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The evolutionary patterns of knowledge production in Korea


The recent trend of rapid growth in the scientific and engineering activities in East Asian Newly Industrializing Economies (NIEs) resulted in a change in the structure of world knowledge production. In South Korea, particularly, not only the numbers of publications have increased, but there is a noticeable change in the composition of scientific and engineering activities. This paper notes the most of the research on the knowledge production of advanced countries, along with a handful of studies about the knowledge production of latecomers. Recent changes in the patterns of knowledge production in latecomer countries provoke the deeper understanding about the underlying mechanisms of ongoing change. Therefore, this paper explores the patterns of knowledge production activities in latecomers by analyzing scientific and engineering capabilities using empirical evidence from Korea. The results suggest that the patterns of accumulation of knowledge production in Korea gradually evolved from engineering to scientific activities. Important policy implications can be drawn from the findings for supporting scientific and engineering research activity in the latecomers in general and NIEs in particular.

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  1. 1.

    Basic research is defined here as experimental or theoretical work undertaken primarily to acquire new knowledge of the underlying foundation of phenomena and observable facts, without the objective of any particular application or use. Basic research can be classified into two categories: pure basic research and oriented basic research. Pure basic research is carried out for the advancement of knowledge, without seeking long-term economic or social benefits or making any effort to apply the results to practical problems or to transfer the results to sectors responsible for their applications. Oriented basic research is carried out with the expectation that it will produce a broad base of knowledge likely to form the basis of a solution to recognized or expected, current or future problems or possibilities. Applied research is also investigation undertaken in order to acquire new knowledge. It is, however, directed primarily towards a specific practical aim or objective. Experimental development is systematic work, drawing on knowledge gained from research and practical experiences, that is directed to producing new materials, products and devices, installing new processes, systems and services, or substantially improving those already produced or installed.

  2. 2.

    ‘The technical elite from Pakistan, Brazil, and Iraq who had been educated in the industrialized world thought that they could leapfrog the dismally low level of development of their countries by pushing for Manhattan project-type enterprise in nuclear energy, electronics, pharmaceutical, or space research. India started a nuclear energy program that mobilized thousands of technicians and cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but failed to meet the power demands’.

  3. 3.

    First, from an effectiveness of science perspective, the benefits of public funded have been described as the following: 1) increasing the stock of knowledge; 2) training skilled graduates; 3) creating new scientific instrumentation and methodologies; 4) forming networks and stimulating social interaction; 5) increasing the capacity for scientific and technological problem solving; and 6) creating new firms (Salter and Martin, 2001).

  4. 4.

    The GOBRP supported only research which could align with the S&T targets set by the government. More specifically, such research entailed the following: 1) basic research related to industrial needs and which advanced applied research and development; 2) basic research that promoted collaborative research in terms of disciplines, researchers and institutions; 3) research that was limited to six disciplines only: Electronics, Information technology, Communications, Machinery, Fine chemicals, New materials, Life engineering, and Energy and resources (MOST 2008).

  5. 5.

    With continued support of up to a maximum of nine (9) years, an SRC aimed to build basic research capabilities and conduct research in basic science areas, while an ERCs’ aims were to conduct research in basic technologies in high-tech areas related to domestic industrial demand. Moreover, each ERC was designed to contribute to the international competitiveness of a particular industry on the basis of interdisciplinary and industry-academic cooperation. The ERC/SRC program was made operational in terms of core activities (research and development), essential activities (training, academic, international collaboration, university-industry collaboration), and supporting activities (research information provision, sharing research facilities).

  6. 6.

    In the case of the United States, the universities possessing 49 % of total basic research expense as a major research performer. However, in Korea, firms are major performers in basic research. This phenomenon has been criticized based on problems caused by data collection, which regards the entire pre-study (not product development on the state) as basic research (Lee and Won-Young 2002). However, it is meaningful in terms of increasing in-house basic research and strategic basic research activities based on long-term purposes.

  7. 7.

    Mode I is the form of the discipline-based knowledge production that is currently dominant in the universities, while Mode 2 is described in terms of the context of discovery, the role of the disciplines, the skill mix of researchers and forms of organization they adopt, social accountability and reflexivity of the researchers, and quality control (see Gibbons, 2000).

  8. 8.

    In NSI DB, there are 24 broad sub-fields and 106 more narrow fields. The Computer science and engineering fields include 17 sub-fields and the science areas, including physics, chemistry, and the geosciences, involve 14 fields Biotechnology areas include 11 sub-fields, and Medical areas include 31 sub-fields.


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This work was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea Grant funded by the Korean Government (NRF-2011-371-H00002).

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Correspondence to Jae-Yong Choung.

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Choung, J., Hwang, H. The evolutionary patterns of knowledge production in Korea. Scientometrics 94, 629–650 (2013).

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  • Basic research
  • Knowledge production
  • Korea
  • Science and technology policy