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Science & Tech

Roving Government “Bandits” Pillaging and Stealing Intellectual Property Need to Be Confronted by “Gunboat” Nations

A number of countries see cutting-edge intellectual property, especially for life sciences and high-tech goods, much like a predatory bandit saw trade caravans in centuries past—as something there to be raided and plundered. As trade and economic activity becomes more knowledge-based and dependent on intellectual property, the battle between countries that develop and protect the latest technological innovations against those that seek to steal it will only increase. A new paper by Australian academics Sinclair Davidson and Jason Potts—The Stationary Bandit Model of Intellectual Property—presents a new model that captures key traits of this global battle over intellectual property.

Before analyzing how this model reflects the real world, it’s important to consider the contrasting foundations of the new Davidson-Potts model compared to the standard economic model of intellectual property. The standard model sees intellectual property as a government-granted monopoly designed to create public incentives, that the natural domain of this property right is under the government which grants this right, and that intellectual property theft, when it occurs, is largely private—by individuals and firms. Traditional theory paints governments as benevolent actors that create the right conditions—the supply side

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Copyright Infringement: Science Pirates Are Still Pirates

The scientific community has become embroiled in a debate around online piracy after Alexandra Elbaykyan, a graduate student based in Russia, setup Sci-Hub—an online database of 50 million stolen scholarly journal articles. After encountering paywalls for scientific journals, she setup Sci-Hub because she said she believed that scientific information should be free to use and share. Elbaykyan can try to justify it in whatever way she wants, but what she is doing still involves the theft of property that is not her own.

Sci-Hub has garnered some support in the online piracy debate as the business model used by scientific publishing firms has clearly not caught up to the digital age and is in need of reform. The firms commonly charge as much as $35 for a digital copy of a journal article. Yet, an annual subscription to a top journal, such as The Lancet, costs $233 for both digital access and a print copy. This means, assuming four journal articles per weekly issue, that they charge 31 times more for a single digital article than a paper one, with zero marginal costs for the digital. While

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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

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Innovation Fact of the Week: Over Past 140 Years, Tech Created More Jobs Than It Destroyed

(Ed. Note: The “Innovation Fact of the Week” appears as a regular feature in each edition of ITIF’s weekly email newsletter. Sign up today.)

Looking at job records in the United Kingdom dating back to 1871, researchers as Deloitte have concluded that new technology continually creates more jobs than it destroys. As new technologies are implemented, historical data shows, savings on consumer goods have increased people’s spending power, freeing them to purchase a larger and more diverse basket of goods and services. This demand creates new jobs in expanding industries.

While technology tends to shift jobs between industries, the net effect is that employment goes up. Moreover, the jobs created tend to be jobs in caring, creative, technology, and business sectors, while jobs destroyed are more likely to have been dangerous, dull, and reliant on muscle power. For example, from 1992 to 2014, the number of farmers, company secretaries, metal workers, and typists are all down by more than 50 percent, but the number of nurses has increased by 900 percent. Technology, the report concludes, is a “job-creating machine,” and though up to 35 percent of U.K.

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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

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Study of Patents Shows Importance of Fed-Funded Research

A new report from Battelle based on methodology from the Academy of Radiology Research shows how federal R&D funding succeeds in producing patents. The report examines essentially all federal R&D, including not only the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health but also the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, NASA, and other agencies. It finds that, per patent, public-sector agencies provide a return comparable to private-sector ones—or even cheaper. Recent public sector budget cuts, therefore, can be expected to significantly hurt our scientific progress.

The agencies vary significantly in terms of how productive they are and how successful their patents are. Some agencies in particular, such as the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) have exceptional records for producing research that is widely useful: NIBIB is estimated to spur an additional $578.2 million, or 25 patents, for every $100 million in R&D expenditures. The DoD and NASA, on the other hand, are less efficient at producing patents at only around 2-3 patents per $100 million in R&D expenditures. (although, as the report notes, defense spending is more likely to be classified and thus not

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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

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Both Guns and Butter? New Study Shows Innovation Benefits from Military Procurement

For much of the postwar era the United States led the world in technology, which brought significant economic benefits to the nation. That leadership was due in large part to generous federal government funding for R&D, much of it channeled through military spending. That this occurred during the Cold War was no coincidence: as William Janeway argues in Doing Capitalism in the Innovation Economy, nations have historically been unable to muster the political will for significant spending on innovation without it being part of a “national mission,” since such spending means giving up current consumption for uncertain future benefits.  In the last half of the 1800s, nation building provided the mission for America—just as that does now for China.  But after the late 1940s the animating mission that helped drive technology innovation was winning the Cold War, which we did.

The threat from the Soviet Union meant that Americans were willing to sacrifice present consumption for the good of the nation–in this case keeping the world safe for freedom and democracy. And it meant we did what it took to win—and that meant innovating. The fact that Lockheed’s Skunk

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Lessons from the ACA Health Insurance Marketplace Failure

One can’t pass a single day it seems without seeing in the news coverage of the problems with the Affordable Care Act’s Health Insurance Marketplace (HIM). But what is perhaps most surprising is not that the web site had problems, but that people are surprised that it had problems. The current process of managing and acquiring federal IT is largely broken and the failure of the HIM is simply the newest reminder of that dysfunction. We can just go down the list of past high-profile failures, including the delayed launch last year of USAjobs.gov, the FBI’s Virtual Case Files program, the Census Bureau’s handheld PC debacle, and the FAA modernization.

There are several reasons for this dysfunction. First, the contracting process does not work as it should. Larded up with an accretion of rules and requirements from past scandals and failures, only the most intrepid firms are able to manage the labyrinth called federal contracting. Moreover, as Congress has tried to use federal contracting to fulfill social policy goals that should be addressed with other policy tools, agencies must give preferences to a wide variety of businesses—small businesses, women-owned businesses,

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King Luddite has a straw in his hand

Grasping at Luddite Straws

The current issue of the New York Review of Books features an article by Harvard economist Benjamin Friedman, “Brave New Capitalists’ Paradise’: The Jobs?” which is yet another reminder why we should not let economists make economic policy.

Freidman starts off by rightly pointing to the period from after WWII to the early 1970s as a golden era of low unemployment and high median income growth. He then rightly points to slower income growth over the last 20 years. His solution: less technology and lower productivity.

For Freidman has joined the ever growing neo-Luddite movement in America that mistakenly attributes our economic problems to too much technology and automation. He writes, “New technology that enhances the productivity of labor… means less labor input is needed to produce what was made before.” So far so good. But he goes on to write that “increasingly over the last quarter century, the balance [of less labor for existing goods plus more labor for new goods] indeed appears to have shifted [toward less labor].”

Why? Because “the pace of labor saving technological change has accelerated.”  Okay, let’s stop here. First, of all productivity growth

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