Hot hand in science and acting

As we have seen few weeks ago there is no evidence for hot hands in sports. While there is skill in sports, but short term streaks do not exist. Their simply an illusion caused by the randomness involved.

There is obviously skill in science. Yet numerous studies (e.g. [1]) have concluded an interesting thing - the performance among scientists is mostly random. A scientist could produce his best work at any stage of his carrier. Yet the modern science financing schemes reward ones who produce their best works early. Such schemes kick off rich-gets-richer effects. Small number of groups start to get disproportionaly large share of finances in comparison to their as capable colleagues, only because they were lucky enough to produce their best works early.

This unfairness leads to suggestions on how to improve financing schemes. One of the interesting suggestion is based on a lottery [2]. Namely, the experts evaluate which research projects have sound plans and ideas. The ones who pass the threshold enter the lottery. Why this would be better than simply awarding the best? Because if the winners would always take all every time, this would kill off a reasonable competition and the winners would no longer need to do their best. While also because the experts are often quite subjective and this might play a major role if competition is large.

Is there skill in acting? Most likely yes. Yet unlike in the previously discussed cases the success in Hollywood is not random. It was shown that [3] we can build statistical models, which can reasonably predict the actors peek performance, because social network (not Facebook or Twitter, but the people the actor knows) effects matters quite a lot. Getting along well with other co-stars or director might find you the next job.


  • R. Sinatra, D. Wang, P. Deville, C. Song, A-L Barabasi. Quantifying the evolution of individual scientific impact. Science 354: 3612 (2016).
  • F. C. Fang, A. Casadevall. Research Funding: the Case for a Modified Lottery. mBio 7.2: e00422-16 (2016). doi: 10.1128/mBio.00422-16.
  • O. E. Williams, L. Lacasa, V. Latora. Quantifying and predicting success in show business. arXiv:1901.01392 [physics.soc-ph].