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Science and Technology

What is the link between science and technology

Published onAug 11, 2022
Science and Technology
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This post provides a quick overview of claim articles in New Things Under the Sun related to the interplay of science and technology. Click one of the following links to jump to an article overview, or simply scroll down. Click on the title of any given overview to jump to the associated claim article on New Things Under the Sun.

Science is good at making useful knowledge

  • We’re worried scientific papers get prestige for arbitrary characteristics valued by ivory tower,1 but uncorrelated with truth and usefulness

  • Some view academic economics as prioritizing adherence to free market ideology; in fact, citations from economists also predicts citation by other social sciences2

  • Use of science by inventors also suggests science is doing useful stuff

    • Patents increasingly cite scientific articles,3 and these citations seem to capture some form of actual use of the ideas4

    • Patents building more closely on science seem to be more valuable5

    • Citations from scientists not only predict citation by patents, but also predict how valuable the citing patent is6

Science as a map of unfamiliar terrain

  • Science seems to be particularly helpful with invention when…

    • …an inventor is changing fields7

    • …technologies lie very far from what’s normal8

    • …the technological domain is very finicky: small changes or tweaks can have big (potentially bad) effects.9

  • A scientific basis can also help communicate to others that an invention is valuable10

More Science Leads to More Innovation

  • Several natural experiments show more science leads to more innovation

    • WWI significantly disrupted science and fewer new scientific words showed up in subsequent patents11

    • US science funding was shaken up at the end of the Cold War; technologies reliant on science that got more funding began making more use of science, and vice versa12

    • University funding windfalls from better-than-expected football seasons leads to more science, more patents, and more patent licensing revenue13

    • Plausibly random variation in grant support from the NIH for specific scientific fields, is associated with more papers and more biomedical patents in those fields14

  • Funding for basic science seems to be correlated with the productivity of relevant industries, with a multi-decade lag15

Ripples in the River of Knowledge

  • Most inventions do not seem to directly rely on science16

  • Many more are linked to science via some chain of citation though (they cite a patent that cites a patent that… cites a scientific article)17

  • Evidence suggests a surge in patenting in one class of technology tends to predict a later surge in “downstream” technologies18

  • Technologies that do not usually cite science directly tend to lie downstream of technologies that do

  • Science may have larger indirect effects on technological progress

How long does it take to go from science to technology?

  • A good rule of thumb is that there is a 20-year gap between science and technology

  • One line of evidence: correlations between science funding and subsequent productivity growth

    • The best statistical fit between the number of journal articles in some field and TFP growth in manufacturing industries reliant on that field is about 20 years19

    • More sophisticated Bayesian methods also find a 20-year fit is most likely, using data from agriculture20

  • Another line of evidence: patent citations to science

    • The average gap between the date a scientific paper is published and patent citing it is applied for is 17 years21

    • Most patents don’t cite papers, but most are indirectly linked to patents that do.

    • The average (shortest) gap between a patent and a paper is just 7 years, allowing for these indirect citation trails22

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