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

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  • Ajay Agrawal
  • John McHale
  • Alexander Oettl

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Ajay Agrawal & John McHale & Alexander Oettl, 2013. "Collaboration, Stars, and the Changing Organization of Science: Evidence from Evolutionary Biology," NBER Working Papers 19653, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19653
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Grażyna Bukowska & Jan Fałkowski & Beata Łopaciuk-Gonczaryk, 2014. "Teaming up or writing alone - authorship strategies in leading Polish economic journals," Working Papers 2014-29, Faculty of Economic Sciences, University of Warsaw.
    2. Yao Amber Li & Keith Head & Asier Minondo, 2015. "Geography, Ties, and Knowledge Flows: Evidence from Citations in Mathematics," HKUST IEMS Working Paper Series 2015-30, HKUST Institute for Emerging Market Studies, revised Sep 2015.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • L23 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Organization of Production
    • O31 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Innovation and Invention: Processes and Incentives
    • 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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