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  • The Economics of Science

    Posted by Jay Manifold on February 2nd, 2004 (All posts by )

    — deserve a blog all their own; a paid one, which is why I won’t be doing it unless somebody offers me an outrageous rate, like 40¢/word. So all I’m putting in this post is tidbits:



    1. Cold rush threatens pristine Antarctic, says the Guardian‘s science correspondent Ian Sample (900 words; reading time 2-4 minutes). Occasionally bordering on the hysterical (one source is quoted as saying “… you want [Antarctic bioprospecting] to be controlled to prevent companies from causing significant environmental damage or disrupting the scientific operations down there” — this in regards to catching some fish and sampling some microorganisms) but nonetheless informative, and more than a little indicative of the politics likely to ensue if life is discovered on Mars:
      Nick Russell, an expert in Antarctic extremophiles at Imperial College London, said regulations would help clarify who owned the information that came from research on the continent. While all research data is supposed to be disseminated, it is not clear that this always happens. “Most scientists are confused about this. It’s an extremely grey area and it does need to be clarified,” he said.

    2. Not coincidentally, I suspect, the OECD has called for open access to all publicly-funded scientific data (500 words; reading time 2 minutes), while noting that “[a]chieving this aim whilst ensuring the protection of intellectual property and trade secrets [is] a priority.” Source document here; 5,700 words, reading time 15-25 minutes.

    3. Finally, Malcolm Potts editorializes in The Scientist (740 words; reading time 2-3 minutes) in favor of disclosure of the costs of scientific investigation: “The more scientists know about what it costs for others to achieve their goals, the more likely they will better manage their own work in the future.” I heartily endorse this idea from a project-management standpoint. Searching through the PMBOK Guide, I find that historical information cuts quite a swath in PM: it is an input to project plan development, project initiation, scope definition, activity definition, activity duration estimating (where it is a guide to expert judgment), resource planning, cost estimating (where it determines the accuracy of parametric modeling), risk identification (where it may be used to build checklists), and quantitative risk analysis.
      Indeed, a public database of historical triple constraint information about scientific projects — what did you do, how long did it take, how much did it cost — could prove at least as valuable as the OECD’s notion of open access to the findings of those projects.
      Potts concludes with this sobering self-referential note:
      This article took some time to think about and perhaps half a day to write. Taking into account heating, lighting, the text processor, and my time and fringe benefits, it may have cost $500 to $1,000 to produce. I don’t like my own calculation, because as someone working in international health, I need to remind myself that two billion people on this planet each live on less than $1,000 a year.

    Notice that Potts’ rate works out to around $1/word. I’m cheap by comparison. ;)

     

    One Response to “The Economics of Science”

    1. Lex Says:

      On a related front, the politics of science is pretty darn interesting, too. This review of a book on scientists and government up to 1960 may be worth a look.