Are ‘Flow of Ideas’ and ‘Research Productivity’ in secular decline?

34 Pages Posted: 22 Oct 2020 Last revised: 24 Oct 2020

See all articles by Peter Cauwels

Peter Cauwels

ETH Zürich; Director Quaerens CommV

Didier Sornette

ETH Zürich - Department of Management, Technology, and Economics (D-MTEC); Swiss Finance Institute; Southern University of Science and Technology; Tokyo Institute of Technology

Date Written: October 22, 2020

Abstract

It is widely held true that fundamental scientific knowledge has been accelerating exponentially over the past centuries and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Moreover, endogenous growth theory postulates that this exponential accumulation of knowledge is the main source of the ubiquitous exponential economic growth. We test these claims by constructing two new series of knowledge indices, one representing the historical evolution of the Flow of Ideas, the other of the Research Productivity, for the time period between 1750 and 1988. Three different geographical regions are covered: 1) Continental Europe, 2) the United Kingdom, and 3) the United States; and two disciplines: a) the physical sciences, and b) the life sciences. Our main result is that scientific knowledge has been in clear secular decline since the early 1970s for the Flow of Ideas and since the early 1950s for the Research Productivity. We also observe waves coinciding with the three industrial and technological revolutions, in particular in the United Kingdom. Overall, our results support the Kuhnian theory of knowledge creation through scientific revolutions, punctuation and paradigm shifts and falsify the gradualism that lies at the basis of the currently prevailing economic paradigm of endogenous growth.

Keywords: research productivity, knowledge accumulation, economic growth, endogenous growth, exponential growth, S-curve, technological progress, discovery, invention, innovation, scientific revolutions

JEL Classification: C80, H50, J24, O30, O31, O40, O50

Suggested Citation

Cauwels, Peter and Sornette, Didier, Are ‘Flow of Ideas’ and ‘Research Productivity’ in secular decline? (October 22, 2020). Swiss Finance Institute Research Paper No. 20-90, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3716939 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3716939

Peter Cauwels

ETH Zürich

Rämistrasse 101
ZUE F7
Zürich, 8092
Switzerland

Director Quaerens CommV ( email )

Bruges
Belgium

Didier Sornette (Contact Author)

ETH Zürich - Department of Management, Technology, and Economics (D-MTEC) ( email )

Scheuchzerstrasse 7
Zurich, ZURICH CH-8092
Switzerland
41446328917 (Phone)
41446321914 (Fax)

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Swiss Finance Institute

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Southern University of Science and Technology

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China

Tokyo Institute of Technology

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