You are listening to an Annual Reviews prefatory interview. In
this interview, Margaret Levi, editor of the Annual Review of Political
Science, talks with Elinor Ostrom. Professor Ostrom is the cofounder,
with her husband, Vincent Ostrom, and longtime codirector of
the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana
University, and she now serves as its senior research director.
She is currently the Arthur F. Bentley Professor of Political Science
at Indiana University, as well as research professor and the founding
director of the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity at
Arizona State University. She is cowinner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in
I have a couple questions that I am going to prime
the pump with here, Lin, and then we can let conversation flow
however it does.
There are many things about your history and what you’ve done in
your career that are immensely impressive and have broken all kinds
of barriers. But one of the things that I’ve been most intrigued by,
and which I know very few other people have achieved, is the way in
which you have not only tolerated and encouraged a multiple-method
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approach to how one does work, but how you’ve conquered so many different methods.
You really are very au courant in just almost—first, you learned game theory, and you learned
microeconomics. You’ve been president of the Public Choice Society. How did you do that? What
gave you the capacity to do that, and what gave you the reason to do that?
Well, partly, as an undergraduate, I had to work my way through UCLA, and I
took a double major. Political science didn’t look like it was much of a potential place to get a job,
and with economics—and I took some business. I thought maybe that would enable me to get a
job, eventually. It did, and—
You were right.
Yes. I spent, then, three years in Boston, and my first experience of graduating
from college and going out in the world was, “Do you have typing and shorthand?” I didn’t
have shorthand, so I had to learn it via—that was one of the first skills I had to learn after my
baccalaureate, and actually I still use it. If you’re doing an in-depth interview, and you can take the
first six words or eight words—you don’t have to take the whole thing. And it’s fast—
And no one has to transcribe it the same way they do—
Yeah. They’re not teaching it the way they used to, but I, fortunately, did have to
take it. I actually didn’t ever use it for a real job. I just used it as one of my skills. Then, going back,
I was in business, in personnel management. I went back home and became a public personnel
manager at UCLA and started coursework for a master’s and thought, “Hmm, this is kind of
neat”—a lot different than undergraduate because when I was an undergraduate, my goal was
graduating, and I was working 30 hours a week, and you learn how to take exams. So I consider
my baccalaureate to have taught me how to take exams.
Then I got into these graduate seminars and, “Oh, they’re really interesting and fun.” So
I thought, “Well, why not go to graduate school?” And I went over and talked to the folks in
economics, and they said, “Don’t think it makes very good sense.” They didn’t want to have me
I think they’re kicking themselves right now.
Well, political science would admit me, but then, I think in the prefatory
[review], I mentioned that they had not a woman in the department for simply years, and they
admitted 4 of us in a class of 40, and it was a huge controversy that we found out. Fortunately,
there were four of us because we could kind of buddy together.
I took a lot of economics in my graduate program, but I was studying water resources there,
so I had to take some water resources [courses]. I took Oscar Grusky in sociology, and so I learned
a good deal about the sociology of things at that point. My PhD committee had engineering,
sociology, economics, and political science on it.
So you’ve always been interdisciplinary?
Yeah. I just thought that was the way you did things.
And did the economics give you a base for learning these other skills that you
learned? The game theory, obviously.
Oh, yes. Well, yes and no—
But the behavioral economics, the experiments, is sort of whole another set of
Yes, but that grows out of those, having a very firm, solid interest in economics,
which I’ve had all the way along, and then learning game theory—I didn’t learn it as a graduate
student, but I learned it later and had the great pleasure of working with Reinhard Selten. So I
had learned it from a—
Pretty great master. But my—
So you learned that, that year in—
Bielefeld [Center for Interdisciplinary Research at Bielefeld University].
I had started to have some reading in game theory before I went there. Then
that year, I sat in on a seminar that was not a course. It was just visiting lectures. Then he [Selten]
invited Vincent [Ostrom] and I back. Vincent had to edit a book, and I was back for a whole
semester. And I took his game theory in German. That helped both my knowledge of game
theory and my knowledge of German. So I learned he is a master and is not trying to show off.
