The Changing Frontier: Rethinking Science and Innovation Policy

August 2-3, 2013
Adam Jaffe of Motu Economic and Public Policy Research and Ben Jones of Northwestern University, Organizers

Lee Branstetter, Carnegie Mellon University and NBER; Guangwei Li, Carnegie Mellon University; and Francisco Veloso, Department of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Melon University

The Globalization of R&D: China, India, and the Rise of International Co-invention

The rapid rise of China and India as innovating nations seems to contradict conventional views of the economic growth and development process. In standard models, the acquisition of innovative capacity in frontier technologies emerges as one of the final stages in a long development process. China and India are still poor, yet advanced nations are granting rapidly growing numbers of patents to inventors based in these countries. The analysis of these patents shows that a majority of them are granted to local inventor teams working for foreign multinationals. An important fraction of these patents also incorporates direct intellectual inputs from researchers outside China or India, a trend that Branstetter, Li, and Veloso characterize as "international co-invention." As such, the international patenting surge of China and India does not represent a challenge to traditional models of growth and development so much as it represents a move toward an expanded international division of labor within global R&D networks.

Maryann Feldman and Lauren Lanahan, University of North Carolina

State Science Policy Experiments in the Laboratories of Democracy

Feldman and Lanahan observe 50 state governments experimenting over 30 years with different programs that attempt to leverage academic science to create economic growth. Three broadly diffuse programs are: Eminent Scholars, which attracts scientific talent; Centers of Excellence, which builds research expertise that involves industry; and University Research Grants, which provides funding for research projects. The authors trace their adoption and continuation, and estimate the relationship with state economic conditions for each program. The results indicate that states, in part, use these policy levers to enhance the performance of their high tech industrial workforce, and to complement national trends of extramural funding of research and development. Moreover, results for the Eminent Scholars and the Centers of Excellence programs indicate that states leading in extramural research and development are more likely to have these programs. Viewing Eminent Scholars as a more upstream program, the authors find that state commitment relies on the strength of the state's higher education science and engineering capacity. By contrast, state commitment to the Centers of Excellence program, which is more downstream, is more common among states that lag in this capacity, suggesting that states invest in this program because it is designed to produce more immediate economic outcomes.

Chris Forman, Georgia Institute of Technology; Avi Goldfarb, University of Toronto; and Shane Greenstein, Northwestern University and NBER

Information Technology and the Distribution of Inventive Activity

Forman, Goldfarb, and Greenstein examine the relationship between the diffusion of advanced internet technology and the geographic concentration of innovation, as measured by patents. First, they show that patenting became more concentrated between the early 1990s and the early 2000s and, similarly, that counties that were leaders in patenting in the early 1990s produced relatively more patents by the early 2000s. Second, the authors compare the extent of invention in counties that were leaders in internet adoption, and in those that were not. On average, the authors see little difference in the growth rate of patenting between leaders and laggards in internet adoption. However, they find that the rate of patent growth was faster among counties that were not leaders in patenting in the early 1990s, but that were leaders in internet adoption by 2000, suggesting that the internet helped stem the trend towards more geographic concentration. The authors show that these results are largely driven by patents filed by distant collaborators, rather than non-collaborative patents or patents by non-distant collaborators, suggesting low cost long-distance digital communication as a potential mechanism.

Paula Stephan, Georgia State University and NBER

The Endless Frontier: Reaping What Bush Sowed?

Stephan examines and documents how the "Endless Frontier" changed the research landscape at universities, and the response of universities to the initiative. She finds that the agencies it established initially recruited research proposals from faculty, and applications from students for fellowships and scholarships. By the 1960s, the tables had begun to turn and universities started to push for more resources from the federal government for research, support for faculty salary and research assistants, and indirect costs. The process transformed the relationship between universities and federal funders; it also transformed the relationship between universities and faculty. The university research system that has evolved faces a number of challenges that threaten the health of universities and the research enterprise, and that have implications for discovery and innovation. The author discusses five of them: 1, a proclivity on the part of faculty and funding agencies to be risk averse; 2, the tendency to produce more PhDs than the market for research positions demands; 3, a heavy concentration of research in the biomedical sciences; 4, a continued expansion on the part of universities that may place them at increased financial risk; and 5, a flat or declining amount of federal funds for research.

Hezekiah Agwara, Philip Auerswald, and Brian Higginbotham, George Mason University

Algorithms and the Changing Frontier

Agwara, Auerswald, and Higginbotham first summarize the dominant interpretations of the "frontier" in the United States and predecessor colonies over the past 400 years: agricultural (1610s-1880s); industrial (1890s-1930s); scientific (1940s-1980s); and algorithmic (1990s-present). They describe the difference between the algorithmic frontier and the scientific frontier. The authors then propose that the recent phenomenon referred to as "globalization" is better understood as the progression of the algorithmic frontier enabled by standards that in turn have facilitated interoperability of firm-level production algorithms. They employ data on the adoption of management standards published by the International Standards Organization (ISO) to map the evolution of today's algorithmic frontier, and test the correlation of globalization with standardization.

Timothy Bresnahan, Stanford University, and Jason Davis and Pai-Ling Yin, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Economic Value Creation in Mobile Applications

New mobile development platforms have created an enormous opportunity for applications innovation by lowering the costs of R&D and attracting the largest body of potential app demanders ever assembled. This has created an explosion of numerous and diverse app suppliers. In this early stage of discovering how this new industry will create economic value, such a wide variety of value-creation experiments is potentially valuable, and manifold market institutions have been created to support those experiments. However, as Bresnahan, Davis, and Yin document in this paper, the sheer volume of app product entry has created problems for marketing and commercialization, most importantly the challenges of matching consumers to products. The high cost of product matching particularly impacts entrepreneurial app developers. A number of institutions and firm strategies have emerged in response to the matching problem, which may address the problem at the firm level, but not necessarily at the market level. The authors consider how this situation has impacted the industry's task of discovering economic value and choosing among different app and platform features to make its ultimate contribution to economic growth. They explore how this pattern of technical success and commercialization struggles is different from that of 20th century predecessors.

