With its $2 million urinals and other puzzling valuations, the pricing of fine art might seem too arbitrary, too opaque, too wildly jostled by randomness to submit to scientific investigation.

Yet a paper in the journal Science this month promised to explain why some talented artists become rich and famous, and others can't quit their day jobs.

The answer, which was derived by a collaboration of physicists, social scientists, data experts and an art historian, is a scientific formulation of the old adage that it's not what you know, but who you know, but also who the people you know, know, and who those people know.