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

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  • Ajay Agrawal
  • John McHale
  • Alexander Oettl

Abstract

We 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 evolutionary biology, over the period 1980 to 2000, the fraction of citation-weighted publications produced by the top 20% of departments falls from approximately 75% to 60% but over the same period rises for the top 20% of individual scientists from 70% to 80%. We speculate that this may be due to changing patterns of collaboration, perhaps caused by the rising burden of knowledge and the falling cost of communication, both of which increase the returns to collaboration. Indeed, we report evidence that the propensity to collaborate is rising over time. Furthermore, the nature of collaboration is also changing. For example, the geographic distance as well as the difference in institution rank between collaborators is increasing over time. Moreover, the relative size of the pool of potential distant collaborators for star versus non-star scientists is rising over time. We develop a simple model based on star advantage in terms of the opportunities for collaboration that provides a unified explanation for these facts. Finally, considering the effect of individual location decisions of stars on the overall distribution of human capital, we speculate on the efficiency of the emerging distribution of scientific activity, given the localized externalities generated by stars on the one hand and the increasing returns to distant collaboration on the other.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 19653.

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Date of creation: Nov 2013
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Publication status: Forthcoming: Collaboration, Stars, and the Changing Organization of Science: Evidence from Evolutionary Biology , Ajay Agrawal, John McHale, Alexander Oettl. in The Changing Frontier: Rethinking Science and Innovation Policy , Jaffe and Jones. 2014
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19653

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  1. Fabian Waldinger, 2009. "Peer effects in science: evidence from the dismissal of scientists in Nazi Germany," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library 28518, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  2. Alexander Oettl, 2012. "Reconceptualizing Stars: Scientist Helpfulness and Peer Performance," Management Science, INFORMS, INFORMS, vol. 58(6), pages 1122-1140, June.
  3. Martin L. Weitzman, 1998. "Recombinant Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, MIT Press, vol. 113(2), pages 331-360, May.
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  5. Chris Forman & Avi Goldfarb & Shane Greenstein, 2014. "Information Technology and the Distribution of Inventive Activity," NBER Working Papers 20036, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Ajay K. Agrawal & Avi Goldfarb, 2006. "Restructuring Research: Communication Costs and the Democratization of University Innovation," NBER Working Papers 12812, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Gaspar, Jess & Glaeser, Edward L., 1998. "Information Technology and the Future of Cities," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(1), pages 136-156, January.
  8. Pierre Azoulay & Joshua S. Graff Zivin & Jialan Wang, 2008. "Superstar Extinction," NBER Working Papers 14577, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Timothy F. Bresnahan & Shane Greenstein, 1997. "Technological Competition and the Structure of the Computer Industry," Working Papers, Stanford University, Department of Economics 97028, Stanford University, Department of Economics.
  10. Romer, Paul M, 1990. "Endogenous Technological Change," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(5), pages S71-102, October.
  11. Jones, Charles I, 1995. "R&D-Based Models of Economic Growth," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(4), pages 759-84, August.
  12. Richard B. Freeman & Ina Ganguli & Raviv Murciano-Goroff, 2014. "Why and Wherefore of Increased Scientific Collaboration," NBER Chapters, in: The Changing Frontier: Rethinking Science and Innovation Policy National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Ajay K. Agrawal & John McHale & Alex Oettl, 2014. "Why Stars Matter," NBER Working Papers 20012, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Benjamin F. Jones, 2009. "The Burden of Knowledge and the "Death of the Renaissance Man": Is Innovation Getting Harder?," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 76(1), pages 283-317.
  15. Ajay Agrawal & Avi Goldfarb & Florenta Teodoridis, 2013. "Does Knowledge Accumulation Increase the Returns to Collaboration?," NBER Working Papers 19694, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Waldinger, Fabian, 2012. "Bombs, Brains, and Science: The Role of Human and Physical Capital for the Creation of Scientific Knowledge," CAGE Online Working Paper Series, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE) 78, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
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