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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
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:fth:harver:1749
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  1. Pardey, Philip G, 1989. "The Agricultural Knowledge Production Function: An Empirical Look," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 71(3), pages 453-61, August.
  2. Paula E. Stephan, 1996. "The Economics of Science," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 34(3), pages 1199-1235, September.
  3. Zvi Griliches, 1998. "Productivity, R&D, and the Data Constraint," NBER Chapters, in: R&D and Productivity: The Econometric Evidence, pages 347-374 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Dale W. Jorgenson & Barbara M. Fraumeni, 1992. "The Output of the Education Sector," NBER Chapters, in: Output Measurement in the Service Sectors, pages 303-341 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. 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.
  6. Rosenberg, Nathan & Nelson, Richard R., 1994. "American universities and technical advance in industry," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 23(3), pages 323-348, May.
  7. Adams, James D, 1993. "Science, R&D, and Invention Potential Recharge: U.S. Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(2), pages 458-62, May.
  8. 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.
  9. Mansfield, Edwin, 1991. "Academic research and industrial innovation," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 20(1), pages 1-12, February.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
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