Science Policy

If my 23andme profile revealed that I was the last of the Plantagenets (as some suspect), and therefore rightfully King of the United States and Defender of Mexico, and I asked you for a general view of the right approach to science and technology – where the most promise is, what should be done, etc – what would you say?

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111 Responses to Science Policy

  1. You are asking two questions. Best science/tech policy (I assume this implies government policy, or at least business investment). And second question is where is the most promise. Maybe take a stab at second question.

    Recent bad ideas: big brain project, LHC higgs, manned space programs

    High promise areas: genomics/personalize medicine, machine learning (but only for a few areas pattern recognition, voice computer interface, self driving vehicles. not AGI or random “big data”), unmanned space probes, space telescopes esp those investigating dark matter/dark energy.

    Guess my point here is that the consensus areas currently hyped all look fairly promising as these things go. The bad ideas that come to mind date to 5 or 10 years ago, and are now more clearly bad. General policy point is “big science” projects often worse than using same funding to pay for 100s of grad students. Sometimes you need big science with expensive big gear. But often today cheap compute and sensors allow pretty good science done with far less, so a wider spread might be bigger payoff.

    • gcochran9 says:

      I have no idea how personalized medicine is supposed to work. Suppose that we sequence your entire genome, and then we intend to tailor a therapeutic approach to your genome.

      How do we test it? By trying it on a bunch of genetically similar people? The more genetic details we take into account, the smaller that class is. It could easily become so small that it would be difficult to recruit enough people for a reasonable statistical trial. Second, the more details we take into account, the smaller the class that benefits from the whole testing process – which as far as I can see, is just as expensive as conventional Phasei/II etc trials.

      What am I missing?

      Now if you are a forethoughtful trillionaire, sure: you manufacture lots of clones just to test therapies you might someday need, and cost is no object.

      • Frau Katze says:

        I’m not sure exactly what personalized medicine means. But I noted an article at NYT the other day about a woman with advanced cancer who has responded very well to immunotherapy. It seems to hinge on her having a gene called KRAS.

        So that is an example of medicine being somewhat personalized, no?

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        Other way round i think

        I had a relative recently who was going to be carted off for liver cancer tests before i stopped her taking the medication that triggered this:

        If you have rellies with lots of meds each one generally comes with a long list of side-effects one or more of which effect some people – so why do they effect some people – imo in a lot of cases it will be the presence of specific genes.

        So (i assume this is how it works) a drug company is testing a new med on a 100 people and getting some positive effect with a bunch of negative side-effects and if the balance is positive it gets licensed.

        Option 2, same thing but with full genome and see if the side-effects align with specific genes/ancestry so if
        – side-effect A results from gene X
        – side-effect B results from gene Y
        then instead of a single med you make
        – one general one
        – one for people who have gene X
        – one for people who have gene Y

        Initially it might not be “personalised” exactly, as it might be cheaper initially to go by race, ethnicity, gender etc as they will be proxies for likelihood of having gene X or Y

        (although thinking on, the more expensive individual route might get around objections)

        anyway, either way the gist is you start with the med for some ailment with nasty side effects connected to personal genetics and then make multiple versions to get around them


        i wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the data necessary for this is already sitting around somewhere – like some med that was tested in the past and was beneficial to some but so bad for others it didn’t work out could be the people it was bad for had a particular gene – so you just don’t give it to them.

        • dlr says:

          Yes, I bet a lot of drugs that look ‘ineffective’ at the macro level; “no better than placebo” are actually very effective with some portion of the sample population, and not effective at all with another portion. Right now, doctors treat by symptoms: things that look alike at the symptom level are all considered one disease, and lumped together. By looking at the summary, statistical results of a drug on several 100 people all lumped together, who actually have several different ‘look alike’ diseases, the researchers are missing the boat. They should be keeping their eyes open, and when they get those kinds of equivocal results, they should do a genome sequencing on all of the people in the drug test, (or a genomic sequence of the cancers of the people in the drug test, if it’s for cancer drugs) and see if there aren’t some commonalities in the genomes of the people that were helped/not helped/harmed. If there are, they now have an effective drug, with a marker test. Plus, as a bonus, maybe, they get to have a newly discovered disease named after them. 🙂

          • Greying Wanderer says:

            yes – i think the phrase “personalized medicine” creates the mental image that the direction is

            individual -> medication

            but to get there you have to go

            ailment/medication combo -> clusters of individuals

            if you do that with enough ailment/medication combos for long enough then eventually you’d have a map of body chemistry sufficient to spin it round to the star trek version where Bones scans you for symptoms + genome and then plugs it into a machine that makes up a packet of individualised meds on the spot.


