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This PDF is a selection from an out-of-print volume from the NationalBureau of Economic ResearchVolume Title: The Rate and Direction of Inventive Activity: Economicand Social FactorsVolume Author/Editor: Universities-National Bureau Committee forEconomic Research, Committee on Economic Growth of the SocialScience Research CouncilVolume Publisher: Princeton University PressVolume ISBN: 0-87014-304-2Volume URL: http://www.nber.org/books/univ62-1Publication Date: 1962Chapter Title: Scientific Discovery and the Rate of InventionChapter Author: Irving SiegelChapter URL: http://www.nber.org/chapters/c2136Chapter pages in book: (p. 441 - 458)

Scientific Discovery and the Rate of InventionIRVING H. SIEGELTHE PATENT, TRADEMARK, AND COPYRIGHT FOUNDATION OFGEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY AND THE U.S. COUNCIL OFECONOMIC ADVISERSTHIS paper discusses relations between scientific discovery and invention considered as concepts and as phenomena. The two entities areconnected, as symbols and as realities, with the generation, treatment,and use of information, which is increasingly being recognized as afundamental economic and technological "stuff" comparable tomatter and energy. They enter into the logical sequences of ideas andevents that culminate in the economic exploitation of new materialand nonmaterial inputs, production methods, and products. In thecontemporary setting, they represent typical goals of formal researchand development projects, on which billions of dollars of public andprivate funds are being spent annually in the United States. Theyprovide opportunities and avenues for cultural change, includingeconomic growth and progress (which may be measured in terms ofper capita real income and real output per man-hour, respectively);and they influence, although they cannot alone determine, the paceand directions of such change.Concepts of Scientjfic Discovery and InventionThe terms scientific discovery and invention signify both acts andresults of acts, both processes and outcomes. When used in pluralform, they clearly refer to outcomes rather than processes; and whenthe singular form is preceded by the indefinite article, an outcome isconnoted. Although in legal and other literature the terms discoveryand invention are often coupled and treated as equivalent, they areassigned different meanings here. A distinction is intended even when,for the sake of simplicity, the adjective scientific is omitted. Discoveryis the act of wresting a secret from nature; and a secret that is won isNOTE: A full revised version of this report appears in the Patent, Trademark, andCopyright Journal, Fall 1960, under the title "Scientific Discovery, Invention, and theCultural Environment."441

NON-MARKET FACTORSa discovery. More specifically, a discovery may be a "new" fact, principle, hypothesis, theory, or law concerning natural (including human)phenomena that are observable directly or through their effects.Novelty is to be determined from the standpoint of a nation or acivilization rather than from the viewpoint of an individual; what isnew to a person other than the recognized pioneer may represent arediscovery or just the diffusion of existing knowledge. Nevertheless,the "first" discoverer is not always accorded as much honor, if hisname is remembered at all, as a later discoverer whose work has bornemore fruit. Every discoverer actually builds upon a foundation of"old" knowledge that has become part of the cultural heritage, andthe acknowledgement of his contribution depends on the manner inwhich he presents his findings and on the ripeness of his time.1 Toomuch primacy may be dismissed, in retrospect, as prematurity.Invention may be regarded as purposeful and practical contrivingbased on existing knowledge (theoretical and applied) and uncommoninsight or skill; that is, as the act of bringing to workable condition apotentially economic or usable process or product (an invention)that has a significantly novel feature. Again, tradition is relevant, andnovelty is supposed to be judged from the standpoint of a nation (e.g.,according to the standards of a patent system) or a civilization (e.g.,against the background of all "prior art"); and, again, honor forprimacy may be bestowed without a fine regard for historical literalness or the sensibilities of disgruntled inventors. Patriotism, insularity,indifference to exact definitions and specific patent claims, or ignorance may encourage attribution of an invention to a citizen of onecountry instead of another. But a preference in favor of native inventors may also reflect the fact that an invention has a cultural context,that it tends to be credited on the basis of its local developmentand significance rather than its abstract availability.'To avoid repetition of the "classic" cases of men of science against the world, Imention three great young chemists who even defied their own professors: van't Hoff andArrhenius, who had the good fortune to enlist the aid of an Ostwald, and Couper, whosehumbling by Wurtz left Kekulé to bask alone in glory. See Bernard Jaffe, Crucibles: TheStory of Chemistry, Premier reprint, 1957, pp. 140—154; P. Cook, "The End of ChemistryIs Its Theory," Science News, October 1959, pp. 33—48; and Eduard Farber, The Evolutionof Chemistry, New York, Ronald, 1952, pp. 164—166, 174—175, 222—225, 265—268.Two other infrequently cited instances of professionally resisted advance come tomind—the insightful, though unrigorous, applications of mathematics to electricalengineering by Oliver Heaviside (inventor of the "operational calculus") and GabrielKron (pioneer in the analysis of stationary electrical networks and rotating electricalsystems by means of matrices and tensors). Once accepted, the contributions of these twomen proved valuable in mechanical engineering and more remote fields.442

