Synthesizing academic research about innovation, science, and creativity.
When Research Over There Isn't Helpful Here
Much of the world’s population lives in countries in which little research happens. Is this a problem? According to classical economic models of the “ideas production function,” ideas are universal; ideas developed in one place are applicable everywhere.
This is probably true enough for some contexts; but not all. In this post we’ll look at four domains - agriculture, health, the behavioral sciences, and program evaluation research - where new discoveries do not seem to have universal application across all geographies.
This podcast is an audio read through of the (initial version of the) article "When research over there isn't helpful here," originally published on New Things Under the Sun.
Comin, Diego, and Marti Mestieri. 2014. Technology diffusion: Measurement, causes, and consequences. In Handbook of economic growth, Vol. 2, 565-622. Elsevier. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-444-53540-5.00002-1
Verhoogen, Eric. Forthcoming. Firm-level upgrading in developing countries. Journal of Economic Literature. (link)
Moscona, Jacob, and Karthik Sastry. 2022. Inappropriate technology: Evidence from global agriculture. SSRN working paper. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3886019
Wilson, Mary Elizabeth. 2017. The geography of infectious diseases. Infectious Diseases: 938–947.e1. https://doi.org/10.1016%2FB978-0-7020-6285-8.00106-4
Wang, Ting, et al. 2022. The Human Pangenome Project: a global resource to map genomic diversity. Nature 604(7906): 437-446. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-022-04601-8
Hotez, Peter J., David H. Molyneux, Alan Fenwick, Jacob Kumaresan, Sonia Ehrlich Sachs, Jeffrey D. Sachs, and Lorenzo Savioli. 2007. Control of neglected tropical diseases. New England Journal of Medicine 357(10): 1018-1027. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMra064142
Henrich, Joseph, Steven J. Heine, and Ara Norenzayan. 2010. The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33(2-3): 61-83. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X0999152X
Apicella, Coren, Ara Norenzayan, and Joseph Henrich. 2020. Beyond WEIRD: A review of the last decade and a look ahead to the global laboratory of the future. Evolution and Human Behavior 41(5): 319-329. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2020.07.015
Klein Richard A., et al. 2018. Many Labs 2: Investigating Variation in Replicability Across Samples and Settings. Advances in Methods and Practices in Psychological Science. 2018;1(4):443-490. https://doi.org/10.1177/2515245918810225
Schimmelpfennig, Robin, et al. 2023. A Problem in Theory and More: Measuring the Moderating Role of Culture in Many Labs 2. PsyArXiv. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/hmnrx.
Vivalt, Eva. 2020. How much can we generalize from impact evaluations? Journal of the European Economic Association18(6): 3045-3089. https://doi.org/10.1093/jeea/jvaa019
Vivalt, Eva, Aidan Coville, and K. C. Sampada. 2023. Tacit versus Formal Knowledge in Policy Decisions.
Big Firms Have Different Incentives
This week, Arnaud Dyèvre (@ArnaudDyevre) and I follow up on a previous podcast, where we documented a puzzle: larger firms conduct R&D at the same rate as smaller firms, despite getting fewer (and more incremental) innovations per R&D dollar. Why wouldn’t firms decelerate their research spending as the return on R&D apparently declines? In this follow-up podcast, we look at one explanation: firms of different sizes face different incentives when it comes to innovation.
This podcast is an audio read through of the (initial version of the) article "Big firms have different incentives", originally published on New Things Under the Sun.
Geography and What Gets Researched
How do academic researchers decide what to work on? Part of it comes down to what you judge to be important and valuable; and that can come from exposure to problems in your local community.
This podcast is an audio read through of the (initial version of the) article "Geography and What Gets Researched", originally published on New Things Under the Sun.
How to Impede Technological Progress
Most of the time, we think of innovation policy as a problem of how to accelerate desirable forms of technological progress. But there are other times when we may wish to actively slow technological progress. The AI pause letter is a recent example, but less controversial examples abound. A lot of energy policy acts as a brake on the rate of technological advance in conventional fossil fuel innovation. Geopolitical rivals often seek to impede the advance of rivals’ military technology.
Today I want to look at policy levers that actively slow technological advance, sometimes (but not always) as an explicit goal.
This podcast is an audio read through of the (initial version of the) article "How to impede technological progress", originally published on New Things Under the Sun.
The Great Inflection? A Debate About AI and Explosive Growth with Tamay Besiroglu
This is not the usual podcast on New Things Under the Sun.
For the third issue of Asterisk Magazine, Tamay Besiroglu and I were asked to write an article on how likely it is that artificial intelligence will lead to not just faster economic growth, but explosive economic growth. (Tamay will introduce himself in a minute here).
Since we wrote that article as a literal dialogue, we thought it would be fun to also record ourselves performing the parts we wrote for ourselves and that is what we bring to you on this very special edition of New Things Under the Sun. During this podcast, you’ll hear two voices - mine and Tamay’s - as we perform our debate about the potential for explosive economic growth after we develop sufficiently advanced artificial intelligence.
Then, after about an hour, our performance of the article will wrap up, but we keep talking. For another forty minutes, we talk a bit about policy implications of artificial intelligence, the prospects for spooky smart AI, and how our own views have evolved on this topic.
If you want to read our article instead of listening, head over to here. If you’ve already read that and just want to hear some of our extra commentary, jump to about one hour into this podcast. Special thanks to Clara Collier, Asterisk’s Editor-in-Chief, for reaching out to us and giving us this opportunity.
The Size of Firms and the Nature of Innovation
We’ve got something new this week! This is post, which is on how the size of firms is related to the kind of innovation they do, is the first ever collaboration published on New Things Under the Sun. My coauthor is Arnaud Dyèvre (@ArnaudDyevre), a PhD student at the London School of Economics working on growth and the economic returns to publicly funded R&D. Going into this post, Arnaud knew this literature better than me and drew up an initial reading plan. We iterated on that for awhile, jointly discovering important papers, and eventually settled on a set of core papers, which we’ll talk about in this post. I think this turned out great and so I wanted to extend an invitation to the rest of you - if you want to coauthor a post with me, go to newthingsunderthesun.com/collaborations to learn more.
One last thing; I want to assure listeners that, as in all my posts, I read all the papers that we talk about in detail in the following podcast. There is no division of labor between coauthors on that topic, because I view part of my job as making connections between papers, and I think that works better if all the papers covered on this site are bouncing around in my brain, rather than split across different heads. So what you are about to hear is not half Arnaud and half me, it’s all him and all me, all the time.