            up till now i’ve been thinking the easiest way to divide up test subjects would be by race/gender/ethnicity to see if specific side-effects aligned with those groups and doing that would be the PC obstacle but actually as getting the test subject’s genome becomes easier and cheaper drug testers could just do that in advance. Side effects would still cluster by ancestry but it would be hidden from the kommisars because side effect A would cluster with gene X not ancestry X (even though gene X and ancestry X were correlated).


            and i’d bet there’s a ton of of old drug tests out there which were partially successful but not enough to be licensed and if looked at again with this angle could yield rapid results

            and possibly a lot more that are licensed and any lethal side effects covered up which could be avoided by just giving the patient a blood test first and not giving it to the 5% who have a particular gene that triggers the lethal effect

          • albatross says:

            I think it would be hard to use even full sequence data to go back and find where some drug trial was really failing or succeeding based on some genetic difference, because there are a huge number of genetic differences present, so if the treatment seemed to work for a few people, you will always be able to find several possible genetic explanations.

            • Greying Wanderer says:

              well i’m no expert so i’m guessing but i was thinking more of it working backwards

              example: a study in the past found some ailment/med combo gave 20% better results to 70% of the test subjects and very negative to the remaining 30% – so checking to see if that 30% shared a specific gene that triggered the negative reaction would mean you had a new med that could be given to 70% after a dna test.

              so it’s less for finding out why something worked – complicated – and more about testing whether certain dangerous side-effects can be correlated with single genes like this



              again no expert but i’d guess drug companies have 100s of old drug trials on a data base somewhere – seems like there’d be a lot of money in it apart from the health benefits

      • Ilya says:

        You could sequence your genome (from various places of the body) at fairly early age, say by mid-30s, and then re-sequence yourself every 10-15 years, applying virotherapy, to correct proliferated somatic mutations.
        This is predicated on cost of sequencing coming down considerably further, beyond today’s price. Also, effective gene modification tech needs to be developed for in vivo application.

      • JediWonk says:

        Personalized medicine:

        You don’t test it. Causality flows the other way. The effect is observed in a clinical situation on a (usually small) percentage of patients and then genomes are sequenced to look for correlations with the effect/non-effect.

        Of course, it’s not enough for effects and correlations to be observed, such as the sleeping pill Ambien waking up some long-term coma patients:

        M.D.s worldwide have to hear of it. In 2012, DOJ fined GSK $3 billion for offenses that included marketing drugs for off-label use:

        FDA’s policy was reversed for them with 396 votes in the House and 95 in the Senate for the 21st Century Cures Act, signed by president Obama on December 13, 2016:

  2. On stuff I have at least some understanding of:

    Funding for a UK style Biobank available for massive GWAS studies, ostensibly for preventing genetic disease but also incidentally useful for OQ, edu attainment, etc.

    More $$ for implementation of low hanging fruit in medicine, ala Atul Gawande’s checklist manifesto stuff, more adherence among physicians to guidelines that reduce variance of treatment.

    Not sure how feasible but: anything that reduced how much modern Uni and graduate admissions load for conscientious and increased how much they load on raw g. There was so much fluff I went through in college that felt like some giant hamster wheel designed to test conscientiousness, not intelligence.

    More $$ for Research on nootropics: anything that might make currently existing people smarter. You had a cool post on gout– any more thoughts on that? Any research on a number od interesting compounds could be good: bacopa monneri, the racetams, ashwagandha, etc.

  3. pyrrhus says:

    Put money into high level high school science and math programs where the kids can free lance on projects that interest them, and can consult with scientists or at least grad students about their ideas….

    • Nuclear Lab Rat says:

      This will simply amount to grad students treating high school students the same way that the grad student’s professors treat them: berating their inferior intellects and insult their extremely foolish ideas.

  4. SQ says:

    Making it safe to discuss what we already know would cost nothing and pay huge dividends.

  5. j says:

    A thinking machine with a mission to build a better thinking machine and so ad infinitum.

  6. masharpe says:

    The most transformative tech of the past ~50 years has been computers and the internet, which both benefited from government investment in their early development (particularly by the military), though private companies have been doing more of the innovation recently. The internet age would have been delayed by who-knows-how-long without government helping it get off the ground.

    I read this blog because I think genomics will be comparatively transformative over the next 50 years, and maybe it could use more government support. The private efforts, like 23andme, don’t seem impressive, with part of the problem being that the necessary genomic understanding doesn’t yet exist for 23andme to offer a compelling product. The phenotype data 23andme collects via surveys on their website also does not seem sufficient for many questions.

    The existing government efforts, like PMI, seem somewhat myopically focused on medical applications. Those are important, but surely it’s also important to study a broad range of non-medical traits, such as but not limited to Hsu’s interest in cognitive ability. There’s a lot more to a human being than just the diseases they suffer from.

