Measurement and Statistics on Science and Technology: 1920 to the Present

By Benoit Godin | Go to book overview

1

Eighty years of science and technology statistics

We owe much of the development of S&T measurement in Western countries to the United States. It was there that the first experiments emerged in the 1930s. Two factors explained this phenomenon: the need to manage industrial laboratories, and the need to plan government scientific activities, particularly if they might be needed for war (mobilizing scientists). Canada followed a decade later, with the same objectives, and Great Britain in the following decade. It seems that before the early 1960s, collecting S&T statistics was mainly an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon, 1 and spread elsewhere principally through OECD involvement in standardizing definitions and methods.

This chapter concerns these early experiments (1920-1960) and the OECD's subsequent involvement in S&T statistics (1961-2000). The first part presents early experiments in measurement of S&T-before 1961-in the United States, Canada and Great Britain (for a brief overview of the surveys conducted during this period, see Appendix 2). The second part discusses an international organization that played a key role: the OECD. The reason the OECD constructed statistics on S&T has to do with science policy. From the beginning, the OECD aligned its thinking on science policy toward economics. To better understand relationships between science and the economy, it developed a study program on the economy of research in which the main tool was statistics. The chapter ends with a brief discussion of the recent entry of the European Commission into the field, and of the disappearance of UNESCO.


The forerunners

The development of S&T statistics in Western countries began in the United States, breaking down into three periods. The first, before World War II, focused on

1 At least among non-communist countries. France only entered the field in 1961. Sporadic measurement existed before the late 1960s in the Netherlands and Japan, for example, but rarely in a systematic way. Only Germany had (partial) annual industrial R&D statistics back to 1948, but other sectors were surveyed only after the 1960s. C. Freeman listed similar forerunners in the 1960s, but forgot Canada among pioneers: C. Freeman (1966), Research, Technical Change and Manpower, in B. G. Roberts and J. H. Harold (eds), Manpower Policy and Employment Trends, London: Bell, p. 53.

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