Cricket and Science: Whats at play?

I write this post as India stands on the verge of a humiliating defeat in the test series against England. Those of you who follow cricket, especially Indian cricket, would be aware of the situation, with some sharing my pain over India’s fate. cartoon on intrinsic motivation

But how can this possibly connect to a post on science?

Bear with me for 2 paragraphs and my questions will be clear:

In my personal opinion the game of cricket has been over-commercialised, especially in India. The passion for the game among spectators has been fuelled into a frenzy that is being exploited ruthlessly. Companies hawk their products to the public (endorsed by overpaid and underperforming cricket stars), an inept cricket board is greedy for ticket revenues and TV rights proceedings, the media chases stories related to the sport and so on. A key piece in this jigsaw are the players.

As professional sportspeople, players want a financial reward and incentives. With very impressive contracts and match fees from the cricket board, and eye popping endorsement fees, the financial incentives are plentiful. Because the game is a craze in India, the players are demi-gods, and the calendar is chock-full of matches. Somewhere down the line, the players, the board members, the media all seem to have eyes only for the money the game can generate. The love for the sport and enjoyment in playing it, making it happen or reporting it has all but disappeared. Which leads me to my question.

Players initially come into the sport because they truly enjoy playing the sport and are good at it. Financial incentives and need for security drive them to succeed (along with other factors). Then the glut of money overtakes everything till the point, that they seem not to care about how well they play or even about enjoying the game at all.

This is called “crowding out of intrinsic motivation” in the economics literature.  Activities such as research, working for a NGO, donating blood etc. are usually associated with benefits such as civic duty, passion for the mission of the organisation etc. When financial rewards are offered, this motivation can be drowned or chased away. Hence referees being paid low sums (Engers and Gans) or schoolchildren collecting for charitable causes REDUCING collection when being paid (Gneezy and Rustichini), and see (Benabou and Tirole) and references therein for more work on this topic. Would this translate to Science as well?

Many of us choose to work in Science because we love it: the thrill of finding something new, discovering why things are the way they are, creating something, solving difficult problems and so on. And we too need financial security. We too can be ambitious. So we too follow the path the scientific system requires. As success in this system is measured by publications, citations, grant money, awards and positions we obviously work towards these.

So by extension could it be that in chasing stability and success some of us may end up shifting focus from the love of our Science to the papers, the grant applications, the conference talks, the award nominations, the committee memberships etc? Could it be that scientific success and its demands ensnare us so much in its trappings that we forget the very passion for science that brought us into the lab?

Could it be that one day I will care more about how much grant money I have generated or how many invited talks I have been asked to deliver than my beloved spiral patterns?

The thought both frightens and dismays me.


1. Engers and Gann: The American Economic Review, vol. 88, no. 5, pp. 1341-1349, 1998.

2. Gneezy and Rustichini: Journal of Legal Studies, Vol.29, No. 1, pp. 1-17, 2000.

3. Benabou and Tirole: The American Economic Review, vol. 95, no. 5, pp. 1652-1678, 2006.


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