    Looking back in history, it’s astonishing how much was spent on big tech projects compared to now. The Human Genome Project only cost ~$5 billion in today’s dollars. Compare with the Manhattan Project (~26 billion) or the Apollo Program (~$110 billion). The difference would be even bigger if viewed as a % of GDP.

  7. st says:

    Have a look at the SAT questions from 2016; for example the math section of SAT General and all questions from SAT subject test in World History and tell us what these test are designed to select for, or to put it properly, to select against; and how will this redesigned SAT reshape the US academia in 10 (or less) years.

  8. clumma says:

    That’s easy. Build lots of fission reactors. No basic science needed, of course, so it’s rather boring. With basic science we’re already saturated. More prizes instead of grants is often suggested. Code and data sharing requirements for funded work would probably be good. If you want to get ambitious, send a fission-fragment rocket to Proxima Centauri.

  9. 415 reasons says:

    Cancer immunology Manhattan project to cure 50% of now fatal cases in 20 years.

    And a climate change Manhattan project to generate all our power with nuclear and sequester some excess co2

    • dlr says:

      but wait, we would be LOTS better off if we let it get a little warmer! Sure we will lose Bangladesh, and part of Florida, etc, but the vast territories of Alaska, northern Canada, northern Europe will be opened up to human settlement. Go take a look at the globe. Not a map a globe. Pretty much everything north of the US northern border are too cold for plant and human optimal. That’s a good third of the land mass on earth, wasted, locked up in snow and ice. Think what a good thing it would be in Siberia and Alaska and Finland, etc, were as warm as, say Kansas is now. And maybe we should think about sequestering ICE, not CO2 — and then we could really go for broke. Clear all that ice and snow off Greenland and the Continent of Antartica and really increase our available land area.

  10. JohnG says:

    Kill paywalls.

  11. Space Ghost says:

    Stop letting the Chinaman steal it all

  12. Neocolonial says:

    I think this bit from Jim’s place gets towards the heart of what needs to be done. : “When the state officially recognizes science and scientists, this tends to make scientists into priests.

    In the restoration, Charles the Second created the Royal Society to keep scientists on track, which was part of his purge of the priesthood. It is a pity he did not create an inquisition to continue the purges and keep the rest of the priesthood on track.

    From the Restoration in 1660, to the end of World War II, the Royal society enforced the scientific method. If you wanted respect and esteem as a scientist, you had to tell us new and interesting things, and you had to show everyone how you knew these new and interesting things from what you saw with your eyes and touched with your hands.

    After World War II, Harvard got the upper hand over the Royal Society, and you no longer have to show your work. Instead, your work must be approved by the most holy synod of mother church – in other words, must pass peer review behind closed doors. Peer Review is new. Attempts to root it in the past of science before World War II are artificial and contrived. Somehow we obtained almost all of science that matters before we had peer review, and since we have had peer review, things have started to go terribly wrong with science. Peer Review is science by social consensus, and Galileo told us that that does not work.”

    As King, you establish the Inquisition, you bestow status upon good method, and you withdraw favour from pseudoscience.

  13. Rothbard says:

    Right approach to science and technology in your domain? Easy… lower taxes in your kingdom to zero and let private citizens and their organizations do the rest.

    • Erik says:

      Suppose, then, that he is Private Citizen Plantagenet, Private Owner of the Private Property Of The United States, and answer the question instead of posturing.

  14. I think the main point which comes out of European history is that competing small Kingdoms did better than all powerful Chinese Emperors. So, despite your elevated status, I will plan for the downfall of your Kingdom of America, and hope that warring states let different imaginations flourish.

  15. coinherence says:

    Begin doping out a science based on a recognition of participation instead of the pose of objectivity.

  16. another fred says:

    As far as a “general view,” I say get politics out of science. Let objectivity rule, and as SQ says above, make it safe to discuss what we already know.

    As more and more unwanted facts are found, we seem to be slipping deeper and deeper into a dark age determined to suppress them. Without freedom, any discoveries of science will just be used to make more elaborate gimmicks.

    • Ursiform says:

      People beget politics. People do science. There will always be politics in science. As there always has been.

      • another fred says:

        Perhaps, but much of what is called political used to be acknowledged as religious. Then we “agreed” you weren’t supposed to cram religion down people’s throats. I’d just as soon it was acknowledged as religion instead of the pretense that it is objective science.

  17. Greying Wanderer says:

    “science and technology – where the most promise is, what should be done, etc – what would you say?”

    1) test ancient Chinese DNA samples to see if they used to have lots of ADD before it was civilized out of them

    2) if it turns out they did then make science education ADD friendly – less swotty, lots of hands-on stuff in between – exams are like “build a working submarine out of empty coke bottles”.

