All of ericgilliam's Comments + Replies

Recommendations for things to read on well-run scientific labs?

Hey Kris!


Some other books I've been looking at in my reading that get at this even if they are not about running labs well.


Phage and the Origins of Molecular Biology

Watson's Double Helix

Feynman's CalTech Oral Histories that cover most of his career

Some of the Chapter's in Philip Alexander's book on MIT

I heard from Michael Nielsen that Barish's oral history was supposed to be frank and good but have not read it yet


If those aren't quite what you're looking for just lmk why and I might have some others!

1krisgulati1moJust the person I was looking for -- thanks Eric! I'll try and get through these before we meet.
How Karl Compton believed a research department should be run

This is interesting. I guess I anecdotally have started doing this but my memory (like everyone's) can be quite faulty/hazy. Maybe I'll start keeping a running spreadsheet that I mark up as I read.

How Karl Compton believed a research department should be run

So it's unclear, to me at least, whether this would grow or shrink the number of academic jobs. The number of "budgetary shot callers" would shrink by a lot since far fewer professors would have a bank account/grant to direct. But many of these teams would still require PhDs to be doing real research.

To many, that sometimes sounds like a demotion. But I think that's a knee-jerk way to look at it. You can liken many of the new roles to what it was like being one of the many many smart PhDs/professors who worked on something like the Manhattan Project or in ... (read more)

What publishing/conference norms do you think we should bring back?

I'm sure there are many changes to publishing/conferences that have been positive over the last 50 or so years. And I'd love to hear about those, too? But I'm primarily curious in what things we used to do pretty well that you think we've lost. If we come upon anything interesting I'd be happy to do a fleshed out research piece on it at some point.

We won the war on infectious diseases, but now we need to learn from it

I don't but I'm sure they could exist. My expertise with sources in this area is not as in depth as economics or physics history. The reason I was happy to go about publishing is because Grant Miller is known in econ world to be quite expert/careful and good at what he does. So I did have a certain faith that if in the three decades between Mckinlays writing and their papers he'd have rooted out and addressed the primary counterarguments in their two part research.

And of course I'm always open-minded to update my views as things come out now as well

We won the war on infectious diseases, but now we need to learn from it

Your point on the proper, theory-led goals of water sanitation is interesting. I think there's maybe a decent way for us to figure this out. 

The copy of Turneaure and Russel's water sanitation textbook I used was from around 1940. But the first edition of that was from 1901. If we could find some analogous top-tier sources utilized just before some insights from germ theory we could probably figure out how much of the best-practices in planning changed from before/after the pervasion of the theory. 

Do you think that would be fair or did I miss so... (read more)

1jasoncrawford8moThat would be an interesting mini-research project. Also one of us could check my references here [] and see what I was relying on when I made those statements…
We won the war on infectious diseases, but now we need to learn from it

Hey everyone! I was really excited to share this piece and get everyone's thoughts on the general area, possible extensions, caveats I didn't think of, etc. 

Life sciences is not my particular area of expertise, so I was particularly excited to see what everyone thinks about all of this/if you know interesting books and work I can look in to to learn more.

When do ideas get easier to find?

Right?! I was so fascinated by that. I’d never realized what so many of the Moore’s Law type charts weren’t showing until I saw this one. I think it could be a really great project to try to crowdsource more of these charts as a community. For old and new tech. It would really give us a great peak into where we’re at and how things have changed over time.

I'm not really sure how to go about it because I'm not yet well-connected/don't have a big following, but there are surely people on the forum more plugged in than me who would know the right people who could contribute some of these charts. 

2jasoncrawford8moYeah, I'm sure more charts like this have already been made. If you tweet about it or something I will amplify!
How curing aging could help progress

I wonder if another way to think about a piece of this problem is "how do we expand one's scientific/creative productivity peak." Now, don't get me wrong, I want to live 200 years as much as anybody here. So I want us to push for that also!

But it also does seem like a majority of our most progress-inducing ideas are not just coming from a severe minority of people, but happening in a severely limited age range of those people's lives. Mathematicians, physicists, chemists, etc. all have been known to be susceptible to this problem.

So, I could imagine a worl... (read more)

1jasoncrawford8moYeah, definitely. Some people suggested that part of curing aging is extending neuroplasticity, which could help you stay open and nimble-minded even when you're older. But I suspect that closed-mindedness is a function of both social and physiological causes, and I don't know what weight to give each.
Why is there no equivalent of the VC industry, but for patentable inventions instead of startups?

It's probably worth noting that this could also just be because this pipeline doesn't seem to exist. Like I know Peter Thiel comments that today a letter from Einstein would get lost in the mailroom of the white house.

Today, I could probably email HP the specs and proof of concept of a brand new kind of printer that printed an order of magnitude cheaper, was way easier to connect to, etc. And there's little chance they'd see it or respond. I think discounting the possibility that this just doesn't happen often because corporate bureaucracies aren't set up ... (read more)

Why is there no equivalent of the VC industry, but for patentable inventions instead of startups?

So this is interesting because I have no clue if it exists. But it did!! This was the one and only thing the small R&D departments of large companies did in the US in the very early 1900s. 

Tons and tons of home inventors/amateurs would submit patents/specs to them to look over. The department would assess their scientific/technical validity and think about if they could profitably use the invention.

