[ExI] Private and government R&D

Dan dan_ust at yahoo.com
Mon Jun 29 15:00:57 UTC 2009

--- On Mon, 6/29/09, Stathis Papaioannou <stathisp at gmail.com> wrote:
> 2009/6/29 Max More <max at maxmore.com>:
> > Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
>>> Pure science is by its nature something private
>>> industry won't fund
>> But this is not true. Private sources may not fund *as
>> much* basic research
>> as you want, but it's clearly false to claim that they
>> won't fund any. Do
>> you really believe that companies provide zero support
>> for university
>> research? That private sources have done no basic
>> research? (Is IBM's
>> research into quantum computing, for instance, a
>> hallucination?)
>> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Research_funding
> There is exceptional private research done by the likes of
> IBM and
> Bell Labs, and corporations also do fund some university
> research, but
> this is not investment justified on the basis of its
> likelihood to
> yield a profit. It is more like donating to charity,
> whether for the
> positive publicity thus generated or out of a sense of
> civic duty.

To me, this reveals a misunderstanding of what it means to operate voluntarily -- e.g., like a free market would or anytime people do stuff uncoerced.  Yes, they might not do everything with the expectation or desire for a money profit.  (I donate money and things freely to various groups and individuals.  I'm not expecting any money profit in return.  E.g., I donate clothes to a certain international organization.  I don't expect anything in return -- over and above, maybe feeling good about helping someone out.)

Also, that said, there is the Baconian motive for investing in pure science research: that out of pure research, private individuals and firms might expect some long-range benefit.*  IBM, for example, might be investing in quantum computing (as they invested in a lot of other projects previously, some of which foundered; we must remember a lot of research, private or no, comes to little or nothing**) because it's "thinking" long range and wants to be ahead of the pack should it take off.



*  I forget Bacon's actual words, but I recall a recent lecture by Roderick Long where he discussed if we went back in time and showed someone in, say, 1700 an electronic watch (which now seems rather quaint as people probably mostly use mobile phones to keep time now).  Let's say this person back then wanted to build one.  He or she might focus on how time pieces were made back then -- pendulums, gears, waterwheels, and all that -- but improving on any of these designs would likely not lead to the electronic watch, but only to improved mechanical watch.  In fact, the better way to get to the digital watch is to invest in basic research -- to eventually start to harness electricity and develop solid state electronics.  So, the would be electronic watch inventor of long ago would do better to spend her or his time laying the groundwork for electrodynamics, and the atomic and quantum theories of matter -- not simply tinkering with then existing clock
 technology in hopes of incrementally going from, say, a clock with gears to one with an LCD screen.

**  The difference seems to be, though, that privately funded research is tightly self-limiting in costs, whereas publicly funded research seems to be only loosely limited at best.  For instance, OoE scientists can keep sinking money into big, expensive fusion projects that always promise cheap energy twenty years from now, but seem to worry only about getting ever more funding rather than results.  When results are lackluster, they tend to call for and get ever more money -- and this is at the expense of all other uses for that money and is made on a mostly political basis.  Again, shades of Project Apollo: big, expensive program that does achieve something grand, but of little long-lasting value -- save for some nice monuments on the Moon.


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