Fund people, not projects III: The Newton hypothesis; Is science done by a small elite?

In previous posts I said that the extent to which "Fund people" works will depend on the distribution of scientific talent. Think about the following situation: Imagine that only a handful of scientists at every point in time are able to –if given the time and means–lead revolutions on par with the work of Darwin, Einstein, or Galileo (This is an extreme case admittedly because most of science does not look like this; most of science is more incremental and less memorable). I recently found two au…

Fund people, not projects II: Does pre-grant peer review work?

In a previous post I reviewed the evidence behind the effectiveness of two awards targeted at promising researchers, funding them more and for longer. The conclusion was that the evidence is not very strong and that the extent to which "Fund people" makes sense depends on other factors that we should also investigate. Both the HHMI Investigator and NIH Director's Pioneer Award are targeted at scientists that are expected to perform well. The each require applicants to have shown success already. U…

Thinking about software engineering

Though I'm right now not employed as a software engineer I have been writing code under various hats for the last few years (As a data scientist, ML engineer, and software engineer). Naturally me being me I have not just done the thing but also reflected about the thing. Questions like what's good software, what does being a good software engineer mean, how should meetings be ran, and so on. Here are some thoughts on that. Organizational issues The cost of disagreement In many cases a disagreement may be ov…

Notes on 2020

I started the year in London, attending later in in early March a private conference in Jackson Hole. Near the end of the conference the travel ban UK->USA was announced but I continued without paying much attention to it. Other than advances in science and technology I tend to pay little attention to current events (noise that repeats itself) and Covid was just the last of them. In a few years I'll look back and see exactly what Covid did in its proper context. So instead of reading and thinking about t…

Fund people, not projects I: The HHMI and the NIH Director's Pioneer Award

So there's this paper, Incentives and Creativity: Evidence from the academic life sciences (Azoulay, Graff Zivin, Manso 2011) that shows that Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigators (who are funded for a longer term and in a more open ended way) outperform those of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that have shorter review cycles and more concrete grant proposals. This is seen as a vindication of the "fund people, not projects" paradigm. However, the effect sample reported is hu…

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DeepMind finally cracks the protein-folding problem at the CASP14 competition (Or rather, is almost there; see here and here for a more sober take). As noted here a while back, it's astonishing to observe how outsiders have come into a field and solved the core problem the field had been working on for decades. Good news in that it means there may be free lunches waiting for us when better equipped outsiders (With money, AI, or anything else) enter new fields. Does this constitute a solution of the static …