The mobility of scientists at a global scale and the associated brain drain/circulation is receiving a lot attention both in the innovation literature and public policy discussions. However there are only a few quantitative analyses of this phenomenon. We add to the discussion on the global brain circulation in the life sciences by analyzing the mobility patterns of 3,7 million scientists in the life sciences between around 15 thousand cities around the world in 1950-2009. From our analysis several stylized facts emerge. Language and cultural similarities still account for a lot of the observed individual mobility. Moreover central hubs in the core of the global mobility network attract the best talent to the detriment of countries and cities in the periphery of the brain drain network. Additionally the probability to move controlling for various factors exhibits a life-cycle structure, whereby young researchers become increasingly more mobile up to about five years into their career and declines afterward, presumably because the job-market becomes fiercer and family ties reduce flexibility.

Taken together, these facts suggest that the global mobility network is dominated by a handful of highly attractive locations, and that talented scientists gravitate towards those places. We quantify the displacement effect on knowledge production due to scientific mobility, with some important policy implications for future EU competitiveness.


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