    3) genetics – the medical consequences of unleashing medicine from Boas will be enormous

    4) raise average IQ by removing obstacles so there’s more outliers but with compensatory ballast – aka middle class breeding

    5) modernize the low productivity aspects of farming to reduce demand for unskilled labor so short term greed doesn’t destroy everything

    stuff i want just cos

    6) biodomes – practise for space with biodomes in Siberia

    7) space – prototype space mining and orbital food growing – if the world doesn’t end beforehand then a 1950s style middle class economy across the top of the globe including China may need some space mining

    8) space again – cos Darwin says so

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “5) modernize the low productivity aspects of farming to reduce demand for unskilled labor so short term greed doesn’t destroy everything”

      this is more important than it may seem as importing cheap labor to accomodate the low productivity leads to increased welfare/taxation and housing costs which leads to lower middle class birth rate / average IQ.


      • beancrusher says:

        Good luck with that. Farming is being pressured in the opposite direction by the virtue signaling illuminati.

        • Greying Wanderer says:

          All the sensible stuff would already be happening if it wasn’t blocked by politics – so yeah the real question is how to overturn the politics.

  18. AppSocRes says:

    First, I would re-establish a program something like the National Defense Education Act, aimed at selecting, grooming, and educating cadres of new scientists and technologists: (1) programs to monitor all STEM fields to determine current private sector and public sector needs for personnel and to project future needs; (2) programs to encourage children and teenagers to enter these professions and trades; (3) programs to beef up primary and secondary STEM education; (4) a program of full scholarships (and partial scholarships and generous loans) to college and university undergraduate and graduate students based entire on the country’s needs for STEM personnel and with awards based entirely on individual student’s demonstrated aptitude and prior performance, i.e., no affirmative action or “need based” criteria.

    Second, I’d try to break the iron grip of organized, orthodox, and well-rewarded professional gatekeepers on today’s research funding. I would try to increase the percent of funding that goes to smaller research projects and more maverick research, diverting some funding away from big bucks “wars on x” programs to smaller and more diverse research. In a related area I’d try and force the “gatekeepers” of expensive and restricted resources like high energy colliders, super computers, telescopes, and cosmic observation arrays. etc., to open up access to maverick research; perhaps by requiring that some percentage of time on these resources be set aside for non-mainstream research, e.g., observational testing of newer steady state theories of the universe. On a related topic, I’d try to establish a better system of communicating research results. The current peer-review process buries important results in an avalanche of crap. It also lets through a lot of bad and false research while sometinmes delaying dissemination of important work.

    Third, I’d get the space program back on track. Diverting a large amount of resources to a carefully planned and implemented , long term project to establish, large, permanent, self-sustaining, and economically viable human colonies on the Moon would be the first priority. This would establish a forward base, outside the deep part of the Earth;s gravitational well that would serve as a forward base for further space exploration. It would allow for experiments and industries impossible on Earth. It would also establish the chance of human survival if an apocalyptic disaster were to make Earth uninhabitable for humans. A second priority for the space program would be to clean up the debris humans have been putting into satellite orbit around the Earth and to try and establish an international system for systematically controlling the installation., maintenance and removal of satellites in a maximally beneficial manner.

    • Jim says:

      Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to colonize the Antarctic rather than the Moon?

    • Jim says:

      Trying to carry out the program described in your first paragraph is probably politically impossible in the US today. The demographic distribution of the scholarships and benefits would be unacceptable.

    • Ursiform says:

      Evidence that “large, permanent, self-sustaining, and economically viable human colonies on the Moon” are possible?

      • AppSocRes says:

        This is a reasonable question and one that requires some preliminary expeditions and some smaller, semi-permanent – if not permanent – settlements to answer. The key needs will be water, material suitable for building large-scale hydroponics gardens, a surface composition that will allow the economic building of large-scale underground facilities, and ideally the existence of ore deposits to provide traditional building materials.

        I’ll just add that the current plan to jump directly to Mars ignores the costs imposed by the Earth’s gravity well, blithely ignores the possibility that we do have any idea of human survivability/physical degradation over that long a trip in space, and makes assumptions about the same issues for humans on the Martian surface.

        The Moon is a convenient place for exploring all these issues at a fraction of the cost imposed by Mars missions.