He’s trying to really get you to have an understanding of what is the foundation and what are the
reasons, and why do you come to this conclusion versus that.
I worked with Franjo Weissing the second time I went back to Bielefeld. He is a mathematician
also and a biologist and—
—so I was able to do a couple of game theory articles with him. I really have
treasured game theory as a way of getting into the hub of some things. Now, sometimes, what
it helps you [with] is it shows something in game theory being unlikely or irrational. You can
take that and put it in an experimental lab, and I was very, very fortunate that Jimmy [James M.]
Walker came to Bloomington just as I was getting hungry for, “How would we ever put these
things in a carefully developed laboratory experiment?”
He is a fanatic for getting everything well designed, pretested. When you do a lab experiment
with an expert like Jimmy, you know you’ve taken the theory and put it in the lab, as Vernon
Smith urges you to do. Jimmy did a postdoc with Vernon Smith, so there’s a connection there.
It’s enabled us to take things that I observed in the field. Then we could look at it through game
theory. Then we can go to the lab and test [it]. Was this just an unusual set of things that I saw in
the field, or would you find it repeated under situations that were very carefully designed? [It was]
wonderful to be able to go back and forth.
Well, it sounds like you’re both a lifelong learner and a learner by doing.
Well, yes. I now have published several things using remote sensing. Now there,
I have always done that with a coauthor. I know enough about remote sensing that I can do some
of the fieldwork that’s necessary to do—
Now could you explain what remote sensing is, a little bit?
It’s using GIS, or geographic information systems, to record some of the data
from the satellites that go over. What I learned from taking a seminar with Tom Evans, here on
this campus, is that that satellite sends back images, but they’re in long strings of digital numbers,
so something has to interpret it. And over time, they’ve developed very general programs for
If the light coming from the sun is coming on a hillside, it reflects differently to the satellite
than when it comes to [a] flat [surface]. And when it comes and there’s corn, it’s sometimes hard to
tell whether that’s corn or a young forest. If you’re really going to do a good job of interpreting,
you have to take a geographic position system, a GPS machine, out into the field, and at key
junctures take measurements and record where you were exactly and what you saw.
Then that gets back into the computer and tightens up the analysis, and you do—say, you take
100 sites out in the field. You put 50 in, and then see what happens. Can you predict? You take 25
of your other sites. Can you now predict them? And if you can predict them at 90% accuracy, you
don’t need to do anything more. If you can’t, you take some of those other 25 and put them in to
the point you can predict at 90% accuracy.
What you’ve been doing is finding—you started, in many ways, I mean your
original research, when I first met you many years ago, was doing fieldwork. I mean you were
literally out there counting things—
Oh, yes, yes, yes.
—and talking to people, and you’ve developed all these other skills that
improved that analysis, and you seem to keep going back between the field and a high level of
abstraction but informed by both theory and a very sophisticated—whatever the cutting-edge
methods are as we develop them.
Now I try to teach my graduate students that they should learn one method
really well at just [a] far-out expert [level]. They should have a second one that they learn very
well, not necessarily right at that extreme level, and then be aware of the skills from some of the
others so that they can work with teams. With the remote sensing, I don’t do all the analysis. I’ve
worked with Harini Nagendra and other colleagues who are experts, but I know enough that I
can work with it.
Well, you’re also bringing some questions that they might not otherwise ask.
Yeah. On some—right now, I’m doing a lot of work in forestry. That means we
go and we define the boundaries of a forest. We draw a random sample of plots. Random sampling
is something I’m familiar with, but then inside, we draw circles of 1 m, 3, and 10, and we have to
count every tree. Well, I can count trees, and I’ve now learned how—do you know what a DBH is?
I haven’t a clue.