Ajay Agrawal, University of Toronto and NBER; John McHale, National University of Ireland; and Alexander Oettl, Georgia Institute of Technology

Collaboration, Stars, and the Changing Organization of Science: Evidence from Evolutionary Biology

Agrawal, McHale, and Oettl report a puzzling pair of facts concerning the organization of science. The concentration of research output is declining at the department level, but increasing at the individual level. For example, in one field of science, between 1980 and 2000, the fraction of citation-weighted publications produced by the top 20% of departments fell from approximately 75% to 60%, but over the same period rose for the top 20% of individual scientists from 70% to 80%. The authors speculate that this may be due to the rising burden of knowledge and falling communication costs, which together could increase the returns to collaboration, particularly across institutions, and amplify the role of stars by enabling a more finely disaggregated division of labor. They report descriptive evidence that is consistent with their conjecture on the rising role of stars and their increasing propensity to collaborate, even over increasing distances and differences in department rank, and the effect of stars' individual locations decisions on the overall distribution of human capital. The authors speculate on the efficiency of the emerging distribution of scientific activity given the localized externalities generated by stars.

Richard Freeman, Harvard University and NBER; Ina Ganguli, SITE, Stockholm School of Economics; and Raviv Murciano-Goroff, Stanford University

Why and Wherefore of Increased Scientific Collaboration

Freeman, Ganguli, and Murciano-Goroff examine international and domestic collaborations using data on articles with a U.S. co-author in the categories of nanoscience and nanotechnology, biotechnology and applied microbiology, and particle and field physics, and an original survey of corresponding authors that allows them to investigate the connections among co-authors, and the views of corresponding authors on the collaboration. They find that U.S. collaborations have increased not only with scientists in other countries, but also across U.S. cities, and that the nature of collaborations across cities resembles that across countries. They also determine that most collaborators first met while working in the same institution, and that face-to-face meetings are important in communicating with co-authors across distances. In addition, specialized knowledge and skills of co-authors drives all types of collaborations. Finally, the authors discover that international collaborations have a higher citation rate than other collaborations, but that the higher rate occurs for similar reasons as the higher citation rate of papers by co-authors across different U.S. cities. While international collaborations may have some special attributes, these findings suggest that the best framework for examining them is that associated with the collaborations across space more broadly.

Annamaria Conti, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Christopher Liu, University of Toronto

The (Changing) Knowledge Production Function: Evidence from the MIT Department of Biology – 1970-2000

In recent years, considerable attention has focused on the role that graduate and postdoctoral students play in the production of academic knowledge. Using data from the MIT Department of Biology for the period 1970-2000, Conti and Liu analyze the evolution over time of four fundamental aspects of these students' productivity: 1, training duration; 2, time to a first publication; 3, productivity over the training period; and 4, collaboration with other scientists. The authors describe four main results. First, training periods have lengthened for later cohorts of graduate and postdoctoral students. Second, recent cohorts tend to publish their first article later than the earlier cohorts. Third, they are less productive, especially when it comes to first-author publications. Finally, collaborations with other scientists, as measured by the number of co-authors on a paper, have increased. This increase is driven by collaborations with scientists outside of a student's laboratory. The authors interpret these results in light of the following two paradigms: the increased burden of knowledge that later generations of scientists face; and the limited availability of permanent academic positions.

Ramana Nanda, Harvard University, and Kenneth Younge and Lee Fleming, University of California Berkeley

Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Renewable Energy

Nanda, Younge, and Fleming document three facts related to innovation and entrepreneurship in renewable energy. First, they compare patenting by venture-capital-backed startups and incumbent firms, using data from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Using a variety of measures, the authors find that venture-capital-backed startups are engaged in more novel and more highly cited innovations, compared to incumbent firms. Incumbent firms also have a higher share of patents that are never cited or self-cited, suggesting that incumbents are more likely to engage in incremental innovation compared to venture-capital-backed startups. Second, the authors discovier a rising share of patenting by startups that coincided with the surge in venture capital finance for renewable energy technologies in the early 2000s. They also show that the availability of venture capital finance for renewable energy has fallen dramatically in recent years, with implications for the rate and trajectory of innovation in this sector. Finally, the authors highlight a number of structural factors about renewable energy that make it hard to attract sustained financing from venture capital investors, an discuss options for facilitating innovation and entrepreneurship in renewable energy.

Joshua Gans, University of Toronto and NBER, and Fiona Murray, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and NBER

Credit History: The Changing Nature of Scientific Credit

Gans and Murray examine the importance of institutions for scientific credit in understanding the organization of science. Motivated by both increasing trends in larger collaborations and quantitative as opposed to qualitative assessments of scientific contribution (for example, citation counts over evaluations), the authors provide a theory of scientist choices between sole authorship, collaboration, or a publication mode of organizing cumulative research lines. They characterize the optimal attribution of credit given these choices, and relate those outcomes to changes in the practice of science. The primary result cautions against over-crediting collaborative research projects while ensuring other adverse behavior (such as salami slicing) does not arise. The authors believe that scientific credit will be a critical component of future studies into the organizational economics of science.