Nautilus

Minority Groups Lose When They Collaborate with Power

Cailin O’Connor—a philosopher, scientist, and mathematician—may not enjoy tense situations, but they fascinate her. Last year, in a Huffington Post article titled “Game Theory and The Walking Dead,” she wrote that the zombie show’s “plot lines are rich with strategic tension.” She goes on to analyze three of what she calls “the most strategically compelling scenes,” and seems to relish in the fact that the characters—since they so often die—aren’t great game theorists. (Game theory, as she sometimes has to remind her students at the University of California, Irvine, isn’t really about games, but about predicting rational behavior.)

Recently, she’s brought this sort of scrutiny on the behavior of her fellow academics. In a recent paper, she analyzes how they strategically cooperate and bargain at a time when, in most scientific fields, published work is most often co-authored, and how power discrepancies can affect these collaborations—between grad students and professors, say, or between men and women, or between whites and people of color (or, indeed, combinations of these).

In the paper, co-authored with Justin Bruner, a philosopher and evolutionary

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