Diameter at breast height. It is a very key measure so that if you measure a tree
about here [gesturing]—there’s a real place for it, but it’s basically under your chin, about—and
then you measure the height. You can get a volume, and that’s one of our ways of getting a basal
area and getting a sense of the volume of wood and carbon in a forest.
So how does this relate back to your institutional analysis? What are you doing
with the remote sensing data, for example, that is informed by the kind of the institutional analysis
that you’ve made famous?
What you have to do is get a foundation of the slope and all aspects, et cetera,
the ecology—but you can’t do it unless you can get clear boundaries of what’s on the ground, and
that takes a lot of fieldwork to get the boundaries and to know the rules. Then you can look at
three time periods and the space, and look at, “What difference does having the boundary here
In some cases, the boundary makes no difference. Everything going around on every side of it
is the same. In other cases, the boundary cuts off.
Makes all the difference.
Makes all the difference, but you’ve got to have the institutional knowledge to
get the boundaries right. If you can’t do that, you can’t use it for institutional analysis.
Right. So this very much fits with the work you’ve been doing about the
conditions all your life, really, about the conditions under which different kinds of institutional
arrangements work and other kinds work, and which kinds of governance systems will promote
one goal as opposed to another goal.
Yeah, and it’s fun.
It sounds like fun.
Well, one of the ones that is in the supplement for the article in Science that
Tom Dietz and Paul Stern and I did on “The Struggle to Govern the Commons”—I love that
title—is for protected areas in Guatemala, one of which is Tikal. This is a simply beautiful area.
People flock to it—
It is gorgeous.
—from all over the world, and they pay a good fee. They pay so much that
the protected area sends money up to the government; thus, they can put walls around. They
can march around, and it’s in excellent shape. In the same remote picture—not picture, but
same remote image, there are two other protected areas—same institution—devastated by
deforestation. There’s a fourth one that is in good shape, but nature’s protecting it. It takes by
three days by mule to get up there.
Interesting. So the other theme I’m hearing here, which brings me back, in
some ways, to the workshop, is collaboration—
—and interdisciplinarity. I know that lots of people this week have been
talking to you about the obstacles that you faced as being a woman, but I’m also interested in
the obstacles you faced as being someone who’s seriously committed to interdisciplinary work
and to collaborative work. We tend to think of scholarship, unfortunately, I think—you know I
share this taste with you—as being sort of monastic. You know, everybody goes into their office
or goes off into the field.
But you really are committed to interdisciplinarity and teamwork, and
the workshop is the model of that. So what kind of obstacles have you faced in sort of creating
that kind of institution?
It’s been a challenge. Disciplines don’t like it when you publish in other places,
and, for example, I was very thrilled when Jimmy Walker, Roy Gardner, and I had an article in
the American Political Science Review in 1992. That was “Covenants With and Without a Sword,”
and it turns out to be a very key publication in terms of looking at the role of people monitoring
each other. But Jimmy and Roy were told by their department that it would give them no credit at
all—the American Political Science Review—and I think some of my articles in economics have not
been given much credit by my department.
So I do advise my graduate students: “Until you have tenure, please be sure that there are
two or three articles, and you’re the only author, and it’s in your discipline. I hate to advise you
this way, but I want to see you have tenure.”
I know in many departments, one, they don’t know
what to do with coauthors. So any time you have a tenure thing, you have to write all your
coauthors and ask them to say whether or not you did anything, and if there are none—I was
on the college tenure committee—people coming up for tenure who had only coauthored were
frequently rejected because they did only teamwork. So part of our rules inside the university is
not enhancing interdisciplinarity and teamwork.
I know it’s still a very tough road for nontenured faculty. Do you think it’s
A little. There are now schools that are interdisciplinary and are a lot easier to—
Yes, there’s more of that.
—if you’re traditional economics or traditional political science, it’s rough.
I don’t know; I’ve been noticing that in some of the best political science
departments, the highest-ranked ones, it’s become a lot easier to do that. There’s a recognition
that cognitive science is a crucial tool, that economics is a crucial tool, and that you, therefore,
might publish in their journals if you’re really good at that work.