  19. Cpluskx says:

    Science Policy: ”Do it if it’s good for the singularity”
    Critical Importance
    -Start Manhattan Project style AGI development program
    Very High Importance
    -Genetic Engineering program to increase intelligence (or if possible with brain implants)
    High Importance
    -Genetic engineering program to improve lifespan, health, disease resistance, athleticism etc.
    -Support for materials science research
    -Support for solar power or any kind of new/sustainable/clean energy source (fusion power?)
    -Geoengineering program to deal with the climate change
    – Develop a self-sustaining colony on Mars
    – Deal with the negative effects of automation on employment (basic income?)
    – Build a Death Star (without exhaust ports) to prevent Alien Invasion

  20. dlr says:

    1) shorten up copyright protection: 20 years seems more than long enough. Right now everything back to 1923 is still under copyright protection. That’s ridiculous. If 20 years of patent protection is long enough to motivate people to undertake the enormous challenge of inventing new drugs, etc, it is also surely long enough to motivate people to write a book or article.

    2) change the mandate of the FDA. Once a food or drug manufacturer has proven that its product is SAFE, the FDA should license the product for sale. You could keep the portion of the agency involved in determining ‘effective’ on staff, perhaps, but limit their efforts to the issuing of advisory information: bulletins to physicians, pharmacists and the general public, etc. This would unleash a flood of new money into drug research.

    3) allow employers to give IQ tests/knowledge tests (even if there is ‘disparate impact’) as a part of their employee selection process — this could save 4 to 10 years of the working life of a scientist; it would save a lot of years spent accumulating useless credentials in other fields as well.

    4) and speaking of credentialation, I’d reform medical education completely. ‘Doctor’ should be a skills based discipline, sort of like auto mechanic, learn by doing, semi-apprenticeship type thing. What you basically get once you become a resident. But don’t waste 8 years of the students life making them go to college and medical school first. No one needs to sit through a class in organic chemistry or microbiology (let alone the lake poets) to begin training to become a doctor. A two year degree type thing, perhaps, would be valuable, concentrating on practical information like pathology, with a strong emphasis on recognition, and current best practice/most effective drugs/procedures to deal with each disease. And then, straight into residency/apprenticeship.

    But wait, you say, that would fix medicine, but how does it impact science & technology policy? Well, it is a bit of a stretch, perhaps, but I strongly feel that the wrong people are becoming doctors. People who thrive and succeed in the current doctor training process are no doubt miserable when they get out into the work-a-day world of actually being a doctor and dealing with the seven hundredth sprain or hernia. Those people would be much happier and useful to society if they were channeled into research/teaching. We need practical engineering technician type people to be the actual doctors, and save the guys that are currently becoming doctors for doing basic research and figuring out new and more effective cures.

  21. dlr says:

    PS. This blog would be more fun if we could upvote and downvote comments!

  22. georgesdelatour says:

    Biology seems to offer more scope for major advances than, say, physics right now. But what if some revolutionary physics breakthrough enabled us to manipulate gravity? The payoffs would be enormous.

  23. AppSocRes says:

    Although the effects on STEM infrastructure are indirect I would reform the H1-b visa program. Native-born Americans are deterred from entering STEM positions, eg., coders, lab technicians, entry-level engineering, because of a very real fear of being replaced mid-career by cheap H-1b labor. Promising students have told me as much and my experiences in the private sector have convinced me this is not a myth.

    One solution would be to sell individual H-1bs at a fixed cost per annum and on a first-come-first-serve basis to employers who can demonstrate need. The per annum cost should depend on skill level and be set steep enough to prevent replacing native-born workers with cheap foreign replacements; perhaps $25K per annum for less skilled STEM workers up to $200K per annum for the most skilled. This would discourage replacing more-skilled, higher paid, native-born STEM workers with less-skilled but cheaper foreign born. It would still allow employers the flexibility to import foreign STEM laborers if the need is great enough.

    • Jim says:

      If STEM workers are to be protected shouldn’t we also protect say construction workers?

    • albatross says:

      The most important reform to H1B visas is that we should get rid of them entirely. People who have valuable skills should be given a work permit and allowed to choose their employer. Otherwise you give employers the choice between hiring free employees or serfs, and lots of employers think serfs sound like a pretty good deal.

  24. Greying Wanderer says:

    semi off-topic

    given the east Asian PISA scores and the Finnish/Estonian scores it seems like it would be useful to see what east Asian (or extra neanderthal) genes Finns/Estonian share.

    • says:
      YHg N: FI 61.5% EE 34%
      “””Guandong Han 15%”””
      “””It is suggested that N-M231 arose in Southeast Asia 19.4±4.8 ky years ago, and then migrated in a counter-clockwise path from modern day regions of Mongolia and northern China to as far as northeastern Europe (Rootsi 2006).
      The absence of haplogroup N-M231 in the Americas indicates that its spread across Asia happened after the submergence of Beringia (Chiaroni 2009).”””
      Thus they would have close contact and shared too many genes with the East Asian at most 10,000 years ago.

