Climbing Atop the Shoulders of Giants: The Impact of Institutions on Cumulative Research

52 Pages Posted: 2 Oct 2006 Last revised: 21 Sep 2010

See all articles by Jeffrey L. Furman

Jeffrey L. Furman

Boston University - Department of Strategy & Policy; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Scott Stern

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

Date Written: September 2006

Abstract

While the cumulative nature of knowledge is recognized as central to economic growth, the microeconomic foundations of cumulativeness are less understood. This paper investigates the impact of a research-enhancing institution on cumulativeness, highlighting two effects. First, a selection effect may result in a high correlation between "high-quality" institutions and knowledge of high intrinsic quality. Second, an institution may have a marginal impact -- an incremental influence on cumulativeness, conditional on the type and quality of knowledge considered. This paper distinguishes these effects in the context of a specific institution, biological resource centers (BRCs). BRCs are "living libraries" that authenticate, preserve, and offer independent access to biological materials, such as cells, cultures, and specimens. BRCs may enhance the cumulativeness of knowledge by reducing the marginal cost to researchers of drawing on prior research efforts. We exploit three key aspects of the environment in which BRCs operate to evaluate how they affect the cumulativeness of knowledge: (a) the impact of scientific knowledge is reflected in future scientific citations, (b) deposit into BRCs often occurs with a substantial lag after initial research is completed and published, and (c) "lagged" deposits often result from shocks unrelated to the characteristics of the materials themselves. Employing a difference-in-differences estimator linking specific materials deposits to journal articles, we find evidence for both selection effects and the marginal impact of BRCs on the cumulativeness of knowledge associated with deposited materials. Moreover, the marginal impact increases with time and varies with the economic and institutional conditions in which deposit occurs.

Suggested Citation

Furman, Jeffrey L. and Stern, Scott, Climbing Atop the Shoulders of Giants: The Impact of Institutions on Cumulative Research (September 2006). NBER Working Paper No. w12523. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=931609

Jeffrey L. Furman (Contact Author)

Boston University - Department of Strategy & Policy ( email )

595 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Scott Stern

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

Cambridge, MA 02142
United States
617-253-3053 (Phone)
617-253-2660 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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