SCiENTIFIC DISCO VERY AND RATE OF IN VENTIONOn "Rates" of Discovery and InventionSince events are more discrete than the acts that lead to them, thevolume of scientific or inventive acti'vity during any period of time isnot perfectly correlated with the number of discoveries or inventionscompleted in the same interval. This divergence, however, is only oneof many factors that should discourage a quantitative interpretationof the phrase "rate of invention" included in the title assigned to thepresent paper.A much more relevant factor is the wide variation in the qualityand significance of discoveries and inventions (considered as events),for a simple count of such events provides no clue to the number of"units" of significant novelty involved. As already noted, every scientistor inventor actually enters in medias res, from the standpoint of hisculture, even though he may think he starts ab ovo. A scientist mayeither add a small increment to the fund of knowledge or propose oreffect a grand reorganization or synthesis; he may show either unusualpersistence or genuine creativity, deftness of hand or incisiveness ofmind, a tolerance of perspiration or a touch of inspiration.2 Happyaccidents may befall some prepared minds and shorten the path tosuccess or provide new goals,3 while mischance may frustrate othersno less deserving. Once a pioneer is acknowledged, his work tends toresist depreciation as successors offer more elegant solutions of thesame problems on the basis of newer knowledge.4 A hero may alsobe overcredited by common opinion with the achievements of hisWhat weights would be appropriate for combining in one measure these three majorqualitatively different achievements involving the speed of light: Michelson's painstakingmeasurement of this constant, Lorentz's use of this speed as a limit in his "transformationequations" relating to the mass and length of moving objects, Einstein's use of it in hisexpression for converting mass into energy? Once Mendelejeff's periodic table of thechemical elements becomes established, should a new significance be attached to suchridiculed anticipations as Newlands' "law of octaves"? is Fermi's calculation of theneutrino into existence a comparable feat to Maxwell's insistence on a mathematicalsymmetry that led beyond Ampere to the electromagnetic theory?On the role of accident, see I. B. Cohen, Science, Servant of Man, Boston, Little,Brown, 1948, pp. 36—50, 107—108; and W. I. B. Beveridge, Art of Scientific investigation,Modern Library paperback, 1957, pp. 37—55. Also of interest is Ernst Mach's 1895 essayon "The Part Played by Accident in invention and Discovery," published in his PopularScientific Lectures, La Salle, Ill., Open Court, 1943, 5th ed., pp. 259—281. Of course,recognition of the role of chance may be traced back to much earlier observers (e.g.,Francis Bacon).Michelson's mechanical determinations of the velocity of light, refined over a halfcentury, were inherently much less accurate than the measurements subsequently madeby many little-known workers in Federal laboratories using radar, radio waves, molecularvibrations, and "atomic clocks."443

