Drawing on data showing a decline in academic freedom over the past decade, David Audretsch, Christian Fisch, Chiara Franzoni, Paul P. Momtaz and Silvio Vismara, analyse the relation of academic freedom to technological innovation, as represented by patents, finding a quantifiable causal link between reduced academic freedom to lower levels of innovation.

Academic freedom is characterized by “the right to choose one’s own problem for investigation, to conduct research free from any outside control, and to teach one’s subject in the light of one’s own opinions”. Over the last century, liberal democracies have championed academic freedom to unleash the full creative potential of science. For example, in 1946, Oppenheimer, quoting Fermi, declared that “an intensive freedom of the individual scientific worker [..] is the only way to insure that no important line of attack is neglected”(p.303), adding that “a too-strict organization is liable to stifle the imagination”. Yet, global academic freedom has declined in the last decade after many years of steady improvement.

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