The decline of unfettered research

Definition of unfettered research





^^^ going one step further - is it possible that high temperature superconductivity didn’t develop into a field because of the competition?

Is this true?


What does it mean for exponential growth to accelerate?
Is It possible that “regime changes” are just doublings

^^ Did this play out?


Relative vs absolute games - I wonder how this squares with Science is getting less Bang for its Buck

Attention is the ultimate scarce resource

It’s off the main argument about commoditization, but it’s an important point that many ‘big science’ projects like the LHC inherently put fetters on researchers. I find this especially concerning because I’m pretty sure Discoveries happen when people have the ability to go “oh that’s weird”.

Is that true? Subatomic particles are pretty esoteric now, let alone at the beginning of the 20th century. Is it possible that we perceive them as more esoteric just because there are more equally esoteric fields than any one person can keep track of?


This does feel accurate. SpaceX rockets and recently GPT-3 may be exceptions, but they directly affected people much less directly than the polio vaccine. At the same time, most unfettered research didn’t produce public-affecting hits (maybe golden rice.) It might be a double-whammy of fewer hits, and fuzzier connections between those hits and unfettered research.



The implication is that more research leads to more research inefficiency. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that we need to have different expectations on a massive research apparatus compared to a small one - the same happens with investment firms. This also reenforces the commodity point.

Arguably our systems and infrastructure have become much more complex over time, so the interoperability requirements keep going up which means the amount of work you need to do in order to introduce a new technological paradigm keeps going up as well. He doesn’t mention it but regulations have also gone up as well.



This is one part of a bigger uncomfortable theme that Knowledge of how markets and innovation work has made us jaded and leads to more “rational” decisions, which kill outlier outcomes that are enabled by irrational decisions.



(Jay Forrester)
This feels like the killer argument for “Research has become a commodity.” I honestly don’t know of any companies winning because they have a technical capability that nobody else can duplicate.

    • Is it possible that this mindset is actually more Lindy Lindy Effect and we’re seeing a regression to the mean?
    • While the narrative of the idea of progress as a creation is pretty common (Anton Howes, Jason Crawford) The idea that expected progress shifted from being discrete to continuous is new to me. Important if accurate.

      Odlyzko makes the point that in a continuously (as opposed to discretely) Continuous improvement shifts how people think and actimproving world people are less willing to change systems because they expect that the system they have will magically improve if they just wait.

      This mindset does feel familiar - it’s important to now place it in the framework of “what are the consequences of people expecting a continuously improving world?” Start going down this rabbit hole and you quickly end up at “embedded growth obligations,” which is another story for another time.

      It’s a sobering thought that a radical idea that creates a 25% improvement isn’t good enough, but squares with folk startup wisdom “anything less than 10x improvement isn’t worth it”


People have been saying this since 1995 I guess -

I wonder what the threshold is for biology to cross this line.

Similar threshold effects operate in other areas.


There are positive externalities from research even for countries. Why not start thinking of research as a humanitarian cause?



Here we come back to embedded growth obligations

Perhaps one of the few things we can agree on in economics in addition to supply-demand curves is that competition drives specialization. Normally this is taken to be a good thing. However, specialization of scientific disciplines seems to be more problematic. Why?

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