Re: poly: Idea Futures, some questions

From: Nick Bostrom <>
Date: Mon May 18 1998 - 19:18:26 PDT

Robin Hanson writes:

> Nick comments on Idea Futures:
> >Suppose for some heavily traded claim there is a single research team
> >who has a good chance of settling the claim. ... infiltrate the group,
> >... protect itself from this prying ..., imposing another cost to
> >society.
> This problem is common to all post-production competitive selling of
> information. It is far from unique to idea futures.

But the question is one of degree. Might not the problem be more
serious in academic research which seems to depend on the open
collaboration between many researchers and labs? My worry is not

> >new experimental technique or research methodology that is not such that
> >it can be traded on the IF market. Rather than publishing it as soon
> >as possible, as they would today, they might prefer to keep it secret
> >for a very long time, in order to use it to settle many issues, ...
> >an incentive to hide important information rather than to publish it,
> >again inflicting a cost on society.
> 1. Idea futures does not prevent people from publishing.

No but in the case I described it could create a strong disincentive.

> 2. Academics sit on information all the time now, even for decades. They
> do *not* publish everything they know. Most people who work with big
> data sets never make those data sets freely available

Maybe economists don't, but I have the impression that many other
research communities are less "advanced" in this respect.

>; they just keep
> publishing articles based on those data sets, or they offer the data for
> sale to other researchers.Similarly, people sit on theoretical insights
> which aren't really marketable as a good publication.

You can have a good idea that is not yet suitable for publication
because it's still too vague, too tied up with your own idiosynctatic
intuitions. It's no loss that people don't publish such ideas at that
stage, since per definition they couldn't do it in a form that other
researchers could understand and benefit from. This is not a
shortcoming of the present system.

But in those cases where others *could* benefit from your ideas, you
have an incentive to publish under the current regime. I'm suggesting
that with IF, this incentive could be dominated by an incentive to
keep quiet about some types of ideas (data, methods, theoretical
insights etc.) which you can only indirectly, over time, hope to make
money from on the IF market.

> Asymmetric info is just a problem in general, it's not a problem with
> markets per se. When asymmetric info is a feature of some environment, it
> makes it harder to design good institutions for that context. The best
> possible institution may not be as good as with symmetric info. But
> that says nothing about whether market-based institutions will work
> better or worse than other types of institutions.

Ok, but in so far as Idea Futures creates an incentive to hide
information, thereby increasing the asymmetry, it would make things
worse because of this general problem with asymmetric imformation,

> I've described the money offered in subsidized idea futures markets as
> "information prizes" (
> There are many kinds of prizes, and I propose this as a new kind.
> Often one knows what question one would like answered, but it's not
> clear what ordinary "accomplishment" prizes would best promote answering
> that question.

I see.
Nicholas Bostrom
Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method
London School of Economics
Received on Tue May 19 01:29:15 1998

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