NON-MARKET FACTORSpredecessors, colleagues, and assistants ;5 and his true accomplishmentmay be ungenerously appraised by his peers or by members of a differ-ent profession.6 In an age of sophisticated formal research activity,it is easy to ridicule the empiricism of a Goodyear—and fail to recognize persisting elements in the testing of catalysts or medicines, in theminor modification of drug molecules, and in the screening of moldsfor antibiotics. Finally, the march of history may confer new significance on a discovery or invention thought to be minor or trivial inan earlier context.7Other papers presented at this Conference deal with problems ofmeasuring the rate of invention, so it is not necessary to discuss herethe inadequacies of patent statistics, the uneven economic import ofpatented inventions, and similar matters. Three pertinent facts thathave struck the author in the course of his work with the Patent,Trademark, and Copyright Foundation are: the wide neglect of patent"claims" as units of registered inventions; the manifold uncertaintiesstill surrounding the legal concept of invention; and the necessityfor somehow taking account of reinventions, trade secrets, know-how,and employee suggestions in the consideration of the universe ofinventive activity.Discovery and Invention Seen in a Broader ContextModern circumstances require that increasing attention be givento the roles of discovery and invention in economic and other culturalchange, and that more explicit consideration be given to these twoThis is true not only of broad syntheses such as Newton's or Einstein's but also oflimited projects involving team research—e.g. the production of transuranium elements.The reader may find it instructive to check the names he recognizes in the list of creditsshown for elements 98—10 1 by Albert Ghiorso and G. T. Seaborg, "Synthetic Elements:II," in New Chemistry, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1957, p. 137.6Recall the attitude of physicists like Maxwell and Rowland toward inventors ofpractical things as simple as the telephone (Cohen, op. cit., pp. 61—63). Much morerecently, sociologists and anthropologists have espoused cultural theories of inventionand discovery that minimize the role of the individual. A prominent anthropologist, L. A.White (Science of Culture, New York, Grove reprint, pp. 213—214), has stated that Urey'sisolation of heavy hydrogen (a feat winning the Nobel prize) did not require "intelligenceof a high order" although it did demand more technological knowledge than the morefamiliar feat of "opening a recalcitrant jar of pickles."The Seebeck, Pettier, piezoelectric, magnetostrictive, and Edison effects are amongthe many discoveries that have acquired importance through time. Swan's artificial-fiberfilament was not good for an incandescent light, but it pointed the way to rayon.Goddard's early work in rocketry and Jansky's discovery of radio-wave emanations fromdistant stars acquire increasing significance as our government gives urgent support tospace science and technology. Patents on stereophonic recording expired before popularinterest in an alternative to monaural disks was awakened.444

SCiENTIFIC DISCOVERY AND RATE OF INVENTIONcategories (or the activities they embrace) in the economic treatmentof information. Among the relevant circumstances are: the multiplica-tion and enlargement of corporate research programs; the annualoutlay of billions of public dollars for private contract research; theclarification of accounting rules (e.g. in the Internal Revenue Codeof 1954) regarding the treatment of private research costs; the increas-ing importance of the scientific and technological dimensions ofnational defense; the private acquisition of commercially valuablepatents and experience through military contracts and subcontracts;the extensive exchange of technical information through intercompany arrangements and trade literature; the constant efforts torestrain domestic production costs (through process improvements)and to expand the horizons of domestic consumption (through introduction of new, acceptably-priced products); the intensifying competition with foreign industry for markets at home and abroad; thedepletion of high-grade domestic mineral deposits; and the impressiveadvance in information-handling technology (e.g., electronic communications and data processing).The new circumstances require, for example, a breakdown of theSchumpeterian triple sequence (invention, innovation, and imitation)into more stages and the interpolation of others. They also demandthe establishment of subdivisions in the categories basic research,applied research, and development—to distinguish educational activities (which typically involve rediscovery and reinvention) from thosethat lead to discovery, invention, and innovation. Furthermore, theysuggest the need for separate treatment of discovery and invention insociological and anthropological theories, rather than their groupingas "new combinations and syntheses of cultural elements" that have a"platonic" existence and seem merely to await realization through theperformance of minor acts of human catalysis; the recognition ofsources, as well as effects, of scientific and technological advance;the recognition that discovery and invention interact; and re-examination of the functionality of the concept of cultural lag.Finally, it is important in the contemporary setting to recognizenot only the relation of discovery to basic research, or of invention toapplied research and development, but also the relation of all theseactivities to operations involving information. As information takesits place beside matter and energy in the economic cosmogony, aspectrum of operations such as the following deserves attention:445

