How Economics Shapes Science

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Overview

The beauty of science may be pure and eternal, but the practice of science costs money. And scientists, being human, respond to incentives and costs, in money and glory. Choosing a research topic, deciding what papers to write and where to publish them, sticking with a familiar area or going into something new—the payoff may be tenure or a job at a highly ranked university or a prestigious award or a bump in salary. The risk may be not getting any of that.

At a time when science is seen as an engine of economic growth, Paula Stephan brings a keen understanding of the ongoing cost-benefit calculations made by individuals and institutions as they compete for resources and reputation. She shows how universities offload risks by increasing the percentage of non-tenure-track faculty, requiring tenured faculty to pay salaries from outside grants, and staffing labs with foreign workers on temporary visas. With funding tight, investigators pursue safe projects rather than less fundable ones with uncertain but potentially path-breaking outcomes. Career prospects in science are increasingly dismal for the young because of ever-lengthening apprenticeships, scarcity of permanent academic positions, and the difficulty of getting funded.

Vivid, thorough, and bold, How Economics Shapes Science highlights the growing gap between the haves and have-nots—especially the vast imbalance between the biomedical sciences and physics/engineering—and offers a persuasive vision of a more productive, more creative research system that would lead and benefit the world.

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Editorial Reviews

Science

How Economics Shapes Science should be required reading for all scientists and students of science, who are increasingly called upon to adopt the language and logic of economics and engage in policy discussions. Paula Stephan (an economist at Georgia State University) makes her case in simple, easy-to-follow language, using timely examples...The book starts by summarizing the case that private industry alone will not invest in the socially optimal level of research, which will ultimately decrease the rate of innovation and lower economic growth. The logic is worth repeating at a time when there are calls for limiting government support for research and researchers face pressures to engage in lower-risk projects. Stephan convincingly argues that monetary incentives increasingly determine the behavior of researchers at the expense of scientists' desire to participate in the joy of solving problems, receive recognition, and obtain a good reputation.
— Maryann Feldman

Nature
A big biomedical lab spends 18 cents a day to keep one lab mouse, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars for animals each year. Economist Paula Stephan takes an exhaustive look at how publicly funded science pays such bills, and how this affects research, researchers and the economy. She argues that expanding universities and stagnant budgets have made funders and scientists more risk-averse, and stunted the development of young investigators.
Choice

This volume provides a useful summary of how economics shapes science that is accessible to students and researchers in a variety of disciplines and to policy makers.
— R. B. Emmett

Times Higher Education

[An] original and engaging book...Informed, authoritative and thoughtful, Stephan's book will be an invaluable resource for scientists, policymakers and all those working to improve the "science of science and innovation policy" in the U.S., Europe and further afield.
— James Wilsdon

Scholarly Kitchen

[A] rich, data-driven, and nuanced discussion of science and economics...[A] excellent book. Stephan addresses how R&D spending is often driven by politics—either geo-politics (the Cold War) or personal politics (biomedical research), and how jobs in the sciences respond accordingly (and how competitive options for smart people have affected job uptake). She also talks about how difficult science and research spending is to measure from an economic efficiency perspective—essentially, because payback on investments can be quite indirect and take decades, choosing between investment options is fraught with the chance for mistakes. And the emerging trend showing that higher-impact science comes from funding entities that evaluate people instead of projects and provides longer-term funding is also covered...This book will have a special place on my shelf, as one of a handful of books that demand to be revisited, referenced, and re-read because there is so much clear and important information to be had, and some definite criticisms of the current system policy-makers need to consider.
— Kent Anderson

