Working Papers

"Quantifying the Immediate Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Scientists"

with Wei Yang Tham, Yian Yin, Nina Cohodes, Jerry Thursby, Marie Thursby, Peter Schiffer, Joseph Walsh, Karim Lakhani, and Dashun Wang 

Download here [Last revised: May 2020]

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly disrupted the scientific enterprise, but we lack empirical evidence on the nature and magnitude of these disruptions. Here we report the results of a survey of approximately 4,500 Principal Investigators (PIs) at U.S.- and Europe- based research institutions. Distributed in mid-April 2020, the survey solicited information about how scientists’ work changed from the onset of the pandemic, how their research output might be affected in the near future, and a wide range of individuals’ characteristics. Scientists report a sharp decline in time spent on research on average, but there is substantial heterogeneity with a significant share reporting no change or even increases. Some of this heterogeneity is due to field-specific differences, with laboratory-based fields being the most negatively affected, and some is due to gender, with female scientists reporting larger declines. However, among the individuals’ characteristics examined, the largest disruptions are connected to a usually unobserved dimension: childcare. Reporting a young dependent is associated with declines similar in magnitude to those reported by the laboratory-based fields and can account for a significant fraction of gender differences. Amidst scarce evidence about the role of parenting in scientists’ work, these results highlight the fundamental and heterogeneous ways this pandemic is affecting the scientific workforce, and may have broad relevance for shaping responses to the pandemic’s effect on science and beyond.

"Research Subsidy Spillovers, Two Ways"

with Lauren Lanahan 

Download here [Last revised: May 2020]

We study how the outputs of research spill over technological and geographic space in the context of the U.S. Small Business Innovation Research program. We infer input-output links using text analyses and identify the marginal costs of producing patents using noncompetitive grant matching policies. Due to technological spillovers, the cost of spurring patents related to specific technologies are much larger than the costs of spurring any kind of patent. Due to geographic spillovers, roughly 80% of the net patents produced by the program are from inventors that do not directly receive grants; the domestic/foreign split of output is about 75/25. The large spillovers across these two dimensions imply that the cost effectiveness of research subsidies can vary widely depending on which outputs count. Within the U.S., we identify regions likely responsible for these spillovers, which reveals a pattern that suggests the government must trade off its ability to influence either the rate or direction of invention.

"Physician-Industry Interactions: Persuasion and Welfare"

with Matt Grennan, Ashley Swanson and Aaron Chatterji

[Under revision: May 2020]

"Are Editors Gatekeepers of Science?"

with Joshua Krieger and Ariel Stern

[Under revision: March 2020]

As editors for academic journals, a select few individuals control the dissemination and certification of science. We examine editors’ influence on scientific homophily by unpacking how much of what gets published in top biomedical journals is due to three major forces, which we term “missions”, “markets” and editorial “gatekeeping”. Missions – journals’ stable preferences – and markets – the aggregate supply of and demand for certain topics – describe the vast majority of variation in published content. Conditional on these two forces, the upper bound of the gatekeeping effect is statistically significant but practically unimportant. Even extreme counterfactuals suggest that any gatekeeping of content by editors, in the sense of creating scientific homophily, is likely dwarfed by other forces at play.

Published Papers

"The Elasticity of Science"

American Economic Journal: Applied Economics (Forthcoming)

Download final working paper version [Last revised: August 2019]

This paper identifies the degree to which scientists are willing to change the direction of their work in exchange for resources. Data from the National Institutes of Health is used to estimate how scientists respond to targeted funding opportunities. Inducing a scientist to change their direction by a small amount – to work on marginally different topics – requires a substantial amount funding in expectation. The switching costs of science are large. The productivity of grants is also estimated, and it appears the additional costs of targeted research may be more than offset by more productive scientists pursuing these grants.

"Endogenous Productivity of Demand-Induced R&D: Evidence from Pharmaceuticals"

with Mark Pauly

RAND Journal of Economics, 50 (3), 591-614.

Download final working paper version [Last revised: January 2019]

View published version

We examine trends in the productivity of the pharmaceutical sector over the past three decades. Motivated by Ricardo’s insight that productivity and rents are endogenous to demand when inputs are scarce, we examine the industry’s aggregate R&D production function. Using exogenous demand shocks to instrument investments, we find that demand growth can explain a large portion of R&D growth. Returns to scale have been stable whereas total factor productivity has declined significantly. Predicted rents based on our estimates and Ricardo’s theory closely match the trends we observe.

Other Writing

"Pharmaceutical Trends, Not What They Seem"

with Mark Pauly

In Managing Discovery in the Life Sciences, eds. Philip Rea, Mark Pauly, and Lawton Burns, pp. 18-42. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

"The Direction of Biomedical Science"

Prepared for the NBER-IFS International Network on the Value of Medical Research (See more here).

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How should the allocation of science in the economy be determined? How do scientists choose to pursue different types of trajectories? How do public policies influence these macro- and micro-level outcomes? This survey outlines longstanding questions and recent research surrounding the economics of science with a focus on biomedical research.