focuses on the establishment and contestation of ‘algorithmic allocation’ at a Dutch university medical centre. Algorithmic allocation is a form of data-driven automated reasoning that enables university administrators to calculate the overall research budget of a department without engaging in a detailed qualitative assessment of the current content and future potential of its research activities. It consists of a range of quantitative performance indicators covering scientific publications, peer recognition, PhD supervision, and grant acquisition. Drawing on semi-structured interviews, focus groups, and document analysis, we contrast the attempt to build a rationale for algorithmic allocation—citing unfair advantage, competitive achievement, incentives, and exchange—with the attempt to challenge that rationale based on existing epistemic differences between departments. From the specifics of the case, we extrapolate to considerations of epistemic and market fairness that might equally be at stake in other attempts to govern the production of scientific knowledge in a quantitative and market-oriented way.