  25. dearieme says:

    For govt policy: cancel anything called “War on …..”

    Distribute most research funding by lot, among people and groups with any decent claim to be qualified to receive it. N.B. “decent” doesn’t mean ‘conventional’, ‘respectable’ or ’eminent’. Those people can raise research money elsewhere, surely.

  26. et.cetera says:

    I’d worry about future directions in science after our environment is saner for it. So these 3 broad strokes are mainly aimed at making the US safer for science:

    Abolish any kind of “affirmative action”. Has the benefit of being largely doable now, with the right supreme justice pick (and the right “encouragement”).
    Offer all research grants by lottery (within a pool of contenders that clear some reasonable requirements), not committee evaluation. That should weed out the cronyism/politicking involved with getting funds for your studies. It also has the benefit of being eminently doable given the current political situation in the US.
    Implement a weighting scheme for which institutions/departments get more funds. Also doable, but harder to negotiate the details (too many of the less deserving shitbrains have their tentacles inside the right holes).

  27. Bob says:

    Lots of prize awards with objective milestones, like the Longitude Prize or the Orteig Prize.

    Fashion economic policies so that we have millions of the 21st century equivalent of the Wright brothers’ bicycle repair shop, and millions of ordinary citizens with the economic independence and security and tools to pursue science and engineering on their own and to do dangerous and heretical things in their backyards.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      sheds are the best

    • AllenM says:

      Just like Curie, he died early:

      Guess the reading about the danger part didn’t stick.

      I like to use the parable about building a lot of dangerous things and then the neighbors need to build a bigger one.

      Of course, the interesting part is if he had gotten rich off of the internet, he could have moved to a remote part of Nevada, and done whatever he pleased.

      When you drive past some of those strange compounds out in the middle of nowhere with high security, don’t you just wonder, or just assume it is part of the usual suspects.

      Like a new local high sec facility literally at the end of a long runway in north Phoenix.

      • Bob says:

        Most people don’t get rich off of the internet. The problem right now is most of the capital is getting concentrated by guys in skyscrapers in New York. The point is to get it out of their hands and into the hands of middle class tinkerers.

  28. Xenophon Hendrix says:

    It’s not a complete policy, but I wouldn’t mind seeing more competitions and prizes in the spirit of the X-Prize. For high risk projects, also offer second and third place prizes.

    Pay researchers to write up and publish the data from experiments that yielded no significant results. Make it available as an archive online.

    Start a project to study genius itself. Is there a way to identify the brilliant and creative at a young age? (I’m not talking about just smart. I’m talking about that tiny fraction of one percent that might do something truly immense.) Is there a way to nurture them for maximum productivity?

    In the spirit of the above, gene sequence our best scientists and mathematicians. Does anything turn up in comparison to mere mortals?

    For the long term, implement stealth eugenics. Make long-term contraception free. Give social workers bonuses for the clients they recruit to use it. Is there a socially acceptable way to encourage the brilliant to have more children?

    • albatross says:

      Making long term contraception free and establishing the social norm that girls get their fertility turned off and their ears pierced on their 14th birthday would be a pretty effective nudge toward waiting till you were really ready to have kids. It would probably have a small eugenic effect.

      Another pro-eugenic policy that wouldn’t be coercive would be establishing salary rules for grad students, post docs, and tenure track professors that rewarded having children–say, automatically increasing stipends or scholarships for legitimate children, or giving women some credit toward getting tenure if they have a couple kids.

  29. dearieme says:

    “Is there a way to nurture them for maximum productivity?”

    Buy apple trees. Sit children beneath them.

    • Ursiform says:

      There have been apple trees and children for a long time. They have produced only one Newton. I’m guessing it isn’t the apple tree that is important here …

      • dearieme says:

        But at least you get apples. Also, instal baths and sit clever Greeks in them. Also also, prohibit scientists from having beards so that they can have more ideas while shaving. And insist they have a pint of beer at lunch to get the creative juices flowing.

  30. The Z Blog says:

    If you are the king of America, your first job is to remain king. That means making sure your rivals and potential rivals are afraid to cross you. You have to support science and technology that permits you to hobble your rivals. Signal intelligence should get all the funds it needs.

    Popular revolt is the next biggest threat. You will want to make sure your people are well fed and well entertained. Genetic research in agriculture would have a high return. Entertainment is a challenge. You want to invest in way to background censor entertainment so the audience is unaware of the filter. This is another area where signal intelligence pay dividends.

    Military tech is always a good investment. Imagine how much easier the muzzie problem would be if we could incinerate a guy using a high energy laser mounted on a satellite. That would also intimidate other rulers so you should go all in on military tech.

  31. Halvorson says:

    Hey speaking of 23andMe….