Richard Freeman
This is a marvelous book—lucid, cogent, and lively, full of fascinating anecdotes and news about what university science costs, who pays for it, and who benefits. Paula Stephan saw science as an economic enterprise long before other economists did, and she's written what will be the definitive book for years to come.
Charles Clotfelter
Paula Stephan is the undisputed authority on the economics of science and her book is a delight. Laced with dozens of revealing anecdotes about everything from transgenic mice to the competition for high h-indexes and the Nobel Prize, How Economics Shapes Science reveals the economic logic behind the workings of modern science and makes a compelling case for using incentives to rationalize our use of scarce resources.
Richard R. Nelson
How do economic considerations shape what scientists do? How do scientific developments affect economic progress? In a world facing challenges like global warming and threats of economic stagnation, these are critical questions. Paula Stephan's treatment is masterful—and readable outside the ranks of economists, too.
Mara Prentiss
Scientific research and professional training are now inextricably linked. At the same time the perceived costs and benefits of science have skyrocketed, with governments and universities setting economic incentives in the race for productivity and prestige. Stephan's groundbreaking economic analysis shows the complex results of these policies.
Kathleen Giacomini
This fascinating book makes senior scientists like me keenly aware of the travails that await our students and post-docs as they pursue the many years of scientific training that lead to a very uncertain career. As Paula Stephan shows, from the point of view of income and stability, our students might be better off getting MBAs. All senior scientists should read this book. It gives a sobering dose of reality to our love of science.
Ronald G. Ehrenberg
Paula Stephan is one of the world's leading scholars of the economics of science. Her comprehensive analysis—as readable as it is timely—is a must read for anyone worrying about the future of science policy or the economics of universities.
Reinhilde Veugelers
We in Europe often invoke the US science system as the frontier for us, but most of us don't know in detail how it actually operates. With its wealth of facts and stories, and its rich multidisciplinary perspective, Paula Stephan's book can teach us. It will help scientists understand their environment and help policy makers see what levers they have (or do not have) to direct science. No one other than Paula Stephan could write with such insight and depth.
Science - Beryl Lieff Benderly
Illuminating and accessible...Using the "tool bag" economics provides for "analyzing the relationships between incentives and costs," [Stephan] penetrates the financial structure of university-based science, explaining the motivation and behavior of everyone from august university presidents and professors to powerless and impecunious graduate students and postdocs. It's a remarkably revealing approach...The short space at my disposal allows me to present just a hint of the penetrating discoveries waiting in this book...[A] rigorous and clear-eyed examination of the money trail. She conveys her findings in clear, comprehensible prose. If you want to understand what is really happening in American academic science today, here's my advice: Read this enlightening book.
Science - Maryann Feldman
How Economics Shapes Science should be required reading for all scientists and students of science, who are increasingly called upon to adopt the language and logic of economics and engage in policy discussions. Paula Stephan (an economist at Georgia State University) makes her case in simple, easy-to-follow language, using timely examples...The book starts by summarizing the case that private industry alone will not invest in the socially optimal level of research, which will ultimately decrease the rate of innovation and lower economic growth. The logic is worth repeating at a time when there are calls for limiting government support for research and researchers face pressures to engage in lower-risk projects. Stephan convincingly argues that monetary incentives increasingly determine the behavior of researchers at the expense of scientists' desire to participate in the joy of solving problems, receive recognition, and obtain a good reputation.
Choice - R. B. Emmett
This volume provides a useful summary of how economics shapes science that is accessible to students and researchers in a variety of disciplines and to policy makers.
Times Higher Education - James Wilsdon
[An] original and engaging book...Informed, authoritative and thoughtful, Stephan's book will be an invaluable resource for scientists, policymakers and all those working to improve the "science of science and innovation policy" in the U.S., Europe and further afield.
Scholarly Kitchen - Kent Anderson
[A] rich, data-driven, and nuanced discussion of science and economics...[A] excellent book. Stephan addresses how R&D spending is often driven by politics--either geo-politics (the Cold War) or personal politics (biomedical research), and how jobs in the sciences respond accordingly (and how competitive options for smart people have affected job uptake). She also talks about how difficult science and research spending is to measure from an economic efficiency perspective--essentially, because payback on investments can be quite indirect and take decades, choosing between investment options is fraught with the chance for mistakes. And the emerging trend showing that higher-impact science comes from funding entities that evaluate people instead of projects and provides longer-term funding is also covered...This book will have a special place on my shelf, as one of a handful of books that demand to be revisited, referenced, and re-read because there is so much clear and important information to be had, and some definite criticisms of the current system policy-makers need to consider.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674049710
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 1/9/2012
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 973,522
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Paula Stephan is Professor of Economics at Georgia State University and Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. She has served on the Board on Higher Education and Workforce at the NRC, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences Council, and the Social, Behavioral, and Economics Advisory Committee at the NSF.
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Table of Contents

List of Figures and Tables ix

Preface xi

List of Abbreviations xiii

1 What Does Economics Have to Do with Science? 1

2 Puzzles and Priority 16

3 Money 35

4 The Production of Research: People and Patterns of Collaboration 61

5 The Production of Research: Equipment and Materials 82

6 Funding for Research 111

7 The Market for Scientists and Engineers 151

8 The Foreign Born 183

9 The Relationship of Science to Economic Growth 203

10 Can We Do Better? 228

Appendix 243

Notes 247

References 307

Acknowledgments 349

Index 353

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