I heard someone claim there have been more scientific discoveries outside of academia, in industry, the past 50 years than in academia. Is this true? Has anyone tried to quantify this?
There are branches in philosophy and sociology of science that talk about Mode 1 vs. Mode 2 of scientific production.
Mode 1 is the "classic" form of research, perfomed mostly in academia and driven by a linear improve-the-state-of-knowledge mentality that science has defined as its ethos for the last couple of centuries. Wikipedia defines it as:
knowledge production which is driven by the sake of scientific knowledge alone (fundamental research) and which is not bothered by the applicability of its findings
However, in the past decades, so-called Mode 2 science has risen to the forefront. Again, from Wikipedia, quoting Camille Limoges:
We now speak of 'context-driven' research, meaning 'research carried out in a context of application, arising from the very work of problem solving and not governed by the paradigms of traditional disciplines of knowledge.
So we're talking about a mode of research that's not focused on primary research, but on solving real-world (i.e. industry) problems, by interdisciplinary teams formed of industry and academia, where industry's needs set the tone (and provide the funding). So it's not that academia makes no discoveries, but they're not necessarily found in academic laboratories.