Scientific Freedom

Innovation comes by varied incentives: intellectual curiosity and economic incentive

Tuesday December 12, 2023


Max Plank, GPT 4

“Scientific Freedom”

TL;DR: A scientist isn’t a title, but a philosophy

Scientists are hampered by the peer review process. The notion that some tolerate the process so they can get their grants approved and get tenure, and others eventually accept the process because that’s how they got tenure, is a sad outcome of human incentives.

Interestingly, inventions have always happened regardless of peer review. Edison didn’t need someone to review his invention to tell him whether or not it’s a valid invention. Either the light bulb illuminates or it doesn’t.

Yet that’s exactly how things go now. So what’s the result?

People write to please the peer reviewer. Social conformity. Group think.

People are incentivized to game the system: write a grant that gets them funding so they can get tenure and support their families.

The incentive to be innovative is small, though intellectual curiosity powers through for some. The incentive to stay in line and do what’s necessary to get approved is strong.

We’ve also learned as a consequence of 2020-2022 that a lot of scientists can indeed be wrong. Today science is becoming less about discovering truth and more about people owning their truth…people love their politics.

What makes a scientist anyway? Am I a scientist because I’m a data scientist? Because I studied statistics? I’ve never published an academic article in a journal, so is that the threshold?

I think someone who pursues truth through repeatable experimentation is a scientist. Back in Plato’s day they were just called philosophers.

Today’s Incentives

There’s a reason really smart people now work at Apple to invent the iPhone, Facebook to work on LLMs, and SpaceX to build rockets. The freedom they feel at these companies is empowering. Per “Scientific Freedom”, if the trends continue then people like Max Plank would never have been able to get the funding needed to invent what he did. Where’s the money? Social media. Advertising. And now, AI.

People will always be inventive. But it’s by removing the social barriers that they become so.


Bryan lives somewhere at the intersection of faith, fatherhood, and futurism and writes about tech, books, Christianity, gratitude, and whatever’s on his mind. If you liked reading, perhaps you’ll also like subscribing: