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Prizes for Basic Research -- Human Capital, Economic Might and the Shadow of History

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  • Joshua Aizenman
  • Ilan Noy

Abstract

This paper studies the impact of several factors on the geographical distribution of basic scientific research across countries and time, and explains the dynamics of the process that has resulted in the United States becoming the undisputed leader in basic research. Our study is based on the records of major scientific awards, and on data dealing with global economic and historical trends. We investigate the degree to which scale or threshold effects account for the number of major prizes (Nobel, Fields, Kyoto, Wolf) won by different countries. We constructed a stylized model, predicting that lagged relative GDP of a country relative to the GDP of all countries engaging in basic research is an important explanatory variable of a country?s share of prizes. Scale effects imply that the association between the GDP share of a country and its prize share can be logistic -- above a certain threshold, there is a take-off range, where the prize share increases at an accelerating rate relative to the GDP share of the country, until it reaches "maturity" stage. Our empirical research findings confirm the importance of lagged relative GDP in accounting for a country's prize shares, and the presence of a "winner-takes-all" scale effect benefiting the leader. We found that U.S. basic research take-off started during the 1920s, with this research being done in the United States by U.S. scholars, prior to the immigration of scientists after Hitler's rise to power in Germany (1932-33). This is consistent with the notion that World War II set in motion forces that did not start, but hastened, the U.S. take-off, triggering immigration that contributed to the speed and intensity of U.S. research dominance. Using more recent data, we also documented the growing importance of countries that used to be at the periphery of global research, but are now possibly advancing towards the take-off stage.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 12226.

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Date of creation: May 2006
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12226

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  1. Donald R. Davis & David E. Weinstein, 2008. "A Search For Multiple Equilibria In Urban Industrial Structure," Journal of Regional Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 48(1), pages 29-65.
  2. Rose, Andrew K., 2006. "Size really doesn't matter: In search of a national scale effect," Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, Elsevier, vol. 20(4), pages 482-507, December.
  3. Lucas, Robert Jr, 1976. "Econometric policy evaluation: A critique," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 19-46, January.
  4. Bruce A. Weinberg & David W. Galenson, 2005. "Creative Careers: The Life Cycles of Nobel Laureates in Economics," NBER Working Papers 11799, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Paul A.David, 2005. "Path dependence, its critics and the quest for ‘historical economics’," Economic History 0502003, EconWPA.
  6. Krugman, Paul, 1991. "History versus Expectations," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 106(2), pages 651-67, May.
  7. Benjamin F. Jones, 2005. "Age and Great Invention," NBER Working Papers 11359, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Andrew K. Rose, 2006. "Size Really Doesn't Matter: In Search of a National Scale Effect," NBER Working Papers 12191, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Andrew B. Bernard & Meghan R. Busse, 2004. "Who Wins the Olympic Games: Economic Resources and Medal Totals," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 86(1), pages 413-417, February.
  10. Salter, Ammon J. & Martin, Ben R., 2001. "The economic benefits of publicly funded basic research: a critical review," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 30(3), pages 509-532, March.
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Cited by:
  1. Carillo, Maria Rosaria & Papagni, Erasmo, 2007. "Social rewards in science and economic growth," MPRA Paper 2776, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  2. Dailami, Mansoor & Kurlat, Sergio & Lim, Jamus Jerome, 2012. "Bilateral M&A activity from the global south," Policy Research Working Paper Series 5953, The World Bank.

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