Syracuse University Magazine

Research Snapshot

Project: Using Scientific Publications to Evaluate Government R&D Spending: The Case of Energy

Investigator: David Popp

Department: Public Administration

Sponsor: National Science Foundation

Amount Awarded: $344,852 (June 2011 through May 2014)

Background: Government spending on research and development (R&D) of alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar power, is growing around the world. Many of these technologies are still too costly to be competitive with fossil fuels without some public support. Yet assessing the effectiveness of the research support is complex, particularly because there is a mix of both public and private research funding. In addition, because government support is for basic research, rather than directly applied research, there is a long lag between research results and the development of the final commercialized product, so it may take a number of years for its effect on technology to be realized.

This project will build a database using data purchased from Thomson Reuters on scientific publications from the United States, Japan, and several European countries to assess the effect of government-sponsored energy R&D. These data will be used to address three research questions in this context: First, how does government R&D affect the returns to basic research? Second, are there diminishing returns to government R&D funding, so that increases in R&D support less fruitful projects? Third, what is the impact of these publications on applied research?

Impact: The project develops a new theoretical framework for evaluating government R&D and creates a unique database to answer these important questions by linking publication data to citations on U.S. energy patents. Answers to these questions will provide guidelines to help allocate government research dollars more effectively. By informing models that are used to make policy recommendations, as well as making the results of this research available to those working in government, this assessment of government energy R&D spending offers broader impacts to society at large in the form of potential changes in energy and climate policy. More broadly, evidence on the potential for diminishing returns to government funding due to adjustment costs informs not only energy R&D policy, but also proposals for research-funding increases in other sectors.