Re: poly: Idea Futures, some questions

From: Robin Hanson <>
Date: Wed May 20 1998 - 15:08:41 PDT

Nick B. writes:
>>> ... infiltrate the group, ... protect itself from this prying ...,
>> 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

The relevant comparison is between different institutions for a given
application area, not between the same institution applied to different
application areas. So even if idea theft is more a problem in acadmia
than elsewhere, that is largely beside the point. Unless you want to
give particular people a monopoly on working in some area, the problem
of idea theft is there, regardless of which institution you use.

>> 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.

I think you've been fooled. I base my claim on experience in computer
science, health policy, physics, and political science, as well as

>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.

You're acting like a naive philosophy of science grad student. :-)
Acadmia definitely does *not* now provide an incentive to publish all
non-vague insights which other people benefit from. Many academics
have insights which help them to produce papers, but which they can't
find a way to directly embody in a article which might be published in
a sufficiently prestigiuos journal to make it worth their while.
Academics could post such ideas on usenet or the web, or on
poster boards about town, but they don't. They may share them with
colleagues or students in trade for other ideas or tuition, but they
ususally don't give them away free.

*Every* system of rewarding people for ideas creates incentives to keep
quite about things that aren't directly rewarded. And no system I know of
directly rewards everyone for every useful idea. It seems to me that a
mixed system of publications plus idea futures would offer direct rewards
on more different ideas, and so be preferable on this issue to either
system by itself.

Robin Hanson
RWJF Health Policy Scholar, Sch. of Public Health 510-643-1884
140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 FAX: 510-643-8614
Received on Wed May 20 22:15:06 1998

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