NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Twins or Strangers? Differences and Similarities between Industrial and Academic Science

Henry Sauermann, Paula E. Stephan

NBER Working Paper No. 16113
Issued in June 2010
NBER Program(s):   LS   PR

Some scholars view academic and industrial science as qualitatively different knowledge production regimes. Others claim that the two sectors are increasingly similar. Large-scale empirical evidence regarding similarities and differences, however, has been missing. Drawing on prior work on the organization of science, we first develop a framework to compare and contrast the two sectors along four key dimensions: (1) the nature of research (e.g., basic versus applied); (2) organizational characteristics (e.g., degree of independence, pay); (3) researchers’ preferences (e.g., taste for independence); and (4) the use of alternative disclosure mechanisms (e.g., patenting and publishing). We then compare the two sectors empirically using detailed survey data from a representative sample of over 5,000 life scientists and physical scientists employed in a wide range of academic institutions and private firms. Building on prior work that has emphasized different “research missions”, we also examine how the nature of research is related to other characteristics of science within and across the two sectors.

Our results paint a complex picture of academic and industrial science. While we find significant industry-academia differences with respect to all four dimensions, we also observe remarkable similarities. For example, both academic institutions and private firms appear to allow their scientists to stay actively involved in the broader scientific community and provide them with considerable levels of independence in their jobs. Second, we find significant differences not just between industrial and academic science but also within each of the two sectors as well as across fields. Finally, while the nature of research is a significant predictor of other dimensions such as the use of patenting and publishing, it does not fully explain the observed industry-academia differences in those dimensions. Overall, our results suggest that stereotypical views of industrial and academic science may be misleading and that future work may benefit from a richer and more nuanced description of the organization of science.

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