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

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  • Jeffrey L. Furman
  • Scott Stern

Abstract

While the cumulative nature of knowledge is recognized as central to economic growth, the microeconomic foundations of cumulativeness are less understood. This paper investigates the impact of a research-enhancing institution on cumulativeness, highlighting two effects. First, a selection effect may result in a high correlation between "high-quality" institutions and knowledge of high intrinsic quality. Second, an institution may have a marginal impact -- an incremental influence on cumulativeness, conditional on the type and quality of knowledge considered. This paper distinguishes these effects in the context of a specific institution, biological resource centers (BRCs). BRCs are "living libraries" that authenticate, preserve, and offer independent access to biological materials, such as cells, cultures, and specimens. BRCs may enhance the cumulativeness of knowledge by reducing the marginal cost to researchers of drawing on prior research efforts. We exploit three key aspects of the environment in which BRCs operate to evaluate how they affect the cumulativeness of knowledge: (a) the impact of scientific knowledge is reflected in future scientific citations, (b) deposit into BRCs often occurs with a substantial lag after initial research is completed and published, and (c) "lagged" deposits often result from shocks unrelated to the characteristics of the materials themselves. Employing a difference-in-differences estimator linking specific materials deposits to journal articles, we find evidence for both selection effects and the marginal impact of BRCs on the cumulativeness of knowledge associated with deposited materials. Moreover, the marginal impact increases with time and varies with the economic and institutional conditions in which deposit occurs.

Suggested Citation

  • Jeffrey L. Furman & Scott Stern, 2006. "Climbing Atop the Shoulders of Giants: The Impact of Institutions on Cumulative Research," NBER Working Papers 12523, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12523
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Fiona Murray & Philippe Aghion & Mathias Dewatripont & Julian Kolev & Scott Stern, 2016. "Of Mice and Academics: Examining the Effect of Openness on Innovation," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 8(1), pages 212-252, February.
    2. L. Rachel Ngai & Roberto M. Samaniego, 2006. "An R&D-Based Model of Multi-Sector Growth," CEP Discussion Papers dp0762, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    3. Jasjit Singh & Ajay Agrawal, 2011. "Recruiting for Ideas: How Firms Exploit the Prior Inventions of New Hires," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 57(1), pages 129-150, January.
    4. Huang, Kenneth G. & Murray, Fiona E., 2010. "Entrepreneurial experiments in science policy: Analyzing the Human Genome Project," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(5), pages 567-582, June.
    5. Mukherjee, Arijit & Stern, Scott, 2009. "Disclosure or secrecy? The dynamics of Open Science," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 27(3), pages 449-462, May.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H4 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods
    • L3 - Industrial Organization - - Nonprofit Organizations and Public Enterprise
    • O3 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights
    • O33 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes

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