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The Incentivised University

Scientific Revolutions, Policies, Consequences

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  • © 2021


  • Brings together a critical philosophy of scientific progress and its consequences, with a critique of institutional dynamics of modern higher education
  • Demonstrates how a number of fundamental debates in philosophy of science have important implications for issues in philosophy of higher education and higher education policy
  • Yields a deeper insight into why academic economics is flawed and dangerous as an academic discipline

Part of the book series: Debating Higher Education: Philosophical Perspectives (DHEP, volume 9)

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About this book

The core thesis of this book is that to understand the implications of incentive structures in modern higher education, we require a deeper understanding of associated issues in the philosophy of science.

Significant public and philanthropic resources are directed towards various forms of research in the hope of addressing key societal problems. That view, and the associated allocation of resources, relies on the assumption that academic research will tend towards finding truth – or at least selecting the best approximations of it. The present book builds on, and extends, contributions in philosophy and higher education to argue that this assumption is misplaced: with serious implications for modern higher education and its role in informing societal decisions and government policy.

The book develops a philosophical foundation for the analysis of the connection between higher education incentives, scientific progress and societal outcomes. That in turn is used to demonstrate how the current approach to incentivising intellectual and scientific progress is likely not only to fail, but in fact to cause harm on the very dimensions it purports to improve. The arguments presented are illustrated with examples from medicine and academic economics, making the book one of the first to examine issues of scientific progress and social consequences across the human and social sciences. In doing so, it develops a novel critique of modern economics that in turn provides a more philosophically substantive foundation for popular critiques of economics than has existed to date.

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Table of contents (14 chapters)

  1. Truth-Seeking and Scientific Progress

  2. The Dangers of Normal Science and Academic Consensus

  3. Incentives in Modern Higher Education and Their Distortionary Consequences

  4. Variation Across Contexts

  5. Conclusion


“The topic of the book is highly relevant: the use of incentives to steer research towards progress. … The Incentivised University can be read as an analysis of the incentives and their detrimental effects on research, and it can be read as a debate book, an attempt to push these issues to the fore and to engage researchers, administrators, and policymakers.” (Kåre Letrud, Metascience, Vol. 31 (2), July, 2022)

Authors and Affiliations

  • Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study (JIAS), University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa

    Seán Mfundza Muller

About the author

Dr Seán Mfundza Muller is a Senior Research Fellow at the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study. An economist by training, he holds three degrees from the University of Cape Town where he was a Woodrow Wilson Public Policy Partnership Fellow and one from the University of Oxford where he was a Rhodes Scholar. His work spans the spectrum from real-world policy to abstract theoretical analysis: from advising members of parliament on public finance issues and legislation, to methodological and philosophical critique of approaches to causal inference. His academic articles have been published in journals in economics, higher education, development and philosophy, and he is a regular contributor to the popular press on matters related to public policy. A crucial component of his work involves critical analysis of the methodological and philosophical basis for public policy claims and decisions. In this, his first book, he critically interrogates the dynamics of the academy itself and how prevalent approaches to institutional structure and incentives in higher education are likely to harm, rather than advance, scientific and societal progress.

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