For Money or Glory?: Commercialization, Competition and Secrecy in the Entrepreneurial University
Walsh, John P.
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Scholars have grown concerned that the commercialization of academic science is increasing secrecy at the expense of cooperation and information sharing. Using data from comparable surveys of academic scientists in three fields (experimental biology, mathematics and physics), we test whether scientists have become more competitive and more secretive over the last 30 years. We also use the recent survey to test a multivariate model of the effects of scientific competition and commercialization (patenting, industry funding and industry collaboration) on scientific secrecy. We find that secrecy has increased, and has increased particularly for experimental biologists. Only 13% of experimental biologists in 1998 felt safe discussing their ongoing research with all others doing similar work. Our multivariate analysis shows that this secrecy is most related to concerns about being anticipated (scientific competition). We find that patenting is associated with increased secrecy among mathematicians and physicists, but not for experimental biologists. We find that industry funding is associated with more secrecy, while industry collaboration is associated with less secrecy, across fields. Our results suggest that the recent concern over increasing scientific secrecy has merit. However, this increased secrecy seems to result from a combination of increasing commercial linkages and increased pressures from scientific competition. Our research highlights the central role that scientists’ competition for priority plays in the system of science and that, while such competition spurs effort, it also produces negative effects that recent trends toward commercialization of academic science seem to be exacerbating.