Yeah, otherwise, you’re making claims that aren’t supported.
But is that your—
I think you’re right, but it’s—
It’s still a tiny fraction.
Yeah, it’s still—we need more of it.
Absolutely. Well, what about once you got tenure? Did you still face all kinds of
obstacles about—I mean, you’ve mentioned the problem that Jimmy and Roy faced.
Well, partly. We created the workshop, and so our life and activities were a
weekly colloquium, our own graduate students—getting them out, bringing in NSF [National
Science Foundation] money. I did do a great deal of writing grants, and NSF has been wonderful.
[Looking upward] Thank you very much!
And you’ve helped NSF this week. I hear Barbara Mikulski was noting you—
Senator Mikulski was noting you to help make sure that the political science program and NSF
continued to be funded.
So thank you, Lin!
Well, thank you, NSF, because you can’t do the kind of—if you’re going to do
large-N—and one of my studies had a survey of 18,000—well, you can’t do a random sample of
18,000 people without external—then we did another study that was of 80 metropolitan areas in
the U.S. We’re now doing a study of over 200 forests around the world. None of that is feasible
without financial support.
Right. By getting these grants and having the workshop, you were able to
insulate yourself, I take it—to some extent—from some of these counterpressures towards doing
I was not ever concerned about salary, so that’s never been an issue for me. For
some colleagues who have big families, and all the rest, it’s a major issue.
Well, they also tie up their prestige with their salaries.
Yeah, and I don’t. In fact, when I was chair of the Department of Political
Science, I purposely kept my salary at zero because our junior faculty were just—we weren’t
competitive, you know?
I was very, very worried. So for me, that sort of thing—I don’t compete with
my colleagues. It’s just not something that—that’s not the way I think. It really hasn’t been an
impediment. So we’ve
had excellent political scientists involved in the workshop for a very long
time, and some of them were so excellent that other places have hired them.
Yes, I know. So in the prefatory [review], you talk about the problems of getting
a job in the first place and even the problems of getting tenure. Were there any problems you
faced going from associate to professor to full?
No, I don’t think so. I’m not sure how many years—I just didn’t pay any—you
know, I had tenure, so I wasn’t paying attention to these things.
It just happened when it happened.
Yeah. After being so turned aside at an early juncture, where it was, “You’ll never
be able to teach at a major university. You just can’t get a job,” I think getting tenure and being able
to have the workshop and the activities—that was so satisfying that I didn’t worry about some of
these other ranking things.
Right. One of the questions that I’ve—you talk a little bit about this in the
prefatory, but I’ve always been deeply curious about it. You saw the video we did last year with
Robert Dahl and the history of how he got into the concept and the way he thought about
democracy. The thing that you’ve really focused on is the commons and the way in which—and
common-pool resources and how people manage those. How did this issue come to be so critical
I heard Garrett Hardin give a lecture, and I didn’t know—when I did my
dissertation on groundwater basin management and watch[ed] 700 people go through a very tough
job of negotiating in the shadow of the court and creating special districts and doing incredible
things—that they were dealing with the commons. My dissertation used the concept of public
entrepreneurship, so I was very much influenced by [James M.] Buchanan and [Gordon] Tullock
and [Joseph] Schumpeter. Schumpeter’s notion of entrepreneurship was what I was looking at,
and it was public entrepreneurship.
Why water resources, then? What got you—?
The first seminar I took with Vincent, and then we didn’t continue being student
faculty because we dated and all. He had a brilliant idea. He had been studying water resources
in Southern California, and he was seeing that the various groundwater basins were organized
differently. He made it apparent to anyone who might be in a graduate seminar that they would
have to take one of these basins and really dig in and figure out what was going on.
I was assigned West Basin. I don’t even remember why. We just all—there was a list, and you
got assigned it. It turned out that West Basin was 45 min away from UCLA—the headquarters—
and I went down, and I started to attend the meetings of the private association that they had
created to discuss this. I could see them struggling with these ideas and what to do and how to do
it, and then I interviewed them in depth.
