Climbing atop the shoulders of giants: The impact of institutions on cumulative research

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Citation: Jeffrey L. Furman, Scott Stern (2006) Climbing atop the shoulders of giants: The impact of institutions on cumulative research.
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): Climbing atop the shoulders of giants: The impact of institutions on cumulative research
Tagged: Economics (RSS) econometrics (RSS), science (RSS), patents (RSS), biology (RSS)


Furman and Stern frame their argument by suggesting that while the cumulative of knowledge is well understood, the microeconomics of cumulativeness is not.

The emprical context is the the role placed biological resource centers (BRCs). These BRCs are banks which contains large number of biological specifics like mice or cell lines and which distribute them, at a standardized costs, to any researcher wanting access to them. They are non-profit and have played a very important role in standardization within scientific inquiry and, the authors suggest, are a means by which work can be more cumulative. Although it is easy to demonstrate that work in the BRCs have a higher impact and are cited more often, it has been difficult to disentangle the effect of the BRC in more effectively supporting cumulativeness and the fact that BRCs to tend stock more useful material than that from papers that are less highly cited. The paper is essentially designed to disentaglt this effect.

The authors take advantage of the fact that every specimen placed at a BRC is associated with a journal article, that there may be large delays between the time when material ends up in a BRC and when the paper was published, and that the transfer of material into a BRC can be exogenous to the extent of its use. To work the final point, the authors take advantage of the fact that a series of "special collections" have been transfered en mass into major BRCs.

The paper uses a differences-in-differences estimator to determine the effect of increased access. They consider articles that are linked to BRCs and one that are not and they use the mass-transfer of materials an exogenous shock which allows them look pre- and post-transfer at those articles. The article uses citation counts as a dependent variable uses a negative binomial estimator.

The results show strong effect both for the selection (i.e., articles that will only later be transfered into a BRC are more highly cited implying that BRCs tend to house better more important material) and for the marginal impact of the BRC on the cumulative of knowledge. In order words, placement in a BRC also increases the degree to which a paper will be cited. The effect size is large: articles will received a 135% citation boost after transfer. The authors results are robust to a number of tests.

In probing the mechanisms, the authors suggest that the reason fro this boost is both through a reduction in the transaction costs associated with accessing materials and through an increase in legitimacy.