Matthew effect

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The "Matthew effect" denotes the phenomenon that "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer" and can be observed in various different contexts where "rich" and "poor" can take different meanings[1].. The effect takes its name from a line spoken by "the Master" in Jesus' parable of the talents in the biblical Gospel of Matthew:

"For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath." (Matthew XXV:29, King James Version.)

Sociology of science

In sociology of science, "Matthew effect" was a term coined by Robert K. Merton to describe how, among other things, eminent scientists will often get more credit than a comparatively unknown researcher, even if their work is similar; it also means that credit will usually be given to researchers who are already famous: for example, a prize will almost always be awarded to the most senior researcher involved in a project, even if all the work was done by a graduate student.


As credit is valued in science, specific claims of the Matthew effect are contentious.

  • 20th century mathematician John von Neumann is frequently called the "father of game theory" or the "father of the computer," even though his influential publications were sometimes restatements of the ideas of his collaborators (see the First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC).
  • There was a controversy involving George Sudarshan and the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2005. Several physicists wrote a letter to the Swedish Academy, protesting that Sudarshan should have been awarded a share of the Prize for the Sudarshan-Glauber representation (or Sudarshan diagonal representation) in quantum optics, for which Roy J. Glauber won his share of the prize. Because the terms of Alfred Nobel's will restrict the number of Nobel Prize winners to three in a given year, the Nobel Committee has often been criticized for allegedly ignoring scientists who did seminal work on a topic while awarding a prize to other scientists for the same topic.
For the first time, Sudarshan himself has broken his silence over the Nobel controversy. Speaking to HT, he expressed frustration at the way Indians are ignored for top science honours. Speaking to the Indian daily , he said:

"The 2005 Nobel prize for Physics was awarded for my work, but I wasn’t the one to get it. Each one of the discoveries that the Nobel was given for were based on my research."

Ray Solomonoff [...] introduced [what is now known as] 'Kolmogorov complexity' in a long journal paper in 1964. [...] This makes Solomonoff the first inventor and raises the question whether we should talk about Solomonoff complexity. [...] (Associating Kolmogorov's name with the complexity may also be an example of the "Matthew Effect" first noted in the Gospel according to Matthew, 25:29-30, "For to every one who has more will be given, and he will have in abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.")
  • There are many uncontroversial examples of the Matthew effect in mathematics, where a concept is due to one mathematician (and well-documented as such), but is attributed to a later (possibly much later), more famous mathematician who worked on it.
For instance, the Poincaré disk model and Poincaré half-plane model of hyperbolic space are both named for Henri Poincaré, but were introduced by Eugenio Beltrami in 1868 (when Poincaré was 14 and had not as yet contributed to hyperbolic geometry).

Matilda effect

The Matilda effect is the corollary to the Matthew effect: the work of women in science is often neglected. The Matilda effect, named after early feminist Matilda Joslyn Gage, was postulated by historian of science Margaret Rossiter in 1993.


In education the term Matthew effect has been adopted by Keith Stanovich, a psychologist who has done extensive research on reading and language disabilities. Stanovich used the term to describe a phenomenon that has been observed in research on how new readers acquire the skills to read: early success in acquiring reading skills usually leads to later successes in reading as the learner grows, while failing to learn to read before the third or fourth year of schooling may be indicative of life-long problems in learning new skills. This is because children who fall behind in reading, read less, increasing the gap between them and their peers. Later, when students need to "read to learn" (where before they were learning to read) their reading difficulty creates difficulty in most other subjects. In this way they fall further and further behind in school, dropping out at a much higher rate than their peers. Because of this they are not able to tap into education as a way to improve their lives, essentially becoming poorer while others become richer.

In the words of Keith Stanovich: Slow reading acquisition has cognitive, behavioral, and motivational consequences that slow the development of other cognitive skills and inhibit performance on many academic tasks. In short, as reading develops, other cognitive processes linked to it track the level of reading skill. Knowledge bases that are in reciprocal relationships with reading are also inhibited from further development. The longer this developmental sequence is allowed to continue, the more generalized the deficits will become, seeping into more and more areas of cognition and behavior. Or to put it more simply -- and sadly -- in the words of a tearful nine-year-old, already falling frustratingly behind his peers in reading progress, "Reading affects everything you do" (Adams, 1990, pp. 59-60)"

Social policy

The Matthew effect has been described in social policy[2][3]

See also


  1. Rigney, Daniel. The Matthew effect: How advantage begets further advantage. Columbia University Press, 2010. ISBN 9780231520409
  2. Rigney, D. (2010). The Matthew effect: How advantage begets further advantage. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-14948-8
  3. Perc M (2014). "The Matthew effect in empirical data". J R Soc Interface. 11 (98): 20140378. doi:10.1098/rsif.2014.0378. PMC 4233686. PMID 24990288.

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