Academia feels more pure, more playful, than industry? More of a ‘constructionist’ approach, freedom to ask your own questions. But it also has its fair share of perverse/dated incentives

See also: independent research

Research Incentives

  1. Research must be original — this drives people to stake out a piece of ground no one wants
  2. Research must be substantial — awkward problems mean more substance to write about and solve, discouraging elegant solutions

Academics and scientists start good and get original. Hackers, from the start, are doing original work; it’s just very bad. They start original, and get good.

On Tenure

Daniel Dennet:

“The juvenile sea squirt wanders through the sea searching for a suitable rock or hunk of coral to cling to and make its home for life. For this task, it has a rudimentary nervous system. When it finds its spot and takes root, it doesn’t need its brain anymore, so it eats it! It’s rather like getting tenure.”

The ‘rat race’ of theoretical academia

There is no mechanism today, other than time, donations, and personal social platforms,  for researchers to support other researchers’ work. Every act of support is out of selflessness and there is a lack of incentive for cross collaboration other than having your name on another paper. The reward system in this community is highly dependent on your ability to make your research well known and marketed. Shrey Jain

Source: Just ask for Generalization

My guess is that the theoretical research community (e.g. computer science, math) tends to reward narratives that increase intellectual complexity and argue that “we need better algorithms”. People pay lip service to “simple ideas” but few are willing to truly pursue simplicity to its limit and simply scale up existing ideas.

The typical computer science research project might last 4 years at the longest because that is the max duration of a PhD and post-doc. An average PhD candidate wants their own unique project; they don’t want to continue someone else’s project. So the academic world is a rapid succession of short-lived projects

Had a talk with Stephen Fay about this and he mentioned that this isn’t necessarily true for ‘hard’ or ‘physical’ sciences. “In physics there are many huge international collaborations spanning decades (e.g. large radio arrays in poles+south africa+Canada, LIGO + LISA, CERN, James Webb, building quantum computers is going to take large collaborations even if research goes underground)“

I think any research field with sufficient barrier entry/requirements for access to infrastructure/hardware/physical resources does necessarily require pooling of resources on an institutional and often multi-year/decade long timespan. But now the question is how we can encourage this sort of intergenerational research in theoretical fields?

Tunnel Vision

Source: Mimetic by Brian Timar, see also mimetic

”Graduate programs select for intensely competitive individuals with highly specific skills, often with negligible market value outside of universities. A strong desire for publications on esoteric topics is inherited from senior postdocs and professors, making tunnel vision especially acute.”