Northwestern University

To improve estimates of how research investments translate into breakthroughs by scientific teams, and how scientific breakthroughs translate into eventual economic growth

  • Amount $258,536
  • City Evanston, IL
  • Investigator Benjamin Jones
  • Initiative Economic Analysis of Science and Technology (EAST)
  • Year 2015
  • Program Economics
  • Sub-program Economic Institutions, Behavior, & Performance

Among big questions about the economics of science, two of the most important and challenging concern investments in research and development (R&D): How do the inputs to R&D map into scientific breakthroughs? And how do the inputs to R&D map into broader social returns? This grant funds efforts by Benjamin Jones of Northwestern University to make fresh progress on each of these questions. First Jones will focus on the productivity of scientific teams, investigating how the characteristics of individual team members contribute to overall performance in different contexts. We know little about what makes effective scientific collaboration. For theoretical work, perhaps the strength of the strongest researcher drives results; in the lab, perhaps the strength of the weakest researcher matters most; and, in other situations, it may be some kind of average over everyone. Jones will use output and productivity data on scientific team composition to try to understand how these different skills and training fit together to influence scientific productivity. In a second effort, Jones will investigate the time delays between investments in and payoffs from R&D. Starting with NSF and NIH grant numbers, he will link newly available microeconomic data that trace how long it takes in various fields for grants to turn into papers, for papers to turn into patents, and for patents to turn into adopted technologies. Jones will then use these data to calculate societal returns to government investment in science.

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