Matthew effect  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e



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. The effect takes its name from a line spoken by "the Master" in Jesus' parable of the talents in the biblical Gospel of Matthew:


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.

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).


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.

In the words of Keith Stanovich (Adams, 1990, pp. 59-60): Template:Quote

Social policy

The term is also used in adult education to describe the distribution of adult learning across populations. In this case it refers to the phenomenon whereby adults who have the highest levels of initial education are most likely to engage in structured continuing learning, while those with the lowest levels of initial education are the least likely to engage in structured learning.

See also


Witty or clever quotations are often attached to famous individuals, to the detriment of the reputation of their actual authors. For example:

  • "Only the dead have seen the end of war," is often attributed to Plato. In fact, George Santayana wrote it, and researchers have been unable to find the quote in any of Plato's dialogues.
  • "The only traditions of the Royal Navy are rum, sodomy and the lash," was not said by Winston Churchill, but by his personal secretary Anthony Montague.
  • Charles Manson did not say "I'm the devil, I'm here to do the devil's busainess.", his associate Charles "Tex" Watson did.
  • Bill Gates never said "Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one", Charles J. Sykes did.
  • Otto von Bismarck is sometimes said to have said "To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making.", but the earliest such quotation is by John Godfrey Saxe, who said in 1869, "Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made."
  • George W. Bush did not originate the phrase "...the terrorists have won" or "...then the terrorists win." It derives from the statements of Frank Pierson after he refused to cancel the Academy Awards: "If we give in to fear, if we aren't able to do these simple and ordinary things, the terrorists have won the war."
  • Pierre Choderlos de Laclos did not write "Revenge is a dish best served cold", in Les Liaisons Dangereuses; neither did it originate in Star Trek or The Godfather. Its first known appearance in print is in Eugène Sue's 1841 French potboiler novel Mathilde.
  • The instrumentalist interpretation of quantum mechanics is often summarized by the maxim "Shut up and calculate!". While this slogan is sometimes attributed to Paul Dirac or Richard Feynman, it is in fact due to David Mermin.
  • The quotation "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing" although often attributed to Edmund Burke does not occur in his works or recorded speeches. It first appeared in the 14th edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (1968), which incorrectly sourced it to a letter that did not in fact contain the quote.


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Matthew effect" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools