Communication Costs in Science: Evidence from the National Science Foundation Network
52 Pages Posted: 16 Jan 2020 Last revised: 26 Aug 2020
Date Written: August 19, 2020
How do communication costs affect the creation of scientific output? This study examines changes in scientific output and citation patterns following an institution's connection to the National Science Foundation Network (NSFnet), an early version of the Internet. Established in 1985 to connect five NSF-sponsored supercomputers, the NSFnet national internet backbone quickly expanded to universities across the United States by linking existing and newly-formed, wide-area regional computer networks. I estimate the effect of connection to the national internet backbone on citations per paper by exploiting plausibly exogenous variation in the connection times of the regional NSFnet networks. Following connection to the national NSFnet, average citations per paper increase by over ten percent relative to the pre-connection mean. Subgroup analyses reveal that the net effect was driven largely by middle- and top-tier institutions. Finally, I show that NSFnet connection led to a decline in interdisciplinary citations and an increase in within-field citations, but I find no evidence of increases in collaboration patterns.
Keywords: Communication Costs, Interdisciplinarity , NSFnet, Economics of Science
JEL Classification: O31, O33, I23, N72
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation