A mobility boost for research
By Giuseppe Scellato,1,2 Chiara Franzoni,3 Paula Stephan4,5
Although scientists are highly internationally mobile, it is not
always clear if mobility is beneficial, and if so, in what circum-
stances. Our GlobSci project, which surveyed 17,852 scientists
working in 16 countries (1), allowed us to examine outcomes
related to mobility across a wide array of countries, rather than
focus on mobility to the United States, as many studies do. We
find that the impact factor of research by foreign-born scien-
tists (measured by country of residence at age 18) is on average
higher than that of natives who have no international mobility
experience. The effect persists when we account for the fact that
migrant scientists may be selected from among the best in the
origin country, using individual-level data on migration during
childhood, which is correlated to the likelihood of subsequent in-
ternational mobility but arguably not correlated to the scientific
quality of the migrant. Our findings suggest that cross-border
mobility comes with a boost in research quality that would have
been absent without mobility (2). The boost is consistent with
the theory that migration enhances performance by facilitat-
ing knowledge recombination and specialty matching. In other
work, we examined the role that mobile scientists play in the
performance of single-laboratory–based research teams. Studying
4336 teams from among the 16 countries, we find a performance
premium (in terms of impact factor and 3- and 6-year citation
counts) for teams with a foreign-born corresponding author.
This premium persists when comparing labs within a country
and within the same institution. The premium is larger when
migrants occupy a position of decision power in the team, such
as the principal investigator, when the paper is reported by the
respondent to be highly creative, and when the team works in an
area of science where knowledge is produced predominantly in a
few geographic locations (3).
1. C. Franzoni, G. Scellato, P. Stephan, Nat. Biotechnol. 30, 1250 (2012).
2. C. Franzoni, G. Scellato, P. Stephan. Econ. Lett. 122, 39 (2014).
3. C. Franzoni, G. Scellato, P. Stephan. J. Manage. Stud. 10111/joms.12279 (2018).
Crossing borders along an endless frontier
Ideas do not carry passports. But lines on maps, as well as policies and pressures that influence who does or
does not cross them, can be powerful determinants of whether and how ideas and skills align to advance scientific
discovery and technological and economic progress. As headline-grabbing rhetoric and acts stir passions over
immigration around the globe, Science invited social scientists to bring evidence to the discussion concerning the
role foreign-born talent plays in scientific and technological discovery.