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

In: The Changing Frontier: Rethinking Science and Innovation Policy

  • Ajay Agrawal
  • John McHale
  • Alexander Oettl

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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This chapter was published in:
  • Adam Jaffe & Benjamin Jones, 2015. "The Changing Frontier: Rethinking Science and Innovation Policy," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number jaff13-1, July.
  • This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 13038.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:13038
    Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
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    Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

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    1. Fabian Waldinger, 2012. "Peer Effects in Science: Evidence from the Dismissal of Scientists in Nazi Germany," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 79(2), pages 838-861.
    2. Weitzman, Martin L., 1998. "Recombinant Growth," Scholarly Articles 3708468, Harvard University Department of Economics.
    3. Timothy F. Bresnahan & Shane Greenstein, 1997. "Technological Competition and the Structure of the Computer Industry," Working Papers 97028, Stanford University, Department of Economics.
    4. 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 78, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    5. Han Kim, E & Morse, Adair & Zingales, Luigi, 2006. "Are Elite Universities Losing their Competitive Edge?," CEPR Discussion Papers 5700, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    6. Benjamin F. Jones, 2005. "The burden of knowledge and the ‘death of the Renaissance man’: Is innovation getting harder?," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
    7. Paul Romer, 1989. "Endogenous Technological Change," NBER Working Papers 3210, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Alexander Oettl, 2012. "Reconceptualizing Stars: Scientist Helpfulness and Peer Performance," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 58(6), pages 1122-1140, June.
    9. Jess Gaspar & Edward Glaeser, 1996. "Information Technology and the Future of Cities," NBER Working Papers 5562, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Richard B. Freeman & Ina Ganguli & Raviv Murciano-Goroff, 2014. "Why and Wherefore of Increased Scientific Collaboration," NBER Working Papers 19819, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Ajay K. Agrawal & John McHale & Alex Oettl, 2014. "Why Stars Matter," NBER Working Papers 20012, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Paula Stephan, 2014. "The Endless Frontier: Reaping What Bush Sowed?," NBER Chapters, in: The Changing Frontier: Rethinking Science and Innovation Policy, pages 321-366 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Pierre Azoulay & Joshua S. Graff Zivin & Jialan Wang, 2008. "Superstar Extinction," NBER Working Papers 14577, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    14. Jones, Charles I, 1995. "R&D-Based Models of Economic Growth," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(4), pages 759-84, August.
    15. 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.
    16. Chris Forman & Avi Goldfarb & Shane Greenstein, 2014. "Information Technology and the Distribution of Inventive Activity," NBER Chapters, in: The Changing Frontier: Rethinking Science and Innovation Policy, pages 169-196 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    17. 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.
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