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Climbing atop the Shoulders of Giants: The Impact of Institutions on Cumulative Research


  • Jeffrey L. Furman
  • Scott Stern


While cumulative knowledge production is central to growth, little empirical research investigates how institutions shape whether existing knowledge can be exploited to create new knowledge. This paper assesses the impact of a specific institution, a biological resource center, whose objective is to certify and disseminate knowledge. We disentangle the marginal impact of this institution on cumulative research from the impact of selection, in which the most important discoveries are endogenously linked to research-enhancing institutions. Exploiting exogenous shifts of biomaterials across institutional settings and employing a difference-in-differences approach, we find that effective institutions amplify the cumulative impact of individual scientific discoveries. (JEL D02, D83, I23, O30)

Suggested Citation

  • Jeffrey L. Furman & Scott Stern, 2011. "Climbing atop the Shoulders of Giants: The Impact of Institutions on Cumulative Research," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(5), pages 1933-1963, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:101:y:2011:i:5:p:1933-63

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    JEL classification:

    • D02 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Institutions: Design, Formation, Operations, and Impact
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions
    • O30 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - General


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