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Measuring Science: An Exploration

  • James Adams
  • Zvi Griliches

This paper examines available U.S. data on academic R&D expenditures and the number of papers published and the number of citations to these papers as possible measures of `output' of this enterprise. We look at these numbers for science and engineering as a whole, for 5 selected major fields, and at the individual university-field level. The published data in Science and Engineering Indicators imply sharply diminishing returns to academic R&D using published papers as a 'output' measure. These data are problematic. Using a newer set of data on papers and citations, based on an `expanding' set changes the picture drastically, eliminating seemingly diminishing returns but raising the question of why input prices of academic R&D are rising so much faster than either the GDP deflator or the implicit R&D deflator in industry. A production function analysis of such data indicates significant diminishing returns to `own' R&D, with the R&D coefficients hovering around 0.5 for estimates with paper numbers as the dependent variable and around 0.6 if total citations are used. When we substitute scientists and engineers in place of R&D as the right hand side variables, the coefficient on papers rises from 0.5 to 0.8, and the coefficient on citations rises from 0.6 to 0.9, indicating systematic measurement problems with R&D as the sole input into the production of scientific output. But allowing for individual university-field effects drives these numbers down below unity. Since in the aggregate both paper numbers and citations are growing as fast or faster than R&D, this can be seen as leaving a major, yet unmeasured role, for the contribution of spill- overs from other fields, other universities, and other countries.

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Paper provided by Harvard - Institute of Economic Research in its series Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers with number 1749.

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Date of creation: 1996
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Handle: RePEc:fth:harver:1749
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  1. Richard C. Levin & Alvin K. Klevorick & Richard R. Nelson & Sidney G. Winter, 1987. "Appropriating the Returns from Industrial Research and Development," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 18(3), pages 783-832.
  2. Rosenberg, Nathan & Nelson, Richard R., 1994. "American universities and technical advance in industry," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 23(3), pages 323-348, May.
  3. Mansfield, Edwin, 1991. "Academic research and industrial innovation," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 20(1), pages 1-12, February.
  4. Richard C. Levin & Alvin K. Klevorick & Richard R. Nelson & Sidney G. Winter, 1988. "Appropriating the Returns from Industrial R&D," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 862, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  5. Richard Nelson, 1962. "The Link Between Science and Invention: The Case of the Transistor," NBER Chapters, in: The Rate and Direction of Inventive Activity: Economic and Social Factors, pages 549-584 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Griliches, Zvi, 1994. "Productivity, R&D, and the Data Constraint," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(1), pages 1-23, March.
  7. Pardey, Philip G., 1987. "The Agricultural Knowledge Production Function: An Empirical Look," Evaluating Agricultural Research and Productivity, Proceedings of a Workshop, Atlanta, Georgia, January 29-30, 1987, Miscellaneous Publication 52 50022, University of Minnesota, Agricultural Experiment Station.
  8. Zvi Griliches, 1958. "Research Costs and Social Returns: Hybrid Corn and Related Innovations," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 66, pages 419.
  9. Jorgenson, D.W. & Fraumeni, B.M., 1991. "The Output Of The Education Sector," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1543, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  10. Stephan, Paula E., 2010. "The Economics of Science," Handbook of the Economics of Innovation, Elsevier.
  11. James D Adams, 1993. "Science, R&D, And Invention Potential Recharge: U.S. Evidence," Working Papers 93-2, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
  12. Adams, James D, 1990. "Fundamental Stocks of Knowledge and Productivity Growth," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(4), pages 673-702, August.
  13. Weisbrod, Burton A, 1971. "Costs and Benefits of Medical Research: A Case Study of Poliomyelitis," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 79(3), pages 527-44, May-June.
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