The rational choice perspective is prominent in many sociological, economic and political science literature but has been undervalued until now in the field of science studies. This special issue attempts to revalorise this perspective by introducing the principal-agent theory with relation to research policy-making. The introduction presents the basic features of the model of principal-agent and reviews the theoretical development and applications in research policy. It summarises the main findings of the articles in this issue and concludes that the studies in the framework of principal-agent demonstrate the willingness of combining theoretical rigour and ‘requisite variety’ by applying the theory to a large number of different fields linked to research policy-making.

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