The wonderful thing, when you study local—sometimes you have access to files that you don’t
have if you study Congress. So I was talking with them, and I said, “Well, how would I find some
of the early paperwork?” “Oh, here’s the file drawers.”
“It’s right there.”
Yeah, “It’s right there. You can open any file drawer. You can take anything we
have a copy of.” So if there was a copy, I could literally have one of the copies, and if there wasn’t
one and I wanted it, they said, “Here’s the Xerox. Make it.” Of course, it was in the days before
you had computers.
That gave me insights into people, some of whom had spent 20, 30 years trying to solve this
tough problem. There had not been one thing they did. They did a number of different things,
including building a barrier against the ocean coming by putting water down through wells—very
ingenius. I didn’t know I was studying the commons.
Well, then in 1968—I defended [my dissertation] in 1965—Mancur Olson’s book [The Logic of
of doing the dissertation. Buchanan and Tullock [The Calculus of Consent] was 1962, so I had [read
it]. Hardin gave a speech on the IU [Indiana University, Bloomington] campus, and I went to it,
and he indicated the more general—but then it was that he really was worried about population.
He indicated that every man and every woman should be sterilized after they have one child. He
was very serious about it.
This was Garrett Hardin?
Yes—not Russell [Hardin]. Garrett Hardin. I was somewhat taken aback: “My
theory proves that we should do this,” and people said, “Well, don’t you think that that’s a little
“No! That’s what we should do, or we’re sunk.”
Well, he, in my mind, became a totalitarian. I, thus, had seen a real instance where his theory
didn’t work. His theory he was carrying forth at such a level—and we were then doing the studies
of police. We did that for 15 years all over the country, and that would’ve been studying local,
public goods, a different kind of commons, but nonetheless.
But these were the issues that were gripping you, how people solved these
Yeah. There was a National Research Council committee created. What they
had found was that political scientists were in there talking to economists or sociologists or
engineers or historians. People who studied Africa didn’t talk with people who studied Asia, and if
you did fishery, you didn’t know anything going on about water.
So we had three ways of cutting into the study of common-pool resources and no accumulation,
none. We then had a big meeting in Annapolis in 1986 and began to discover it, and within
six months, we had identified over 1,000 case studies written all over the world. That was just
amazing. All of us who lived through that experience were changed, and that was when I first
turned to meta-analysis of how did we identify [cases] and see if we couldn’t code them.
It was agonizing because you’d identify 10 variables, and then Case A had five of them and not
the other five, and Case B had—
The other five.
—yeah. We had to go through an incredible number of individual cases before
we could get a set that had common variables, and so you knew your theory—
This was what years?
Oh, this would’ve been—the big meeting was 1986, and so we were struggling
in the late 1980s to create the database. What was wonderful about it was our field was a filing
cabinet that we could all go to. So we would be arguing about this and, “Well, now, let’s go back
and recode your cases with this idea. Check on new cases about this.”
But it wasn’t all digitized?
No. Oh, no.
Just to remind our viewers of how recent computers are.
It turned out meta-analysis was unbelievably useful because the field was right
there. We met every week, and we would work on something, and then we’d say, “Hmm, we don’t
have this quite right. Let’s go back, reread some of what we’ve done, and take another case or two,”
so that we’d push it ahead. You can’t do that out in the field.
So some of this work informs governing the commons, obviously.
Oh, yes. I worked and worked on that, and Edella Schlager and S.Y. Tang did
their dissertations on this, and eventually, part of that became the book Rules, Games, and Common-
Pool Resources with Jimmy [Walker] and Roy Gardner. When I was in Bielefeld the second time,
everyone pushed me for, “Oh, let’s get some—what kind of market rules will work? What kind of
bureaucratic rule?” I mean they wanted [the] simplest. I kept reading, and we couldn’t come up
with simple answers. I took—I had a sabbatical. And Jim Alt had asked me to give some lectures
at Harvard, and Doug [Douglass C.] North had asked me, too.
