The Diffusion of Scientific Knowledge Across Time and Space: Evidence from Professional Transitions for the Superstars of Medicine

57 Pages Posted: 18 Jan 2011 Last revised: 3 Apr 2015

See all articles by Pierre Azoulay

Pierre Azoulay

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Joshua Graff Zivin

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IRPS); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Bhaven N. Sampat

Columbia University - Mailman School of Public Health

Date Written: January 2011

Abstract

Are scientific knowledge flows embodied in individuals, or "in the air"? To answer this question, we measure the effect of labor mobility in a sample of 9,483 elite academic life scientists on the citation trajectories associated with individual articles (resp. patents) published (resp. granted) before the scientist moved to a new institution. We find that article-to-article citations from the scientific community at the superstar's origin location are barely affected by their departure. In contrast, article-to-patent citations, and especially patent-to-patent citations, decline at the origin location following a star's departure, suggesting that spillovers from academia to industry are not completely disembodied. We also find that article-to-article citations at the superstar's destination location markedly increase after they move. Our results suggest that, to be realized, knowledge flows to industry may require more face-to-face interaction than those to academics. Moreover, to the extent that academic scientists do not internalize the effect of their location decisions on the circulation of ideas, our results raise the intriguing possibility that barriers to labor mobility in academic science limit the recombination of individual bits of knowledge, resulting in a suboptimal rate of scientific exploration.

Suggested Citation

Azoulay, Pierre and Graff Zivin, Joshua and Sampat, Bhaven N., The Diffusion of Scientific Knowledge Across Time and Space: Evidence from Professional Transitions for the Superstars of Medicine (January 2011). NBER Working Paper No. w16683. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1740312

Pierre Azoulay (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )

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E62-416
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States

HOME PAGE: http://scripts.mit.edu/~pazoulay/

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Cambridge, MA 02138
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Joshua Graff Zivin

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IRPS) ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093-0519
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Bhaven N. Sampat

Columbia University - Mailman School of Public Health ( email )

600 West 168th St. 6th Floor
New York, NY 10032
United States

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