“Does Knowledge Accumulation Increase the Returns to Collaboration?,” A. Agrawal, A. Goldfarb & F. Teodoridis (2012)

In my department we organize a literature seminar every second week in which we discuss outstanding papers from the field of innovation, entrepreneurship, and economics of science. Today’s seminar was about Agrawal et al. (2013, NBER working paper version)’s empirical work testing the hypothesis of an increasing knowledge burden. And since Kevin Bryan has already nicely summarized the paper, I will just reblog this here. I have a few minor issues with the paper, namely that they exclude all papers coauthored with Soviet mathematicians and that teasing out the knowledge frontier shock from the labor market movements seems to be very difficult. But after all it’s a great read.

A Fine Theorem

The size of academic research “teams” has been increasing, inexorably, in essentially every field over the past few decades. This may be because of bad incentives for researchers (as Stan Liebowitz has argued), or because more expensive capital is required for research as in particle physics, or because communication technology has decreased the cost of collaboration. A much more worrying explanation is, simply, that reaching the research frontier is getting harder. This argument is most closely associated with my adviser Ben Jones, who has noticed that while team size has increased, the average age star researchers do their best work has increased, co-inventors on inventions has increased, and the number of researchers doing work across fields has decreased. If the knowledge frontier is becoming more expensive to reach, theory suggests a role for greater subsidization of early-career researchers and of potential development traps due to the complementary nature…

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