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How Economics Shapes Science Hardcover – February 8, 2012

9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674049710 ISBN-10: 0674049713 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews


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. (Richard Freeman, Herbert Ascherman Chair in Economics, Harvard University)

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. (Charles Clotfelter, Z. Smith Reynolds Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Economics and Law, Duke University)

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. (Richard R. Nelson, George Blumenthal Professor Emeritus of International and Public Affairs, Business, and Law, Columbia University)

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. (Mara Prentiss, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics, Harvard University)

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. (Kathleen Giacomini, Professor of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, University of California San Francisco)

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. (Ronald G. Ehrenberg, Irving M. Ives Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and Economics, Cornell University)

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. (Reinhilde Veugelers, Professor of Managerial Economics, Strategy and Innovation, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven)

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. (Beryl Lieff Benderly Science 2012-01-06)

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. (Nature 2012-02-09)

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 Science 2012-03-09)

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 Choice 2012-04-01)

[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 Times Higher Education 2012-04-12)

[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 Scholarly Kitchen 2012-04-11)

About 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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1 edition (January 9, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674049713
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674049710
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #698,319 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Paula Stephan is Professor of Economics, Georgia State University, a Research Associate, National Bureau of Economic Research and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Stephan currently serves on the National Research Council Board on Higher Education and Workforce. She has served on the National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council, National Institutes of Health, and on the Advisory Committee of SBE, National Science Foundation. She was a member of the European Commission High-Level Expert Group that authored the report "Frontier Research: The European Challenge." Stephan graduated from Grinnell College (Phi Beta Kappa) with a B.A. in Economics and earned both her M.A. and Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Michigan. She has been a visiting scholar at Katholeike Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, a Wertheim Fellow, Harvard University, and an ICER fellow, Turin, Italy. Stephan has published numerous articles in journals such as The American Economic Review, Science, The Journal of Economic Literature,and Management Science. She co-authored,with Sharon Levin, Striking the Mother Lode in Science.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 500 REVIEWER on April 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This very well written and thoughtful book is an excellent survey of the economic aspects of the scientific enterprise. The author is a well known academic economist who has spent much of her career studying the economics of the sciences and has played some role in scientific policy making. While there is some international comparative analysis, the primary focus is on the American natural sciences.

Stephan discusses the economics of science from essentially 2 perspectives. One is what might be called the economic environment of the sciences. What is the basic economic structure of the sciences? What is the nature of the incentive structure of science? What are the nuts and bolts of scientific funding, training, the scientific labor marke, the behavior of universities and firms, and the relationship between academic institutions and industry? The second perspective is how do the natural sciences influence the larger economy. What is the relationship between research and economic growth? How does that relationship work? In terms of ultimate economic output, what is the relationship between academic institutions and industry?

Stephan opens with a general description, drawing on prior sociologic and economic literature, of the structure of science. Drawing on the work of prominent economists such as Paul Samuelson and Kenneth Arrow, the institutions of science are a relatively efficient way of producing an important public good in a way that circumvents the limitations of markets. This is hardly to say that economic incentives in the conventional sense don't play a role in the sciences.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Gerard Escher on April 6, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book provides a badly needed fresh look at the world of research and higher education, through the eyes of a conventional economist who looks at this through salaries and markets. Highly recommended.
One caveat : don't buy the kindle edition. In addition to be amazingly overpriced, it is poorly formatted. In particular, the footnotes are not activated so paging from text to notes is a nightmare.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Gandalf the gray scientist on July 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This book is the absolute best dose of reality for anyone seriously considering a career in science. It is truly an eye opener towards the current economic climate behind funding, job market, career timeline, bonds to industry and current recruiting system in science in the US. It is probably the most important book anyone can read before starting a PhD in a US university.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By sien on July 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
How Economics Shapes Science (2012) by Paula Stephan is a comprehensive study of how economics influences US Science. The book is specific in that it does not look at the European, English or Australian systems although the European and Asian Universities get some mention.
The book catalogues in considerable detail how money is spent on US science and how there has been substantial growth in the funding of life sciences in recent decades.
Stephan describes how economics can be used to look at how science works and how scientists respond to incentives. The drive to solve puzzles, to improve life and to understand things is given due as is the financial incentives that clearly also deeply affect what science is done.
The typical US setup of Principal Investigators, postdoc students and PhD students is examined and what these people do, where they come from and where they go and how they have changed over the past 50 years is described. The equipment and even the space that science is performed in are also looked at. Stephan looks at how strongly the US pulls scientists from around the world to work in US labs.
The penultimate chapter looks at how science is one of the engines of economic growth. Stephan also acknowledges how practical knowledge drove much technological improvement prior to C20 and even today how substantial practical knowledge is used to generate growth. Stephan also points out that the exact effect is unknown. Unfortunately the book doesn't look at why the US is so much better at making money out of certain types of science. The dominance of the US in computing technology is not mentioned.
In the final Chapter whether the US can do better with science funding is looked at.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By ehe on March 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a beautiful, easily read book that outlines many of the problems with the structure of science in the U.S. It is written by an economist, not a scientist, so it is a fresh perspective. It deals with the problem that the main labor force in science has been trainees (grad students and postdocs) at universities, most of whom will never realize the career ambition for which they are being trained (independent academic researchers). The book also points out the great value (from an economic perspective) of doing science, and notes that in the U.S. twice as much is spent on beer as on scientific research! Highly recommended to all.
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