    Did anyone in this part of the blogosphere notice when 23andMe announced that they had discovered that increasing amounts of Irish ancestry in their customers was associated with an alcoholism diagnosis?

    Seems like the company has had the resources on hand to end the racial differences in intelligence debate for years now. It’s possible they have researchers on staff who have already run similar race/ educational attainment experiments and are sitting on the results.

    • dearieme says:

      “Other associations were more surprising. … A self-reported diagnosis of alcoholism was more common than average among people of predicted Irish ancestry …”

      Don’t award research grants to people so unobservant that they find that association surprising.

  32. dave chamberlin says:

    The right approach to science and technology……

    First of all if you weren’t born damned lucky with mind glasses that let you see the complex world far more clearly than most, you’re fucked. There is a liberal mindset I was raised with that says pretend. Pretend all the time that we are all equal. I tried, I tried hard to believe that.

    I couldn’t because it wasn’t true.

    Now….if you were born bright, my advice is don’t pretend the liberal bullshit were are all equal and don’t buy the opposite nonsense, take what you can…

    The right approach to science and technology is is to use your fine mind that you were lucky enough to be given and to wonder, and then read the words of better minds than yours and to wonder yet some more.

  33. cthulhu says:

    Start a crash program to finish the engineering and commercialize advanced nuclear reactors like the liquid fluoride thorium reactor. Cheap, reliable, essentially limitless energy makes most other problems shallow.

  34. dearieme says:

    Somefink awta be done about science education and academic careers.

    At the moment it starts with the grind of a first degree, then a PhD working on some other bloke’s problem, then perhaps a post-doc or two, still working on some other blokes’ problems. Then our ambitious young-to-middle-aged person gets a tenure-track job. So now he’ll work on low-risk, conventional projects to ensure publishable results and consequent research income.

    It might almost be designed to put off bright, spirited people from pursuing science. The poor sods are still mucking around on dull topics at an age when Newton and the boys had done world- changing work.

    Dissolution of the Monasteries: start again – find a way to get enterprising people working fruitfully far sooner in their lives.

  35. Yudi says:

    That feathered dinosaur trapped in amber was discovered in a flea market in Myanmar:

    We could pay knowledgeable scientists or scientists in training to seek out hole-in-the-wall places like this and find more interesting things.

  36. James Miller says:

    Identify American children with IQs >150 and pay for parents to hire high quality tutors for these kids.

    • ursiform says:

      Although the bar was lower, California used to have a program to provide extra educational opportunities to kids with IQs > 132. Then it was decided that it was more important to invest in kid with IQs < 90, because with help they could obviously do as well in school as high IQ kids. Especially if you bored the latter group silly.

  37. j says:

    War is the most effective stimulant of technical progress. America could counter Chinese appropriation of the South China Sea by declaring space to be American real estate. Anyone wishing to send a communication satellite to space should need a license or its vehicle be impounded/destroyed. Then space could be rented out to Israel to manage the practical/economical aspects. The Marines and the Royal Navy would police space and enforce the rules.

    • j says:

      Time is running out for the implementation of my scheme: the Japanese just launched the Kounotori granting them a de-facto capability to remove unlicensed space vehicles. They can annex orbital routes at will and they will.

    • ilkarnal says:

      You’re punching yourself in the dick there – it is easier to destroy satellites than build and launch them. The US has the most invested in space, the most to lose in the obvious tit-for-tat exchange with Russia and China that would occur.

      “Then space could be rented out to Israel to manage the practical/economical aspects.”


  38. Realist says:


  39. Nomen Est Omen says:

    More funding for what are, I’d say, the two most interesting and important scientific questions:

    How does language work in the brain?
    How did language evolve?

    Without language, no humanity, no science, no nowt. But linguistics doesn’t generally attract v. intelligent or independent-minded people. Even if it did, those are difficult questions.

    Apart from that, I think we need to implement serious eugenics here on earth and to establish permanent bases well off it, just in case. It would be a shame to get this far and then go extinct. But perhaps the attempt to ensure against extinction is behind the Fermi paradox.

  40. Ziel says:

    I like your idea of deciphering all the old ancient scrolls such as the trove from Herculaneum. I know there’s been some progress on that front lately, but we should be spending a lot more on that.

  41. albatross says:

    Continue and support the trend of making high quality information (high school and college classes, conference talks, podcasts from experts, academic papers) available free for everyone. Try to come up with ways for interested, productive amateurs in scientific fields to come in via the side door when they’ve proven themselves.

    Somehow change the current scheme by which, in most scientific fields, you do grad school, a couple postdocs, and a tenure-track job before you get s permanent job where you can reliably settle down. This probably sends s lot of smart people out of science because they don’t want to be poor or risk ending up as an adjunct professor somewhere making an effective hourly rate a Starbucks barista wouldn’t be impressed with.

