Re: poly: Idea Futures, some questions

From: Nick Bostrom <>
Date: Thu May 21 1998 - 22:14:11 PDT

Robin Hanson <>

> I grant that a system which more directly rewards people for answering
> a question, rather than for telling a good story about their answer,
> may allow for more stealing, if answers are easier to steal than stories.
> I don't see idea theft as a huge problem though.

Well, that is precisely the issue. Does idea theft (and the secrecy
it necessitates) create a big cost? Maybe it does not, but ideally I
would like to know of a reason for believing that. Otherwise I have
to take it on faith and continue to believe in IF (somewhat less ardently)
despite this because of its other features (which I think might have
huge merits).

> >Why would the prestigious journals not publish an explanation of
> >these insights if their readers would like to read it? And if they
> >don't, doesn't that create space for a new journal to crop up and
> >gain prestige?
> People like to read newspapers and magazines, but academic journals
> don't displace all such things, nor do academics get much credit for
> publishing in such places.

I was not suggesting that academic journals replace newspapers, nor
that academics publish in newspapers. I was suggesting that if
existing academic journals fail to publish what their readeship wants
to read, then there would be room for a new academic journal to form
and gain respectability. (Peter pointed out one
problem-in-principle with journal publishing though.)

> >What's wrong with the naive way of thinking about it: "As an
> >academic, I usually give my ideas away for free, and I don't think
> >I'm unusual in that respect, especially since giving away an idea for
> >free seldom prevents one from "selling" it at a later occasion.
> It's just not what happens.

Let me modify my statement: When I said for free, suppose I meant:
not for an immediate monetary reward. Maybe I hope to gain reputation
or feedback or whatever. Then it could be argued that the present
system often rewards people for sharing their ideas "for free", to
let everybody read their papers-in-progress in return for improved
reputation and feedback. This is still a system which encourages
widespread dissemination of information (the more people who have
read my papers, the more well-known I am); in contrast to an IF
world, where people would have a strong incentive for secrecy.

Nicholas Bostrom
Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method
London School of Economics
Received on Fri May 22 04:21:59 1998

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