We’ve talked a lot about institutional innovation in science (see, e.g., TiB 134
). Nadia Eghbal has a new essay on this topic
for the link) from what I’d describe as an ethnographic perspective. She asks how and why did the culture of tech, and particularly of Silicon Valley, inform how the founders and funders of new institutions thought about the problems they wanted to solve and the solutions they proposed? And how might the distinct culture of crypto shape new efforts in the space? It’s one of the best things I’ve read on this theme and made me think a lot; I highly recommend it.
One way of framing Eghbal’s thesis is that starting in around 2011 there emerged a group of people who have been successful in startups and are motivated to make science more like startups in certain important dimensions*. Specifically, they have sought more focus on attracting and supporting top science talent; more emphasis on “bringing research to market”; and more change outside the existing system. The essay is a great walkthrough the evolution of these theses, from attempts to fund hard science startups; through experiments like Fast Grants
; to recent new instutitions like Astera
and New Science
We’ve talked before about the ways in which the consumption and philanthropic preferences of the crypto-rich seem quite distinct from those of people who generated wealth in conventional tech and finance (see TiB 156
). My argument has been that crypto-native wealth prefers to deploys capital within
crypto ecosystems. Eghbal describes how this is happening in science funding too:
The crypto approach, on the other hand, is to create a native funding system for public goods, so that participants can generate wealth through the development of public goods themselves
Again, I recommend the whole thing, both as a guide to the specifics of what’s happening in science-related institutional innovation, and as a reminder of the value and limitations of analogy (here, science :: startups) in driving new ideas.
*To be clear, I think this is a good thing, at least as one approach to science funding, and my read is that Eghbal does too