I remember that.
Oh, it was a wonderful thing. Doug had given a lecture on some early work that
was at Wash U [Washington University in St. Louis], and he said, “Oh, you should do a book,” and
then Jim Alt asked me to give the lecture at Harvard—five of them.
This was for the series that they were then coediting?
Yes. I had a sabbatical and an invitation to do a book and five lectures at Harvard.
I thought, “Ah, what an opportunity.”
Several years later—
Well, I had to give those lectures that spring, and about February,
thought, “There’s no way. I can’t.” I just got desperate because I was identifying this kind of—you
know, was it all that they used three-quarters rules? Was it majority? Did they have to have a
leader? I couldn’t find any of these statistically significant. That’s when I went up a level and said,
“Well, can I get some of the commonalities?” that I, then, ended up calling design principles. I
chose cases that had been at least 100 years, if not more.
So why were some successful, and why
were some failures? Did those design principles account for anything? I put them out because that
was as good as I could do, and, fortunately, they’ve been quite sustainable.
They certainly have.
I mean, now, a study of 110 systems or so that—articles that have evaluated
them and a very large number of case studies, and they seem to be pretty robust. Not perfect, but
It sounds like the whole project that led to the publication Governing the
Oh, yes. Oh, yes.
I remember inviting you to do a reader-meets-your-critics panel at APSA
[American Political Science Association] right after Governing the Commons, and—
Yeah, and the design principles were so far off that—
I mean people were just like—right.
It was a whole new language to learn, a whole new way to think about things.
Fortunately, I had just been so immersed in it that it really made a difference,
but I didn’t come up with a decision rule. I said that people had to be able to make some of their
own rules and then adapt them over time, and that’s what’s so important.
The adaptation was also very important.
Really important, and people keep wanting the formula. If anything—if I want
one lesson, it’s there’s no ideal formula for all of these things. Think how different they are.
You also imply that it depends what the problem is, at what level of government
Yeah, and some things need national. Some things need global. Some things
Very local, right.
—and some things don’t need to be governed at all.
Right—or governed. So where did that lead you, then? You did Governing the
fieldwork. You were doing meta-data, and then you started getting really seriously—I can see how
the game theory informed all that. That was clearly part of the story.
I had been reading about experimental, and I actually taught, with Bobbi
[Roberta Q.] Herzberg, a graduate seminar on experimental research, which was all work that
others had done. One of my graduate students at that point, Rick Wilson—there was a faculty
member that wasn’t an experimentalist; Jimmy hadn’t come in yet—and he did his dissertation
using game theory and experimental. I’m trying to find a way of—taking a computer lab and
turning it into experimental lab was tricky, but Rick did a fabulous job.
Then Jimmy came to campus, and I looked him up and said, “Have you ever thought—” because
he had already done a lot on public goods, but nothing on CPRs [common-pool resources]. With
Roy here as a game theorist, it really enabled us to put those techniques together.
Oh, that’s fabulous.
Yeah. Again, I wasn’t a game theory expert. While I know enough to write
[about] it occasionally—I can collaborate—I wasn’t an expert in experimental, but I was really
interested. To be able to work with two experts, and then to bring things from the field back to
the lab, really made a difference.
Absolutely. One of your skills—one of your many skills, and this one was not
so much learned at Bielefeld or required by a job, like shorthand—is to find the people who have
the skills you need or the capacities you want and bring them together with each other, as well as
Well, but happenstance is part of that. I didn’t recruit—
Well, not everybody can make happenstance—
I didn’t recruit either Jimmy or Roy.
No, I understand that.
They were here, and then I heard about them, and we began working together.