NO/V-MARKET FACTORSI. Creation of absolute information8 (discovery)2. Processinga. Screening and correlationb. Reorganization and preliminary adaptationc. Coding and decodingd. Computing and logical analysise. Abstracting and digestingf. Translationg. Recording and indexingh. Copying (as in printing, typing, or photography)3. Storage, maintenance, and retrieval4. Distribution and acquisition (as in radio and television broadcasting, interoffice communication, consultation, patent sale orlicensing, and education)5.Applicationa. Embodiment in hypotheses and theories (discovery), in-vention, reinvention, and know-howb. Utilization of invention, etc.c. Decision makingAll of these unitary activities create time, place, form, or ownershiputility; they are services that command a price. They may be expandedand regrouped to take account of the schemes used by Schumpeter,Usher, Maclaurin, and others. Analogues exist at various levels ofaggregation—for example, the occupation, the department, the firm,the industry, the economy.Analogues also appear at the various levels of biological existence,from the individual down to the cell, chromosome, and gene; and thisfact will assume increasing importance in the study of creative andother behavior, life processes, and heredity. From an economicappreciation of material substance, including fuels, man has naturallyprogressed to an appreciation of energy in more abstract terms. Today,we are witnessing the emergence of information as an economic stuffwith the recognition of the special value of energy signals in communication. The stage is also being set, through advances in the life8A term used by L. Brillouin, "Thermodynamics and Information Theory," AmericanScientist, October 1950, Pp. 594—599.Alternatives to, or extensions of, the catalogue presented here will be suggested bya rapidly growing literature. See, for example, J. D. Trimmer, "The Basis for a Scienceof Instrumentology", Science, October 23, 1953, pp. 461-465; and papers by J. P.Guilford and J. S. Brurier in Fundamentals of Psychology: The Psychology of Thinking(Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 91, Art. 1, December 23, 1960,pp. 6-21 and 23-37.446

SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY AND RATE OF INVENTIONsciences, for the identification of "vitality" as a fourth entity. Thedistinction will seem valid and desirable even though material, energy,and information processes underlie all manifestations of life. Examplesof pertinent advances include, in addition to those already familiar inagriculture and medicine, the successful "imprinting" of animalbehavior in early life, the treatment of viruses as living molecules, theincreasing understanding of the role of specialized organs and molecules (such as adenosine triphosphate) in the biological "transduction"of energy, the recognition of the importance of intercellular communication for "homeostasis," and the awareness that intracellular com-munication via "replicating" nucleic acid molecules plays an outstanding part in specifying the inheritable features of a future adultorganism.Sequences and InteractionsIt should be mentioned in passing that the private costs of acquiringnew knowledge and giving up old knowledge would limit the practicalforce of the proposition that the marginal social cost of using aninvention is zero. Even if no royalties had to be paid for patent licensesand the flow of new inventions could still be assured, potential userswould still have to learn of the existence, technical nature, and econo-mic applicability of the free inventions. They would also have to bewilling to abandon knowledge and skills they already possess. inother words, costs of change (beyond the costs of reforming societyso that the theorems of welfare economics would become moreacceptable!) have to be taken into account.Single-factor theories of development are attractive, but the assumption of interaction among the leading entities often provides a sounderfirst approximation than does linear causation in one direction. Inconsidering the roles of discovery and invention in the real world, itis desirable not to preclude the possibility of their interdependenceand their influence on, as well as their reaction to, economic, social(including political, legal, and familial), psychological, and international factors. The firm adoption of a theory of determinism—geographic, biological, or cultural—would hobble inquiry or, if weare more fortunate, lead to hypotheses that could quickly be contradicted.9Although discovery logically precedes invention, experience indicates that the reverse order also occurs to the extent that an inventionhas considerable practical importance. Thus, the invention of all447

