Innovation Files has moved! For ITIF's quick takes, quips, and commentary on the latest in tech policy, go to


The Demography of Innovation in the United States: Who Innovates and How Do They Succeed?

Behind every technological innovation is an individual or a team of individuals responsible for the hard scientific or engineering work. And behind each of them is an education and a set of experiences that impart the requisite knowledge, expertise, and opportunity. These scientists and engineers drive technological progress by creating innovative new products and services that raise incomes and improve quality of life for everyone.

But who are these individuals? How old are they? Were they born in the United States or abroad? Are they male or female? What are their races and ethnicities? What kind of education do they have?

To find out, ITIF surveyed more than 900 people who have made meaningful, marketable contributions to technology-intensive industries as award-winning innovators and international patent applicants. We learned that the demographics of U.S. innovation are different from the demographics of the country as a whole, and also from the demographics of college-educated Americans—even those with Ph.Ds. in science or engineering.

The study finds that immigrants comprise a large and vital component of U.S. innovation, with more than one-third of U.S. innovators (35.5 percent) born outside the United States. Alarmingly, women

Read the rest

The Leaky STEM Pipeline Can’t Be Patched with Higher Wages

Even with the economic recovery, recent graduates have it rough. Unemployment among young people remains high and wages remain depressed. Frequently, graduates accept low-wage positions that do not utilize their degrees.

However, one group of recent graduates—those in STEM fields—has it easier than their peers. For these graduates with degrees in fields such as computer science and engineering, high-paying jobs are plentiful. Eighty-one percent of STEM grads hold jobs closely related to their degrees, compared to 72.5 percent among all graduates. Median starting salaries for computer science and engineering are estimated at around $67,300 and $64,400 respectively, 80 percent higher than starting salaries for humanities and liberal arts majors. Moreover, most sectors of today’s economy rely on STEM skills, so graduates have a plethora of career paths to choose from. In addition, compensation is high because companies face an acute shortage of qualified STEM workers.

Economics 101 tells us that the laws of supply and demand should fix this problem as high wages motivate more students to pursue computer and engineering degrees. Instead, exactly the opposite has occurred. We currently have fewer computer science graduates than we did

Read the rest

Want a world-class workforce? Invest in education

Sometimes statistics just make sense. For instance, the revelation that spending more on education is correlated with a more highly educated workforce is hardly a surprise. To be sure correlation is not causation, but as more states look to cut corners on education spending, it is important to remember the relationship between spending and results.

Using the 2014 State New Economy Index’s workforce education score (a weighted score of the educational attainment of the workforce), there is a significant positive correlation of 0.46 between the education levels of a state’s workforce and the state’s current spending on education per student.

Of course, with a simple correlation it is impossible to attribute any directional causality. Part of the correlation could derive from higher incomes earned by a more educated workforce. Much of education spending comes from property taxes, so wealthy areas where land is more valuable tend to have higher education spending. For instance, education spending is highest in Northeastern states, led by New York ($19,552), where schools spent over three times as much per student as in Utah ($6,206). Resource rich Alaska and Wyoming also spent heavily, though

Read the rest

Debunking the myth of a STEM surplus

A new data release by the Census Bureau which claims that only 26 percent of STEM workers end up in STEM fields has seemingly strengthened arguments that America does not face a STEM-worker shortage. The surprising statistic has generated coverage from major news sources (including the USA Today and the Washington Post) which have pounced on the new data as evidence that there is no need to encourage students to study science, technology, engineering, and math. The data, however, is highly misleading and skews the reality of demand for and scarcity of a highly skilled math and engineering workforce.

First, let’s start with the definition of STEM graduates. To the Census Bureau, that means not just individuals with a degree in computers, math, statistics, engineering, biology, or the physical sciences (what the average person thinks of when they STEM)  but also psychology and social sciences like economics and anthropology.

While psychology and social sciences graduates do technically study science in the respect that academic research in these fields attempt to rigorously and empirically tests hypotheses using the scientific method, these fields are a far cry from what readers imagine

Read the rest

Universities are Innovation Engines: New Evidence

University spinoffs more innovative, more successful than comparable firms

A new working paper by Swedish economist Andreas Stephan asks whether startups that were born as spinoffs from public universities are more innovative than similar, non-spinoff firms. Using a 2004 survey of East-German firms, Stephan compares the innovativeness of firms as measured by their patent applications and the originality of their patents. Even compared to firms of a similar age, industry, and location, the paper finds that university spinoffs do a better job of innovating.

The obvious lesson here for economic policy is that universities are studying useful things, and that we should have policies that encourage their transition from academic papers to real-world businesses. Business incubation has been on the U.S. national agenda for decades—since at least the passing of the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act—but there is much more that we can do.

