Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Does Fame Last? The Stock vs. Flow of Greatness

In academics, if you accomplish one great thing you will always be remembered (think of the Coase thm, coase conjecture). Academics know that they are judged on their best past work (the stock). Unfortunately for Bryan Clay, sports does not appear to work this way. As you may recall, he won the 2008 Decathlon Gold Medal in Beijing. Yes he was on the cover of the Wheaties box but he has not pulled a Bruce Jenner. The New York Times claims that his Twitter site gets 1000 times fewer visitors than Oprah or Ashton Kutcher. Is that fair?

This raises a slightly interesting point. In sports, we expect to be pulsed. We see "kobe Bryant" quite often on TV showing us new amazing feats. So as guys retire such as Michael Jordan, does our memory of their greatness fade and thus their fame fades? Now a composition effect would say yes because my son (the new generation) never saw MJ play and the old forget what they saw.

This Bryan Clay did an amazing thing in Beijing but it looks like he won't be able to harness a very good life income (a flow of payments) from his past achievement. Why can academics harness this better than athletes? Prestige, learning spillovers?

1 comment :

Kyle said...

I'd never heard of Bryan Clay until I read your blog. Stange, that.

Athletic accomplishments, however phenomenal, are by their nature temporal. Temporal works don't have a very long tail, compared to people who create something that sticks around (IE artists, musicians and academics). I don't watch games that aren't live unless I can keep out the knowledge of who won. Michael Jordan doesn't exist except as a vague tower of greatness, growing smaller and hazier as time moves away from that brief period where he dominated. Everyone looks ahead to the next, even greater embodiment of sports prowess.

Academia's system for accumulating new knowledge conserves fame by its nature. We all still know about Newton and Galileo even though their new ideas have since been left in the dust. How many others have you referenced in research papers? Your papers are the creation of new knowledge, but the focus is backwards, looking at others who came before, who built the foundation on which your contribution stands.

It is, though, very odd that society rewards assistant professors and 2nd string athletes more than Clay.