If they could, they'd come to an agreement with the inventor who sent it in. And it was efficient because there was no expectation for the inventor to ... (read more)

3ganeumann9moInteresting to think what changed in that time period. Ideas prior to 1900 or so would have been primarily mechanical, and the patent system was designed for this. Even though all patents represent ideas, ideas prior to the electrical age were about mechanical objects that could, perhaps, be instantiated in one best way. Ideas in the electrical age could probably be instantiated in many ways, making patents harder to enforce. And now, in the information age, the idea itself can be articulated in many ways, making patents somewhat useless for information-based products except as post-hoc bludgeons.
Bombs, Brains, and Science

Thanks! I'll read them this weekend! Have a good weekend!

Bombs, Brains, and Science

If one wanted to start flirting with how to disentangle the lost collaborator effect from the lost capture effect, do you think there are any decent ways to do that?

I imagine whatever it is will be imperfect. But maybe there's some pseudo-randomness to certain positions of status/power coming to an end that are independent from one's research capacity. 

Like maybe you're only allowed to be the chair of x society or editor of y journal for a fixed time period and then you're forced to step down. Maybe something like that could be a codifiable measure of some level of capture of a field.


1krisgulati9moI think it's a great question. Two papers come to mind about capture that are somewhat related. These are not directly related but get at the capture part of research to some extent: 1. This paper by Carrell/Figlio/Lusher [] captures the clubbyness in economics. 2. I'm really fond of this paper by Rubin and Rubin [] because the empirical strategy is smart. "Like maybe you're only allowed to be the chair of x society or editor of y journal for a fixed time period and then you're forced to step down. Maybe something like that could be a codifiable measure of some level of capture of a field." I know some people who are working on something kind of like this. Happy to explore this further when we chat.
Bombs, Brains, and Science

When I was considering that line of reasoning that you just made, I wasn't sure how seriously to take the change because it was unclear to me if that was a negative spillover that affected their capacity to do or work just that the field moved on in the absence of a superstar. 

Because in Pierre's (god I love him, he's a godsend) Does Science Advance One Funeral at a Time? there seems to be an interesting dynamic. Upon an untimely death, collaborators' pubs went down and newcomers' pubs went up. In that case, an alternative model of the situation could... (read more)

1krisgulati9moYeah, that's certainly true, the deaths have interesting dynamics. My advisor (Christian Fons-Rosen) is a co-author on that paper with Pierre and Josh. I'm definitely interested in exploring the area more.
New Industries Come From Crazy People

Hey Ben! I loved this. Particularly the anecdotes about Boulton and the early and late life of Edison Electric. 

Since reading the Edison biography, something I've been thinking about is whether or not someone could start a modern-day R&D lab the way Edison did. Like I understand that it would be atypical, but I feel like someone with a particular set of skills and the ability to execute (whose mind also moves a mile a minute the way weird minds do) should be able to.

There are certain technical problems, that if solved, are either worth a ton of mo... (read more)

1benlandautaylor9moThere are of course tons and tons of R&D labs working on things with medium-term commercial applications, and the question is why so few of them get results as good as Edison's. More recent examples of hyperproductive labs like Xerox PARC, DARPA, and early Google suggest that this is still entirely possible, but it also seems difficult, fragile, and unlikely to maintain extreme productivity once the founder's attention is elsewhere. I haven't looked into these labs very deeply, but my understanding is that they all depended on a very specific culture which has never been made fully explicit and generally can't be replicated despite a number of attempts. This is usually a clue that someone with a rare combination of skills is engineering the social structure and troubleshooting idiosyncratic problems as they arise. (Compare to the stream of new practices in e.g. education that start off showing extreme potential but regress to the mean as soon as they scale past the visionary founder's personal management capacity.) I'd be skeptical of the superforecasting lab specifically, because while these labs full of tinkerers have a very good track record for producing physical tech, offhand I can't think of a single good social tech that was developed in a lab built for that purpose. Probably better to have a few institutions try making internal prediction markets to guide real decisions, and see how it works. (IIRC Hanson has tried to get this to happen?)
Bombs, Brains, and Science

Hmmmmm this is particularly interesting because, if the setback was really a recruiting problem, it breaks the problem down in a way I hadn't thought about. Because when most people deal with this question they treat it as kind of a "are there currently good people there? Yes or no?" But your question implies a different formulation.


Not just "are there good people at the department right now?" But also, "how likely is that department to treat good people well/retain them if they do good work?"


This is quite interesting. Because if we could start... (read more)

2krisgulati9mo"If the scientists had randomly died of disease or something, instead of being deliberately kicked out, would the effect have been similar?" This paper by Pierre, Josh, and Wang [] does exactly that. They look at the sudden death of 'superstar academics' and find a noticeable decline in their collaborators productivity.
Bombs, Brains, and Science

This first paper, by B&G, is such a fascinating piece of data collection work. You're absolutely right. Do you have any rough guesses on how much of the issue is building a course of research on niche capital itself vs. the kind of person who does that kind of thing. I'm sure they both have an effect. I ask because I would be not shocked if the hypothesis, "People usually only pursue a course of research that requires specialized equipment if they are extremely dedicated to that problem over all others/that is an area of clear comparative advantage to ... (read more)