Theory and Evidence
Edited by David B. Audretsch, Robert E. Litan and Robert Strom
Chapter 6: Star Scientists, Innovation and Regional and National Immigration
Lynne G. Zucker and Michael R. Darby The world, in fact, is only beginning to see that the wealth of a nation consists more than anything else in the number of superior men that it harbors . . . Geniuses are ferments; and when they come together, as they have done in certain lands at certain times, the whole population seems to share in the higher energy which they awaken. The effects are incalculable and often not easy to trace in detail, but they are pervasive and momentous. (William James 1911, p. 363) In the last half of the twentieth century, America was the location of choice for the best and brightest scientific minds in the world. Recently America has partially rolled up its welcome mat to foreign doctoral and postdoctoral students while a reverse brain drain has set in for senior professors. Does this matter for the US economy or is it a matter of purely academic concern – in both senses? This chapter reports evidence that a sizable fraction of the very top scientists are responsible for start-up firms across the broad range of high-technology industries whether they are in the United States or abroad. When America loses its star scientists – or star scientists in the making – it is losing not only their academic research and teaching, but new firms and jobs. On the order of one-third of the star scientists actually become involved in commercializing their discoveries at least once in their career; so losing a few hundred star scientists will...
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