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Science as a Public Good: Public Use and Funding of Science (WP-21-25)

Yian Yin, Yuxiao Dong, Kuansan Wang, Dashun Wang, and Benjamin Jones

Knowledge of how science is consumed in public domains is essential for a deeper understanding of the role of science in human society. While science is heavily supported by public funding, common depictions suggest that scientific research remains an isolated or “ivory tower” activity, with weak connectivity to public use, little relationship between the quality of research and its public use, and little correspondence between the funding of science and its public use. This paper introduces a measurement framework to examine public good features of science, allowing the researchers to study public uses of science, the public funding of science, and how use and funding relate. Specifically, they integrate five large-scale datasets that link scientific publications from all scientific fields to their upstream funding support and downstream public uses across three public domains – government documents, the news media, and marketplace invention. The researchers find that the public uses of science are extremely diverse, with different public domains drawing distinctively across scientific fields. Yet amidst these differences, they find key forms of alignment in the interface between science and society. First, despite concerns that the public does not engage high-quality science, the authors find universal alignment, in each scientific field and public domain, between what the public consumes and what is highly impactful within science. Second, despite myriad factors underpinning the public funding of science, the resulting allocation across fields presents a striking alignment with the field’s collective public use. Overall, public uses of science present a rich landscape of specialized consumption, yet collectively science and society interface with remarkable, quantifiable alignment between scientific use, public use, and funding.

This paper is now published in Nature Human Behaviour.

Yian Yin, Center for Science of Science and Innovation, Northwestern University

Yuxiao Dong, Research Scientist, Facebook AI

Kuansan Wang, Managing Director, Microsoft Research

Dashun Wang, Associate Professor of Management & Organizations, Northwestern University

Benjamin Jones, Gordon and Llura Gund Family Professor of Entrepreneurship and IPR Associate, Northwestern University

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