New paper with Melina Kourantidou is out in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Policy!

Kourantidou, M., & Kaiser, B. A. (2018). Research agendas for profitable invasive species. Journal of Environmental Economics and Policy, 1-22.

Abstract

Management of natural resources with uncertain net benefits presents an interdisciplinary challenge; economists often must rely on other disciplines to advise and evaluate policies. Net benefits may be uncertain due to absent, inconclusive or contradictory scientific findings. Economics must interpret uncertainties and ground policy recommendations in this context. Understanding biases in primary research agendas and the roles of vertical and horizontal integration in knowledge production and management are essential to prevent sub-optimal allocations across time and space, including avoiding recommendations of excess or insufficient harvest. We empirically investigate these biases by comparing disparate scientific literature and management decisions across vested interests to uncover how economic incentives systematically vary across research investments. The Barents Sea Red King Crab, a simultaneously profitable and invasive species with different net benefits across stakeholders, provides the empirical evidence. We find that scientific consensus is harder to achieve even for primary research when economic incentives differ across research institutions and that research agendas shift over time in response to changes in relative trade-offs between ecological consequences and financial benefits from the resource’s presence. Impacts on management are accentuated by integration of the scientific research programmes and management decisions; broadening research participation and agendas may alleviate bias.

Summary:

The paper addresses how economic incentives can bias research that economists rely upon from other fields, and some consequences of these biases. Bio-economic modeling, for example, must draw biological and ecological information from research in those fields. The scientific production and dissemination of such information is explained as part of a process that begins with setting (and funding) research agendas and concludes with policy recommendations for resource governance to decision-makers. This process is subject to effects of both vertical and horizontal integration. Research and management are inputs to the final production levels of the biological resource.

Our research explores how biases in these inputs and the ‘industrial structure’ of knowledge and policy production can distort optimal management of the resource. This provides a new perspective on the pervasiveness of impacts from biases in research that have previously been discussed for more blatant cases where the research is funded directly by vested interests in highly profitable industries. Examples include big tobacco funding health studies or big oil studying climate change, and the dramatic effects on policy outcomes are well known.

In this more subtle case of a potentially profitable biological invasion, the decision-maker’s interests and control over research agendas and outcomes are less clear-cut. We show, however, that economic incentives systematically may vary across research interests and that these may feed into policy decisions over natural resource management of a simultaneously profitable and invasive species. We showcase our approach and empirically test how this variation in incentives might affect research agendas and their findings by using the case of the Red King Crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus) invasion (hereafter RKC) in the Barents Sea. The RKC is an excellent example of a well-established and commercially valuable invasive species, whose ecological impacts remain unclear in the ecology literature.

The specifics of the invasion and its unintentional spread into Norwegian waters from its purposeful introduction in Russian waters provides a clear study of the economic incentives driving the divergence of scientific opinions that has evolved in the two countries’ literature, and how the incentives feed into research agendas. In particular, we find that research agendas and findings of Norwegian and Russian authors differ, and that this relationship has changed over time in ways that increase support for the primacy of the fisheries over other uses of the natural capital in the Barents.

The analysis shows that research agendas may shift over time in response to changes in the relative trade-offs between the financial resource benefit and the ecological consequences of a profitable invasion as it progresses from introduction to establishment. The paper provides the first systematic evidence in support of this claim, and effectively demonstrates that scientific consensus may be more difficult to achieve even for primary research when economic incentives differ across research produced in agencies with different management objectives.

 The value added from such research is that, in addition to informing ongoing policy debates by revealing how diverging viewpoints among different stakeholders influence research agendas, it can offer remedies identified from the theory of industrial organization that stem from broadening scientific cooperation and research agendas to counter these biases. Our findings extend to any decision-making that relies on cross-disciplinary information.