Contemporary research has multiple failure modes

When we talk about Stagnation in “research” we are lamenting some admixture of several failure modes.^1

One class of failures is in the failure to enable paradigm shifts. You can roughly divide the failure to enable paradigm shifts into two modes. The first mode is the “Einstein would be stuck in the patent office” mode: we don’t seem to have a healthy system of unfettered research that is producing paradigm shifts like those seen up through the 50’s or 60’s. The second mode is the “Where’s my flying car?” Mode - we don’t seem to be able to build new physical systems that permeate into the world. One might roughly call these two “paradigm-shifting science” and “paradigm-shifting engineering” but the line between science and engineering is Nebulous, porous, and full of feedback loops Research has many orthogonal and non orthogonal classification axes.

Interestingly, The decline of unfettered research ties together both Einstein would have been stuck in a patent office - failures of paradigm-shifting science and We have no flying cars - failures of paradigm-shifting engineering.

Another class of failures is what I might call “breakdowns in the scientific process.” Here you see issues like the replication crisis and science being judged not on one of several scientific epistemologies, but on politics and its ilk.

It’s important to call out these different modes because while they share many similarities and causes, precision in language leads to precise thoughts Precise Language Enables Progress and the steps to address each mode are likely different. It’s also important to example the causal links between them, which might not be as tight as we think despite sharing confounding variables.

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^1: Papers like Science is getting less Bang for its Buck lump “research” into one category and so does most casual conversation

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