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The Matthew effect

Nick Paumgarten’s Talk of the Town piece opens with an anecdote about the doorman’s role in elevating the social status of their building’s tenants:

When Peter Bearman, a professor of sociology, moved from North Carolina to New York, seven years ago, to take a post at Columbia, he found his new colleagues unusually arrogant and difficult, even for the Ivy League. After considering other factors, he laid the blame on the doormen in their apartment buildings. He reasoned that the doormen had an interest in elevating the status of their tenants in order to enhance their own status, and so they treated the professors like big shots โ€” for example, by addressing them as “professor” โ€” until the professors came to believe that they really were big shots. Bearman felt that he had discovered a previously unobserved variant of the Matthew effect, Robert K. Merton’s theory concerning the compounding of iniquity among prominent and marginal individuals โ€” the rich getting richer, and so forth.

I’d never heard of the Matthew effect before, so I looked it up in Wikipedia:

In sociology, 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 that are already famous…

Here is Merton’s original paper.