AbstractsGeography &GIS

Three essays on the role of proximity in science and innovation

by Stefano Horst Baruffaldi

Institution: EPFL
Year: 2015
Keywords: geography of innovation; proximity; interregional integration; duplication; scientific productivity; innovative productivity
Record ID: 1089276
Full text PDF: http://infoscience.epfl.ch/record/204214


This thesis proposes three studies that provide novel empirical evidence on how different types of proximity can affect innovation and science activities through various mechanisms and in different contexts. In the first study (second chapter of this thesis), in collaboration with Julio Raffo, we analyze the relationship between geography and the likelihood of duplication in inventive activities. We argue that the uneven diffusion of knowledge means that the duplication of inventions will not be randomly distributed geographically and over time. First, as knowledge diffuses over time and competitive incentives decrease, the probability of a claimed invention duplicating an existing one will decrease in the time distance between the two. Second, for recent and upcoming inventions, competitive incentives are high, and localized knowledge flows increase the probability of duplication. Therefore, over a brief time period, the probability of duplication decreases with geographic distance. Conversely, the duplication of less recent inventions is more likely to occur at long distances as a consequence of less awareness of a technology existing due to missing knowledge flows. We test our hypotheses on European Patent Office (EPO) patent bibliographical data on patent citation categories. Geographic distance matters significantly less in sectors in which patents are known to be more effective as a source of information such as discrete technologies. In the second study (third chapter), in collaboration with Annamaria Conti and Fabiana Visentin, we investigate the effects of professors’ social proximity with external universities on the level of productivity of PhD students hired from these universities. Researchers hired from external environments tend to have high scientific productivity compared to those who completed their studies in the same institution where they are employed. In a population of 4,666 PhD students, we further study the scientific productivity of external students from professors’ networks, defined as students with a master's degree from a different university from that of their PhD, and also from a university with which their supervisors' co-authors are affiliated. We find that these students are significantly more productive, both compared to other students with a master's degree from a different university, and to students with a master's degree from the same university as that of their PhD. In our analyses, we control for the heterogeneity of supervisors and the heterogeneity of institutions where the students obtained their master's degrees, including proxies for the specific relevance of these universities for a given supervisor. Thus, we conclude that professors hire students with higher scientific productivity from universities where their co-authors are affiliated. Additional analyses further suggest that the reduction of information asymmetries is the main mechanism to explain this finding. In the third study (fourth chapter), in collaboration with Guillaume Burghouwt, we investigate the…