The Economics of Scientific Research
May 1, 2011 12:54 AM   Subscribe

What studies and books are there about the economics of scientific research? I'm interested in a few questions including does giving out grants to University based researchers produce more startups and more highly regarded refereed papers than institutions like NIH or CSIRO? The only book I know of that looks at this is the book The Economic Laws of Scientific Research which looks interesting but is also described as a polemic.

I'm aware of Vannevar Bush and so on but has anyone done careful investigation of whether his and other people's statements are true? I've searched and looked around and have found little on the subject. Is there a journal that studies the effectiveness of different government research programs?

The sorts of questions I'm interested in are:

Is it better for a country to piggy back on other countries' work?
Does the US's start up culture depend on University research grants?
How did the private sector do compared to the government when large firms did more long term research?
How did the effectiveness of totalitarian regimes and their scientific and technical studies compare to those of social-democratic-market governments?
posted by sien to Science & Nature (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The question is wider than economics, I'm after quantative assessment of different forms of scientific research.
posted by sien at 1:00 AM on May 1, 2011

I'm not really clear what you're asking here or what sort of information you're looking for, but there is a pretty intimate history between Stanford University and many Silicon Valley startups. The same, I believe, holds true for MIT and the Route 128 corridor in Boston.

But that doesn't imply that all, or even most, startups in the United States came about due to universities. I would argue that the absolute number of startups unaffiliated with universities is greater than the absolute number of startups that are affiliated with universities.

A more interesting question is how successful startups that are affiliated with universities are as compared to startups that are unaffliated with universiities.
posted by dfriedman at 1:45 AM on May 1, 2011

You might be interested in the NSF Science and Engineering Indicators. There is a chapter on each of these questions, essentially, backed up with real-world data from 2010 (and the other years are still online if you want to see trending).

The keyword you might want to add to your searching is indicator - you're really looking for research performance indicators. I have a large reading list I can post in a bit.
posted by whatzit at 1:50 AM on May 1, 2011

The bullet point questions you ask are bread-and-butter for History and/or Sociology of Science. There might be some serious quibbles about what the words 'effectiveness' and 'better' mean in this context but the examination of the relationships between social, cultural, economic and political forces and things like the decision making of grant-giving organisations, the association between academic and industrial science, etc. are all questions addressed by many historians & sociologists.
I think if you could be a bit more specific (time period? location? specific forces at play?) we could recommend some reading, I know there are lots of His/Soc Sci people around...
posted by AFII at 2:00 AM on May 1, 2011

The time period would be the last 150 years in the developed world.

As for effectiveness it is indeed difficult to quantify. But presumably some economists or other researchers have tried to look at the size of high technology industries compared to government and corporate R & D. The number of patents is another quantity that seems to regularly be examined.

I'd be interested in someone having looked at a question of whether a government should spend all it's money on grants to Universities or whether a large research institute would get more papers written and help start more companies and make more companies more money.

Or do setups like the US's SBIR program do more economically than funding research in grants?
posted by sien at 2:24 AM on May 1, 2011

whatzit : The NSF data is really interesting.

I guess economic indicators from research would be a big part of what I'm looking for.

Longer term, ideally over at least the post WWII period would be great.
posted by sien at 2:48 AM on May 1, 2011

Fred Block and Matthew Keller work on the science policy side of things but you may find some of their writings useful.

Here's an article of their's entitled "Where Do Innovations Come From? Transformations in the U.S. National Innovation System, 1970-2006".

And here is a related paper from Fred Block, "Swimming Against the Current: The Rise of a Hidden Developmental State in the United States".
posted by euphorb at 1:45 PM on May 2, 2011

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