Economists find link between old information network, increased research productivity

UMSL economists Sharon Levin (left) and Anne Winkler have written, with three co-authors, the new study “The Impact of Information Technology on Academic Scientists’ Productivity and Collaboration Patterns.”

Without early information networks, university researchers would not have been as productive. That overall finding is one outcome from a series of studies completed by two University of Missouri–St. Louis professors and their colleagues as part of a $200,000 Mellon Foundation grant.

Anne Winkler, professor of economics and public policy administration at UMSL, and Sharon Levin, professor emeritus of economics at UMSL, are principal investigators on the grant, “The Diffusion of Information Technology Across Institutions of Higher Education: Effects on Productivity by Type of Institutions and Gender.”

The pair, with two co-authors, wrote one of several papers from the grant, “The Impact of Information Technology on Academic Scientists’ Productivity and Collaboration Patterns,” in Management Science.

The study examined the effects of BITNET on productivity and collaboration for more than 3,000 life scientists from 314 U.S. institutions from 1969 to 1993. Prior to the Internet, BITNET linked computer mainframes of institutions.

The economists found that researchers at lower ranked institutions benefited more from technology than those at higher ranked institutions. BITNET lead to an 18 percent increase in publications among those at the lowest tier institutions relative to their peers at the highest tier institutions.

“The availability of technology provided academics at universities with less or little resources to have those resources, therefore increasing their productivity,” Winkler said.

The study also showed that technology has helped improve the productivity of female scholars more so than their male counterparts. BITNET lead to a 12 percent increase in publications for women relative to men.

Why was this?

Winkler said information technology was an amazing asset to women in the academic field.

“[BITNET] allowed them the opportunity to share research, collaborate with colleagues throughout the U.S. and to publish more frequently,” she said. “Because of greater household responsibilities, women are more limited than their male counterparts in their ability to travel to research conferences where networking takes place.”

Levin said their findings did not surprise her.

“We’ve always suspected this, and we knew how [BITNET] had affected our personal careers, having the availability of technology and resources provided us opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise have had,” she said. “Technology has made it easier to participate.”

Winkler and Levin’s are working with three other researchers on the grant. They include Paula Stephan, professor of economics at Georgia State University in Atlanta; Waverly Ding, assistant professor of management of organizations at University of California at Berkeley; and Wolfgang Glanzel, professor of economics at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium.

Through the grant, additional studies on technology and productivity will be published.

More information:
umsl.edu/divisions/artscience/economics/faculty/winkler.html
umsl.edu/divisions/artscience/economics/faculty/levin.html


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