Scientists Should be Kinder, and 4 Other Stories

Welcome to this week’s Via Waverly, where I expose 5 diverse and unexpected finds that were served to me by Waverly.

Why Economics is Failing Us

There will always be a tradeoff between innovation speed and robustness of results. If you innovate faster, your results will not be as robust. If you insist that results be robust, you will slow down the speed of innovation. As a society, we have to acknowledge this tradeoff, otherwise we risk flip-flopping from demanding more robustness (when an innovation goes wrong) to demanding more speed (when innovation slows down).

This piece, in Bloomberg, shows how this is playing out in the world of Economics:

In the 1980s, the ideal journal submission was widely thought to be 17 pages, maybe 30 pages for a top journal. The result was a lot of new ideas, albeit with a lower quality of execution. Nowadays it is more common for submissions to top economics journals to be 90 pages, with appendices, robustness checks, multiple methods, numerous co-authors and every possible criticism addressed along the way.

There is little doubt that the current method yields more reliable results. But at what cost? The economists who have changed the world, such as Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes or Friedrich Hayek, typically had brilliant ideas with highly imperfect execution. It is now harder for this kind of originality to gain traction. 

Tyler Cowen

I also find this little sentence quite deep. I do believe solo researchers or small teams have a higher potential of spearheading ideas that rock the boat:

Furthermore, more economic research these days is done in large teams, rather than solo, so the incentive is “go along to get along.”

Tyler Cowen

Wave: 💸 Passion Economy

VR Training to Fix Coporate Racism!?

In which I learned that the VR hammer is so desperate to find its nail that it’s willing to try absolutely anything.

Corporations don’t need to simulate more diverse workplaces, they need to make them happen​.​

No immersive VR experience can translate to a less-white corporate America. Nor can any virtual world replicate the present-day effects of 400 years of subjugation or the generational trauma of a people. At best, VR exercises momentarily produce visceral insights into the lives of others. It is not sensible to go through any bias training—VR or not, mandatory or not—and come out on the other side and say you know the lived experiences or struggles of this Black skin.

Rita Omokha

Wave: 👩‍🔬 Women of Science

Native American Vaccination Rates Skyrocket

This piece is more than two months old, but it was fascinating to read how Native American Tribes had led many of the most successful coronavirus vaccination campaigns in the U.S. The sad thing is that they seem to have succeeded in part because they’re so used to working with severely limited resources:

“We knew how to reach our population, despite these obstacles, because we’ve been having to overcome these obstacles for some time already,” said Abigail Echo-Hawk, Seattle Indian Health Board’s chief research officer and member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma. “That doesn’t mean you let it continue.”

Wave: 👾 Tech and First Nations

Beautiful Exponential Sums

This was a perfect find for the math geek in me! John D. Cook has an interactive webpage that plots today’s date on the Complex Plane, using a simple exponential sum. The results are these beautiful graphs that sometimes have nice repeated patterns and sometimes seem totally chaotic.

Wave: 🧮 Math Geekiness

Scientists Should be Kinder

Kindness is not a very popular word in the business world, but somedays I feel I’m on a quest to rehabilitate it. I firmly believe you can be kind and be a great business leader. Naomi Oreskes thinks that the same is true in science.

Too often we permit the alleged importance of our work to justify a neglect of basic human decency and compassion.

Being kind is viewed as secondary to being successful. […] If we want to nurture talent, particularly among those who have been historically underrepresented in science and may therefore feel uncertain as to their place in the endeavor, it behooves us to consistently treat students and co-workers with dignity and respect.

Naomi Oreskes

Wave: 🧪 Practical Scientific Ideas