When we were doing the review this week of the workshop, one of the things
that became quite apparent is a number of people are there because you “married” them, as it
were, sometimes quite literally—
—but intellectually, more importantly, where they had sort of been vaguely
aware of each other but didn’t realize that they had some common interests that would make—
that there was a really mutual and big, positive gain from working together.
We have had a tradition of working groups, and they’re informal. Vincent and
I did not say, “We must have one.” People would want to get started on something: “Okay, do
you have an initial list? Don’t put it all on your secretarial staff. Get it organized and thought
I’ve been in some and noticed that, “Well, we needed a few more skills here, so can we
get somebody else in?” So I’ve invited people in and then sometimes said, “Gee, can we work
That’s great. We’ve gotten up to where you’re dealing with game theory now and
beginning to get involved with experiments. Now what—and that led to the trust and reciprocity
work and a variety of other things that begin to explore the common goods and common-pool
resource problems at a whole different level in a whole different set of settings—what led you to
the remote sensing? The environmental questions that you study clearly come out of some of the
common-pool resource questions.
Well, one of the things that NSF did was indicate they wanted centers that
would be looking across the ecological social science, and we set up one here on the—it’s called
CIPEC, the Study of Institutions, Population, and Environmental Change. Emilio Moran, who
is a superb anthropologist, suggested we go in on a proposal, and we did, and we became a center.
For a while, I codirected the workshop and codirected CIPEC. One of the tools he had
learned—as an anthropologist who had done a great deal of fieldwork—and they were making
claims about things from remote sensing that he thought were wrong. He had trained himself in
remote sensing, and then we ran a summer program where we trained them in remote, in a little
bit of game theory—not too much, but enough—in institutional analysis, and in fieldwork.
So was this the first time with CIPEC that fieldwork had been brought together
with remote sensing?
No, Emilio had certainly brought it together before.
So Emilio is crucial in this.
Yes. He was studying the Amazon and some of the patterns of deforestation,
and by going up, he could observe patterns that you can’t on the ground, and that’s why they’re so
important. Because you can interpret it better if you’ve been on the ground when you’re looking
[from] above. He has some fantastic early articles that are just unbelievable, and I learned so much.
I only have a few more questions because we are beginning to run out of time.
I can’t help but ask how the Nobel Prize is affecting or likely to affect your work and your life?
I know it’s very—you just won it on Monday.
I’m still not—
The one thing I didn’t find credible about your winning the Nobel Prize was
the announcement that you were woken at 6:30. My experience of you is that you’re sending
emails at 4:00 in the morning.
Sometimes. I had been up early and gone back to bed [laughter].
Oh, there you go. You were taking a nap when they woke you up.
I sometimes now—you know what I mean—I’m in my seventies, although
sometimes I do actually sleep to 7:00.
Oh, good for you, Elinor. I’m glad.
But I had been up, yes. They woke up because I had gone back—I was really
How do you think it’s going to change the way you do work and what your life
is going to be like?
It’s not going to change the way I do work because that’s teamwork and—
And you want to be part of the team.
Yeah. I haven’t quite absorbed—the email load has just been unbelievable. It’s
fun talking with you, but this is about—I’ve been averaging six or so interviews every day.
Right. Well, this was planned a while ago.
It was planned a long time ago, and what a pleasure for me. Hopefully, there’ll
be a little bit of quiet in here somewhere where I can actually think about this.
Yeah, I imagine.
We’ve got new research projects that were already coming along, and we’re
going with them.
Good. That’s great. Is there anything else you want to tell me, or you think our
readers should know about?
Well, I think they should read your work.
Oh, thank you.
Well, I think that—I very learned a great deal, and I think part of our overlap
of interest is that just having formal rules is not enough. The question is, “Where do the rules
come from? What are the incentives of the people inside? What—are they to go by them and not
let anybody know, and just cheat? What are the incentives to change them?” All of those things.
We’ve been taught, as political scientists, that those rules are the rules. What we know from the
field is that rules on paper and rules in form are different.
So that may be the lesson.
Thank you, Lin. This has been a real pleasure to talk to you, as always.
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