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  • 1 Department of Economics, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA 30303-3083, USA
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This essay examines Robert K. Merton's perspective on how priority relates to the provision of the public good knowledge. Economists have long been interested in the provision of the class of goods that are referred to as “public.” By definition, public goods are not used up when consumed and are goods from which it is difficult to exclude potential users. The provision of public goods presents special challenges to the market that do not exist in the provision of private goods. Scientific research has properties of a public good. Merton recognized the public nature of science. In this he was not alone. The genius of Merton is that he not only recognized that science has properties of a public good but stood the public-private distinction on its head, proposing that the reward structure of science, based on priority, functioned to make a public good private. In economic terms, Merton recognized that it is the public nature of knowledge that facilitates establishing the idea as the private property of the scientist.

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