For instance, Stephan finds that spinoff firms were more successful due to their collaboration, their proximity to universities, and their ability to get public research grant funding. All three of these traits are easy to translate into policy. Stephan also notes that even those firms that were

Read the rest


Phone Phreaks, STEM Freaks, and STEM Education

I have just finished a fascinating book about the history of phone hacking from the 1950s to the 1980s, Exploding the Phone by Phil Lapsley. The phone system was one of the first communications networks in America, and as such, just like today, it attracted its share of amateur hobbiests who wanted to understand how it worked, including finding out how to make free long distance calls, conferences calls and the like. While Apple founder Steve Wosniack may have been the first to create a “blue box” using digital instead of analogue technology (a blue box is the term for an electronic box made to mimic sounds on the phone system in order to trick the phone network into doing what the user wanted) he was hardly the first young person to “hack” the phone system. It turns out that a whole network of folks—what became known as Phone Phreaks emerged, and many became loosely tied into a network that compared notes on best practices. Some were high school students bored with school and fascinated with telephony, others college students also bored with classes. Several of the most prominent were

Read the rest

Student Measuring in Class

Yes Virginia, We Do Have a Need for More STEM Workers

It appears that Congress may actually take up the issue of immigration reform and with it the issue of high-skill immigration. And toward that end Senators Hatch (R-UT), Klobuchar (D-MN), Rubio (R-FL) and Coons (D-DE) have taken the lead on the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 (known as I-squared) which would make it easier for foreign science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students and workers to come and stay in America, while at the same time raising increased funds from the U.S. high-tech industry to support programs to help train Americans in STEM skills.

And not surprisingly this common sense and needed legislative proposal has provoked the usual opposition from the some on the left. Take Ross Eisenbrey’s recent New York Times op-ed, “America’s Genius Glut.”  Eisenbrey, of the liberal Economic Policy Institute, argues that I-squared is not needed, because, he claims: 1) America’s technology leadership is not endangered; 2) We aren’t turning away foreign students, or forcing them to leave once they’ve graduated.; and most importantly 3) there is no labor shortage in high-tech occupations.  Let me address these fallacies of each of these arguments.

America’s technology leadership

Read the rest

Regional High School Science Bowl team from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology

Punishing Hard Work: Entrance to Specialty STEM High Schools Should be Based on Merit

One of the best Kurt Vonnegut short stories is “Harrison Bergeron,” which pictured a dystopian future in which social equality was achieved by handicapping the more intelligent, athletic, beautiful, or capable members of society. Ballerinas had to wear lead weights, and the most intellectually gifted had to wear headphones that played distracting noises every thirty seconds, carry three hundred pounds of weight strapped to their bodies, and wear distorting eyeglasses designed to give them headaches. It was only then that true equality could be achieved. Just like the Handicapper General in Vonnegut’s story, whose duty it was to impose handicaps so that no one would feel inferior to anyone else. Is America going down this same road? As my colleague Stephen Ezell and I argued in our new book Innovation Economics: The Race for Global Advantage, America has “developed a perverse egalitarianism and anti-elitism that bodes ill, for it means that efforts to enable excellence—whether it’s private toll lanes or high schools for those gifted in math and science—are branded as antidemocratic and elitist.”

Math and science education is critical for our nation’s future. As we noted in our

Read the rest

Laid-Back Higher Ed

More often than is warranted, Washington embraces consensus positions based on the view “we all know this to be true.” One of these is “well, while K-12 education is a mess, we all know that American higher education is the best.” There is increasing evidence the last half of this consensus view is not true.

The latest evidence of this is an article in today’s Washington Post that relies on data from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) showing today’s college students spend about 40 percent less time studying than they did a half century ago. While everyone focuses on getting 6 years olds to spend every waking moment doing homework and giving up summer vacations so they can go to school (a great idea if we want to rob children of childhood), we are going in the opposite direction when it comes to college.

As I wrote in a blog on Huffington Post, “The Failure of American Higher Education,” American higher education is no longer adequately educating students – not just on STEM as we have written about, but on the broad capabilities of being

Read the rest

My Free Unauthorized Use, Trespass, Conversion and Misappropriation Summer Vacation: Don’t Worry It’s Not Stealing

My wife and I are in the saving money mode since unfortunately our son is likely to go to some pricey liberal arts college next year and sock us with a huge bill. But we don’t want to give up on our summer vacation. After all we deserve to have fun too. So after reading  The New York Times op-ed by law professor Stuart P. Green entitled “When Stealing Isn’t Stealing” I came up with an idea, that if I say so myself, is brilliant. I will have a vacation based on unauthorized use, trespass, conversion and misappropriation, since according to Green, it’s no longer stealing when I use non-rival, intangible goods (e.g., when I download movies, video games, software, books, music, etc., without paying for them). It's unauthorized use, trespass, conversion and misappropriation.

Read the rest