Progress Is Not Enough

Scott Aaronson on The Myth of the Ivory Tower:

I agree with Robin that academic science is often tradition-bound to the point of absurdity, and that its institutions ought to be as open to scrutiny and replacement as its theories. But I don’t go as far as he apparently does in the direction of the Myth of the Ivory Tower. For me, the interesting thing about science is not that it’s broken, but rather that it’s about the least broken enterprise in the whole sorry history of our species.

Arnold Kling on Heterodox Economics:

In my view, the reason that mainstream economics is so difficult to dislodge is the sheer inertia built into the system. In this post, I pointed out how the highly unequal distribution of quality of graduate students results in tight in-breeding. The result is a profession that is very slow to change.  Tyler Cowen’s view is that the best ideas win out, regardless. Maybe that’s true in the very long run. But I think that the process is too sluggish.

Academia may well be the best institution we have so far to produce innovation, and truth probably wins out in the end, at least for most academic topics.  But the mere fact of progress says little; neither of these facts tells us much about how inefficient academia is in an absolute sense, relative to some optimal way to organize innovation.  My guess is that future institutions for innovation will produce many orders of magnitude more rapid progress, given a comparable input of resources.  There will be much new to see on the road ahead; and my bet is that betting markets will be an important part of that new mix. 

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