The Internet transformed the economics of communication. Then other technologies, like the Web, were built on top of the Internet, which has become a platform for innovation and new businesses. Similarly big data, though still a young technology, is transforming the economics of discovery—becoming a platform, if you will, for human decision making.

The sentences are extracted from chapter one "How big is big data" of the book DATA-ISM by Steve Lohr. (The full text can be read on the following webpage: https://archive.org/stream/DataIsm-SteveLohr9780062226815/Data-Ism_%20The%20Revolution%20Transforming%20Deci%20-%20Steve%20Lohr_djvu.txt)

According to Macmillan Dictionary, there are two meanings for "economics": 1. the study of the way that goods and services are produced and sold and the way money is managed. 2. the conditions that affect the economic success or failure of a product, company, country etc (http://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/economics)

And the word "discovery" has 4 meanings: 1. the process of learning something that was not known before, or of finding someone or something that was missing or hidden 2. something that is found, or something new that is learned 3.someone whose ability is recognized by another person who helps them to become famous 4. the process of making evidence and other documents available to the people involved in a legal case (http://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/discovery)

Even if I looked up all the meanings in the dictionary, I just can't understand what the author intend to say. In addition, I googled the term "economics of discovery", no satisfactory answer that can fit in well with the sentence could be found. Besides, I don't think there really exists some discipine or subject for study named "economics of discovery". I get rather confused about the term. Could someone please tell me what it means here? Thank you.

2 Answers 2


Of the four meanings of "discovery" 3 and 4 are clearly not relevant here. From the context ("innovation and new business") he is probably talking about definition 1 - "process of learning something that was not known before".

The "economics of discovery" is therefore the economic factors associated with discovering new things. That means things like: is it expensive or cheap to learn new things; if I find something new, can I make a profit from it; does the person who put the effort into discovering something 'own' it in any way.


"Economics of discovery" isn't being used in this case as, say, an established field of study like you might have covering "economics" or "post-modern literature". It's more a turn of phrase, as DJClayworth said.

How "economical" something is means how many resources are put into obtaining it. The resource can be time, effort, money, personal contacts, etc. An economical car will use less gas. An economical use of someone's time will use less of their time for better gain than a wasteful use of someone's time.

"Discovery" is another word for the process of obtaining new information.

So the phrase as a whole is referring to how easy it is (or how easy it isn't) to learn a new bit of information.

In the past, the process of obtaining new information required more resources. You maybe had to have a library nearby, physically, to obtain certain books. If you didn't, you then had to source a vehicle to visit another town, or at the very least, had to make lots of phone calls to be put in touch with a person who might not even have the answer to your questions...they might just be able to tell you who to talk to next. That takes time. You had to have people and physical space to sort through reams of paper and documents to pull new conclusions out of that raw, unsorted data.

When the resources it takes to obtain new knowledge are so high, requiring time and people and money, only larger institutions will be able to devote a lot of their resources towards this and get back a result that they feel is worth the resources spent. And even a big company might have a lot of paperwork or data sitting around they don't have the resources to sort and draw conclusions from.

Something that "transforms the economics of discovery" is something that has an effect on how much time it takes to learn something, or the amount of physical resources it takes to learn something, or the amount of people working on the problem to solve it, or discover new information about it.

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