Industry collaboration and theory in academic science

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Citation: J. A Evans (2006) Industry collaboration and theory in academic science.
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): Industry collaboration and theory in academic science
Tagged: Sociology (RSS)


Evans explores the idea that academic and industrial science's different ends leads to different types of science. Evans advances the theory that industrial science is largely indifferent to theory and, as a result, will tend to promote or support work that will be less theoretical. Using the metaphor of a fabric of knowledge, he argues that academic incentive encourage people to work within and refine theory. Industrial science encourages people to pay less attention and to spread their work more thinly.

Evans approach is very sociologically and more influenced by social theory than many others who study innovation and science from business schools. His basic framing contrasts the ethos of industry and academic science and argues the obvious point that industrial science will be less theoretical but argues that implications will not be. Indeed, he argues that industry's relative indifference to theory pushes academics toward exploration, novelty, and speculation or that, "industry sponsorship influences science to know less about more."

Evans offers a set of hypotheses:

  • H1: Industry will encourage academic scientists to become more exploratory and less confirmatory.
  • H2: Government funding will influence academic scientists to become more comfirmatory and less exploratory.
  • H3: Academic scientists with high-status in the scientific community will experience a greater effect on the novelty and persistence fo their science than those with low-status, with other factors held constant.

He uses the metaphor of a scientific fabric with denser or more loose weave (i.e., the clusters representing confirmatory scientific research) to frame his last two hypotheses:

  • H4: Industry collaboration will make the fabric of science looser.
  • H5: Government funding will make the fabric of science tighter.

Evans marshals evidence from fieldwork and archival data from the research community around Arabidopsis thaliana which is a relative of the mustard plant and which is a model organization for a large amount of plant biology both in academic and in agricultural biotechnology. He also uses publication data from every article that mentions Arabidopsis.

The hypotheses receive broad support. H1 in particular was strongly supported, especially when considered with H5. H2 received more modest support.

Although work has suggested that patenting increases publication, these results suggest that theoretic understanding may be "taking a hit."