Helping builders in the metascience/progress studies space discover exciting, new ways forward.

For years, my hobby was reading about the lives of a great era of scientists, innovators, and builders (from about 1880-1965). Eventually, since I have always done economics-adjacent work, I began to immerse in the economics of innovation literature to understand some of the dynamics I was reading about. Most of the data in the literature is from around 1970 and onward. Some of it really helped explain what I was seeing in the older work; some of it clearly demonstrated that the era or two I was reading about was MUCH different than the one represented in most of the data.

I started writing this newsletter to better explore that dynamic. Because, if I was starting a new science org, I’d most heavily utilize the economics of innovation literature, but I’d also want to understand the extreme limitations of it. The limitations are mainly a function of the later 1900s ushering in the more modern (and bureaucratic) era of the scientific ecosystem that we know today. And that system has proven to help us do a lot of things well — for example, science is much more lavishly funded now, but it also changed a lot of things. The types of visions many new science funders describe are scrappy, moonshot-driven, decentralized, and weird. And if you’re looking for detailed examples of that, the mid-1900s is a much richer source of evidence than the back half of the 20th century.

But both sources of evidence should be heavily drawn upon. And, when you do that, you can uncover enlightening ways forward for new science initiatives.

So please subscribe to learn all about what the 1880-1965-ish history of innovation can teach us about how to build an exciting new science organization in the present day. (I think) This Substack is the perfect accompaniment to Matt Clancy’s New Things Under the Sun which does a world-class job of walking readers through what we do and don’t know about innovation using the economics of innovation literature.


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Historical analyses for those building a new generation of research orgs


Eric Gilliam

I dive into the history of early 1900s innovation to understand how we can build better science and engineering institutions today.