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Science and Technology

What is the link between science and technology

Published onAug 11, 2022
Science and Technology

This post provides a quick overview of claim articles in New Things Under the Sun related to the interplay of science and technology.

Science is good at making useful knowledge

  • We’re worried scientific papers get prestige for arbitrary characteristics valued by ivory tower, 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 sciences

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

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

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

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

  • (go to article)

Science as a map of unfamiliar terrain

  • Science seems to be particularly helpful with invention when…

    • …an inventor is changing fields

    • …technologies lie very far from what’s normal

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

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

  • (go to article)

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 patents

    • 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 versa

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

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

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

  • (go to article)

Ripples in the River of Knowledge

  • Most inventions do not seem to directly rely on science

  • 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)

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

  • 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

  • (go to article)

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 years

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

  • 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 years

    • 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 trails

  • (go to article)

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