Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Matthew Effect

In a comment on my previous blog post, The Dalai Lama Quotation and the Historical Sceptic, Stephen Carlson notes that this is an example of "the Matthew Effect", about which Daniel Rigney writes:
The term Matthew effect was cooined by the Columbia University sociologist Robert K. Merton (1968a) to refer to the commonly observed tendency, noted above, for initial advantages to accumulate through time . . . In his pioneering studies of prestige systems in scientific communities, Merton demonstrated that prestigious scientists and institutions tend to attract inordinate attention and resources, leading to the further accumulation of prestige, which in turn attracts further resources (Daniel Rigney, The Matthew Effect: How Advantage Begets Further Advantage (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 4).
The term has come to be used of occasions where a piece of research, an idea, a quotation, a story gets associated with a more famous, more prominent person.  It is called the "Matthew effect" because of Matt. 13.12, "For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away."

Now what I find delightful about this terminology is that it inadvertently contains within it an example of the very phenomenon it is describing.  Matthew has been, since the early second century, the most popular Gospel, the Church's Gospel, and when people quote something that's in more than one Gospel, they invariably quote from Matthew.

So a saying that originates in Mark's Gospel (Mark 4.25),* which most scholars rightly take to have been written prior to Matthew, is actually remembered better as a saying in Matthew.  It is not the Mark Effect but the Matthew Effect.  The better known, more prominent Gospel lends its name to the feature that is thereby illustrated.

* See also Matt. 25.29, Luke 8.18, Luke 19.26.

11 comments:

Ian said...

How perfect!

robert r. cargill said...

fascinating. i shall use this info. thanx.

Marco Ursi said...

That's amazing. I'd be interested in hearing more about the idea that Matthew is the most popular/Church's gospel...maybe a future NT Pod? I woulda guess Luke...

Richard Fellows said...

Do you think we see the Matthew effect in biblical studies? Publishers are (understandably) keen to publish books written by famous names, thus making them even more famous. I have noticed that some famous authors are given a huge amount of credit for books that do little more than summarize the concensus view on a subject. Have we not created a kind of celebrity culture in which certain famous authors in biblical studies are given a disproportionate amount of attention, thus re-enforcing their fame?

Richard Fellows said...

There is also a tendency, I think, to identify a name in a text with a famous person of the same name. I suspect, for example, that the author of Colossians mis-identified the Mark of Philemon 24 as John-Mark. This, of course, has the effect of making the famous person (e.g. John-Mark) even more famous.

Shane said...

In triple tradition material are people more likely to quote from the Matthian or Lukan source?

Matt Page said...

Almost posted this on the previous thread, but I'll do so here. The phenomenon also works in reverse. During George Dubya Bush's presidency, I frequently heard at least one quotation from him that had previously been assigned to Dan Quayle - "It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.".

And on googling this it appears that nearly all of the quotes attributed to both Dubya and John Kerry during the 2004 election were either attributed to the wrong person or the wrong time etc - see <a href="http://www.snopes.com/quotes/candidate.asp>Snopes.com</a>

blogforthelordjesus said...

Ironic that "the Matthew effect" derives its name from one of those who quoted Jesus and not Jesus Himself.

A.J. Swoboda said...

This is brilliant, and utterly fascinating.

Richard Budelberger said...

I am a living “sample” of the Matthew Effect :-( ; and Dr Goodacre obviously knows why…

Sabio Lantz said...

BTW, I did some Googling 'research' here and found John's gospel by far more popular than even Matthew (which, agreeing with you, appears more popular than Mark). And with all its new clearer celestial Jesus, I would expect it to be more popular. But you said: "Matthew has been, since the early second century, the most popular Gospel, ..."
Did you mean, per chance, that Matthew is the most popular from among the synoptic gospels?