IVON-MARKET FACTORSsorts of instruments and apparatus has proved essential to the progress of science. Behind these instruments, of course, lie other discoveries, but the tools of industry and the skills of workers and thevast store of accumulated technological information should not beoverlooked. As we think further about such interrelations, the integrity of a modern society becomes obvious.Sometimes, the heart of a scientific discovery is actually a physicalinvention or a mental invention, in which instances we may well saythat discovery and invention proceed together. Thus, in the verybroad territory covered by military research nowadays, a genuinescientific advance may be immediately reducible to practice and leadto a patent for a process or composition of matter. On the other hand,a scientific discovery that involves explanation rather than, or inaddition to, observation may require the invention of convenientmental fictions—concepts or models—or entail the invention orreinvention of a type of (unpatentable) mathematics.Although we are culturally conditioned to believe that technologyis autonomous, that it follows a relentless if unpredictable course,that it molds almost everything else, we may easily verify that thearrows of influence also point in the opposite direction, as in manychemical equations. Thus, economic considerations affect the technological future, as is so well illustrated by the lag of nuclear powergeneration, despite flamboyant forecasts, and the widening use ofby-product radioisotopes. The profitability of atomic power stationsis still in doubt, despite the willingness of society to forego the recoveryof billions of dollars of past investment in nuclear science and technology; conventional steam stations based on coal retain their competitive vigor, benefiting still from applications of "old-fashioned"knowledge.Another factor that helps shape technology is military necessity,Cohen (op. cit.) properly stresses the importance of the "total scientific situation" ininfluencing the course of discovery and invention; and E. G. Boring, the psychologist,properly observes that the Zeitgeist may in some cases advance and in others hold backscientific and technological change, and that our knowledge of pertinent facts is alwaysinadequate for correct prognostication ("Science and the Meaning of Its History," TheKey Reporter, July 1959, pp.2—3).On interaction and forecasting, see also Bernard Barber, Science and f/ic Social Order,Glencoe, Free Press, 1952, and four papers by I. H. Siegel: "Technological Change andLong-Run Forecasting," Journal of Business, July 1953, pp. 141—156; "Conditions ofAmerican Technological Progress," American Economic Review, May 1954, pp. 161—177;"The Role of Scientific Research in Stimulating Economic Progress," ibid., May 1954,pp. 340—345; and "Changing Technology and Resources," presented at the Conferenceon Natural Resources and Economic Growth, Ann Arbor, April 7—9, 1960.448

SCIENTIFiC DISCOVERY AND RATE OF INVENTIONwhich now dictates, for example, the abandonment of manned aircraftfor missiles in response to a foreign initiative. Firms are counting onthe development of commercial supersonic liners at huge publicexpense; the prototype bomber (B-70) is regarded as essential fordefense and national prestige. In the past, military necessity, plus atimely declassification, permitted the apparently profitable development and introduction of commercial jet airplanes despite the inadequacy of existing airports and the absence of helicopter shuttleservice.Finally, we should note the vigor of the foreign bid for a share inUnited States markets as an emerging influence on our technology.This challenge has brought back the domestic compact car, hasprobably speeded the domestic development of transistorized radioand television receivers, and will hasten the diffusion of steelmakingmethods employing large amounts of oxygen. The adjustment of complementary research efforts of our firms will surely lead to new discoveries and inventions in the same and other general fields.Interplay of New and Old Science and TechnologyAs future directions of change and growth are contemplated, it isimportant to recognize that considerable room still exists for dis-covery, invention, innovation, and investment in fields already familiar as well as in frontier areas. The advance into such new areas stimulates certain established technologies and provides new contexts forthe revaluation and upgrading of old knowledge. The advent ofatomic energy has already raised the national base of conventionallygenerated electric power and increased the demand for lead, steel,concrete, water, automobile transportation, and so forth; it has notsimply created an interest in beryllium, zirconium, hafnium, the rareearths, uranium, thorium, and other comparatively exotic materials.Even without speculating on the nature of future developmentsthat will enrich existing science and invention, we may observe thereassuring pattern in recent years of the cross-fertilization of the oldand the new. It is as though we could find space for new people byfilling gaps between our cities rather than, say, by having to settleat once on Antarctica, a moon, or other planets. Consider the risinginterest, in the present context, not only in atomic and solar energyand magneto-hydrodynamics but also in power technologies originating in the nineteenth century—the fuel cell (derived from Faraday),the thermocouple, and thermionics. Consider the startling discovery449