  42. Asher says:

    I would pray that God guides your choices.

  43. AllenM says:

    Okay, cat is out of the bag:

    So, selective trait amelioration through crispr to make sure that a new embryo has a stable personality, combined with high IQ and a certain level of docility and loyalty would now be possible.

    In short, the perfect party cadre technocrat could be created and used to support the state- and in a much more controlled fashion.

    Then the hunt would be on to sideline any potential rival intelligences that do not have the requisite loyalty programmed into their systems.

    In short, the PRC would then be able to control the populace by creating an entire class of technocrats that would be loyal to the system. On the other hand, they would most likely begin to change the system to ensure their own long term survival, but hard coding of personality seems to be baked in the cake.

    In short, you have utter freedom, except from the tyranny of your organic coding.

    Nice, so theology finally has an answer to free will- some get it as part of the survival package, and some don’t. Just like intelligence, and now we shall watch as active intense selection begins.

    Such a moment of fascination.

  44. Pay for the things that inspire the next generation (pun intended) of scientists
    1) New series of Star Trek (and similar)
    2) Destroy the pay-to-view publishing empires of Elsevier and the rest and effectively destroy the other open access parasites into the bargain. Make journals attach to universities so that they have to care about their truthful brand (and give them an incentive to get rid of shite that damages their scientific credibility such as gender studies departments. Actually–help to get rid of anything with “studies” in the title)
    3) Wage hikes in (school) science teaching (not geography) making that an attractive career (and hoepfully killing geography at the school level. Its crap but kids dont know that and they waste their time on it).
    4) Ambitious and noisy space programme (it doesnt do anything much thats useful except inspire a new generation–but that’s good enough)
    Let the resultant scientific generation decide on the directions.

  45. JC says:

    Point the first: I have no experience setting policy for large scientific institutions and so have no idea what I’m talking about.

    That said, since you asked,
    1. Increase time horizons on the policy side. Expecting to go from tentative idea to working model in a year (or in four!) is a recipe for disappointment (not to mention bad funding allocation).
    2. Make (much) more room for publishing replications and negative results. Maybe support institutional changes (like research pre-registration) that encourage this and would benefit from central coordination.
    3. Disincentivize resume padding and posturing for the media. (No, I don’t have any ideas; isn’t that what the social engineers are for?) Throughout the educational system too, if you can manage it.
    4. Support the Internet-based science community and online peer criticism – both made a good showing during the beginnings of the replication crisis. Look for solutions to the credibility problem with open-access journals.
    5. Reduce focus on making STEM trendy. Lees support for fame, fortune, and changing the world; more support for math, LaTeX documents, and long hours reading about historical agricultural practices.

    As for potential, human genetics (and biology, anthropology, etc) is the big one. The social sciences also have a lot of potential, if and only if you can resolve some of the problems endemic to those fields. Computer science is young enough that it probably still has a lot of low-hanging fruit, but also fewer people who know how to go about picking it.

  46. Greying Wanderer says:

    Harping back again on testing meds to see if side effects cluster with particular genes because I think it’s potentially a big deal.

    I’d suggest testing the combo of SSRIs and the cliche type of young male school shooters to see if they have a gene / genes in common that get triggered e.g MAOI (killer gene, forget the name).

    Reason – the only timid person in my family was on SSRIs and eventually they found one that worked well on him but the first ones made him really violent – so i wonder if he had a dormant version of what the rest of us have and the meds triggered it somehow.

    • cthulhu says:

      SSRIs are well-known for activating a mania-like state in some people; it usually comes on about a week after starting the medication. A reputable psychiatrist will caution the patient and the family on what to look out for so that it can be caught quickly; a day off the med is usually sufficient for things to settle down. But it can be really bad if not recognized right away.

  47. Central planning always fails. Give significant prizes for achieving certain goals.

  48. Eugeneswin says:

    “the right approach to science and technology – where the most promise is, what should be done, etc.”

    Finish the simple process of making human reproductive cloning feasible and safe. For example, the Gates Center for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine has many scientists who already do technical procedures as hard as human reproductive cloning. A leader told me the issues on doing cloning now are not technical, but regulatory or moral.
    Persuade the government and public to let it be done. Do it, experimentally and then generally.
    For those who don’t have a hero they want, VOLUNTARILY, to be cloned for their child, persuade them to use sperm and egg banks and choose the donors. Use in vitro fertilization, embryo selection, preimplantation genetic diagnosis, and embryo transfer.
    Persuade the government to fund these efforts, partially or wholly.

  49. Glengarry says:

    A vigorous replacement for CMOS would be nice.

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