Machine learning in scientific grant review: algorithmically predicting project efficiency in high energy physics


As more objections have been raised against grant peer-review for being costly and time-consuming, the legitimate question arises whether machine learning algorithms could help assess the epistemic efficiency of the proposed projects. As a case study, we investigated whether project efficiency in high energy physics (HEP) can be algorithmically predicted based on the data from the proposal. To analyze the potential of algorithmic prediction in HEP, we conducted a study on data about the structure (project duration, team number, and team size) and outcomes (citations per paper) of HEP experiments with the goal of predicting their efficiency. In the first step, we assessed the project efficiency using Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA) of 67 experiments conducted in the HEP laboratory Fermilab. In the second step, we employed predictive algorithms to detect which team structures maximize the epistemic performance of an expert group. For this purpose, we used the efficiency scores obtained by DEA and applied predictive algorithms – lasso and ridge linear regression, neural network, and gradient boosted trees – on them. The results of the predictive analyses show moderately high accuracy (mean absolute error equal to 0.123), indicating that they can be beneficial as one of the steps in grant review. Still, their applicability in practice should be approached with caution. Some of the limitations of the algorithmic approach are the unreliability of citation patterns, unobservable variables that influence scientific success, and the potential predictability of the model.

In European Journal for Philosophy of Science
Sandro Radovanović
Sandro Radovanović
Assistant Professor at University of Belgrade

My research interests include machine learning, development and design of decision support systems, decision theory, and fairness and justice concepts in algorithmic decision making.