NON-MARKET FACTORSof a new color theory by Land that follows up neglected hints inpatents granted to two men in 1914, overthrows the classical theoryof Newton, Young, and Helmholtz, and is bound to simplify colorphotography.' Finally, the limited but significant revolt of the publicagainst industry control of its taste in automobiles is sure to en-courage broader competitive experimentation by makers with materi-als and power plants already known but used rarely or not at all.1'Continuing suburbanization, expansion of tourism, further population growth, rising demands for education and health services, andthe automatization of industry are more likely to occasion difficultadjustments of a familiar variety (such as location of responsibilityfor adequate capital formation, taxation, and welfare legislation)than to require sudden diversification of the nation's existing base ofscience and invention. In the military realm, however, where thepattern of competition and the timetable are not controlled by onenation, crash programs of one kind or another may continue to berequired for national safety.'2COMMENTTHOMAS S. KUHN, University of CaliforniaOne aspect of Irving Siegel's paper seems to me particularly striking,at least in the full version distributed to conference participants.Unlike more standard discussions of similar problems, Siegel rejectsfrom the start all the usual simplifying schematic assumptions. Fromstart to finish the author displays no fear of the full complexitiesof the job at hand, and, since a willingness to face difficulties seemsan admirable characteristic, I can only admire and applaud hiscourage. My admiration is particularly warm because of my firmFrancis Bello, "An Astonishing New Theory of Color," Fortune, May 1959, pp. 144 if."See, for example, the article by Damon Stetson in the New York Times, March 14,1960. Incidentally, the General Motors Annual Report for 1959 notes (p. 12) that theStirling thermal engine is under study: "New developments in material and design haverevived interest in this 19th Century engine, noted for quietness and ability to burn widevariety of fuels."12 In a comment made in Capital Formation and Economic Growth, Princeton, 1955,pp. 572—578, 1. H. Siegel noted that technological change occurs almost continually andalmost everywhere in our economy, even though only the dramatic instances are usually10singled out for attention; that the technical growing points of our economy shouldaccordingly be sought in the activities and demands of (I) the household, (2) privateindustry, (3) government, and (4) other nations seeking trade or aid; and that CohnClark's triple classification scheme should accordingly be altered to include these fouradditional categories from which new industries or subindustries arise.450

SCIENTIFIC DISCO VERY AND RATE OF INVENTIONconviction that all the difficulties to which Siegel points are entirelyreal. He is obviously, for example, quite right when he insists thatneither patent counting nor national reputation is an adequate measure of a country's eminence in invention. Again, he must be right inhis insistence that Schumpeter's triple sequence—invention, innovation, and imitation—is no longer adequate for the analysis of technological change, and that the analyst must now investigate a fullspectrum. of sequential activities. By the same token, I can only agreewhen Siegel does battle with all "single-factor" accounts of inventiveand innovating activities. Furthermore, his sketch of the multiplefactors—social, economic, psychological, and so on—whose interactions must be taken into account, seems to me eminently just. Andthese are only illustrations of the analytic difficulties to which Siegelpoints. In almost every other case as well I find myself in completeagreement.Those remarks might, by themselves, serve as a full commentaryon Siegel's paper, but I sense something else that must be said. Thetopic to which his title directs our attention is the relation of scientificdiscovery to inventive activity. That topic has urgent action corollanes for both national and industrial policy. Given such a problem,the multiplication of complexities—even, as in this case, real ones—need not necessarily supply the most fruitful approach to a solution.From my own experience, it seldom supplies the most fruitful approach to even the "purest" of scientific problems. These reflectionslead me to voice a small but persistent fear that Siegel, in his admirableconcern to face squarely the real complexities of the contemporaryscene, may have succeeded principally in disguising the most important problem that, to me at least, his subject presents. In what followsI shall limit myself to the elucidation of that fear.Unfortunately I am forced to begin with a terminological problem.Siegel uses the words "discovery" and "invention" in ways with whichI have little quarrel but which are so far from my ha

SCiENTIFIC DISCO VERY AND RATE OF IN VENTION On "Rates" of Discovery and Invention Since events are more discrete than the acts that lead to them, the volume of scientific or inventive acti'vity during any period of time is not perfectly correlated with the number of