A quick and dirty estimation: the US shows 331 Nobel Prizes, France shows 58, Germany shows 102; Russia shows 27. Russia is also notably larger than either France or Germany, which it trails badly, and would have been the great majority of people in the Soviet Union

Ok. Wow. I knew there was a discrepancy. I didn't realize that the differences were that massive, That's um... wow. Phrased that way I now have to wonder how more people didn't during the Cold War realize how much the USSR was being hobbled by its own problems. This undermines my claim quite a lot.

The locus here is not "being" but "playing"; "playing Daniel Boone in space" conveys the notion of an unserious, wasteful endeavor.

This still seems to be a function of the resource level involved and how much technology is required. If playing Daniel Boone in space took only a few hundred thousand dollars I suspect that a lot of people would jump at it.

As to Asimov, yes that's a valid point. He was writing far outside his field. He's not however the only example of this, merely the most prominent. Sagan was also in that hybrid zone of science and media but a bit closer (having actually worked on probes and aerospace ideas including a military proposal to detonate a nuke on the moon) and he made similar comments.But, you make a good point. It seems that the rank and file engineers were not nearly as optimistic. So the media point seems stronger than I stated.

Ok. Wow. I knew there was a discrepancy. I didn't realize that the differences were that massive, That's um... wow. Phrased that way I now have to wonder how more people didn't during the Cold War realize how much the USSR was being hobbled by its own problems.

Do we have reason to think the Nobel process was really non-political enough to take those numbers at face value?

2PhilGoetz9yWhen Asimov wrote a book on anything, be it Shakespeare, the Bible, or physics, I expect him to have more of substance to say than most experts in the field. He wrote a series of books on physics that are still used today, and he was a biochemist.
0Hyena9yI think I agree with you about Daniel Boone in space, that if the (personal) resource costs were more tolerable we'd start seeing it. What I'm missing originally is the number of people willing to pay even millions of dollars to simply skim the surface of our atmosphere, a healthy portion of which don't seem primarily motivated by status. So yes, you're coorect that we'd probably have had a lunar colony if it were feasible to deliver people at fairly low cost; in fact, if the cost is low enough, I can see this as highly likely both for Daniel Boones and high risk research. It would not so much matter if an accident released a virus into the lunar vacuum or obliterated several square miles of lunar surface, but we might have found it useful to station researchers or at least maintenance there to carry this out without communications lag or other issues.

Peter Thiel warns of upcoming (and current) stagnation

by SilasBarta 1 min read4th Oct 2011121 comments


SIAI benefactor and VC Peter Thiel has an excellent article at National Review about the stagnating progress of science and technology, which he attributes to poorly-grounded political opposition, widespread scientific illiteracy, and overspecialized, insular scientific fields.  He warns that this stagnation will undermine the growth that past policies have relied on.

Noteworthy excerpts (bold added by me):

In relation to concerns expressed here about evaluating scientific field soundness:

When any given field takes half a lifetime of study to master, who can compare and contrast and properly weight the rate of progress in nanotechnology and cryptography and superstring theory and 610 other disciplines? Indeed, how do we even know whether the so-called scientists are not just lawmakers and politicians in disguise, as some conservatives suspect in fields as disparate as climate change, evolutionary biology, and embryonic-stem-cell research, and as I have come to suspect in almost all fields? [!!! -- SB]

Grave indictors:

Looking forward, we see far fewer blockbuster drugs in the pipeline — perhaps because of the intransigence of the FDA, perhaps because of the fecklessness of today’s biological scientists, and perhaps because of the incredible complexity of human biology. In the next three years, the large pharmaceutical companies will lose approximately one-third of their current revenue stream as patents expire, so, in a perverse yet understandable response, they have begun the wholesale liquidation of the research departments that have borne so little fruit in the last decade and a half. [...]

The single most important economic development in recent times has been the broad stagnation of real wages and incomes since 1973, the year when oil prices quadrupled. To a first approximation, the progress in computers and the failure in energy appear to have roughly canceled each other out. Like Alice in the Red Queen’s race, we (and our computers) have been forced to run faster and faster to stay in the same place.

Taken at face value, the economic numbers suggest that the notion of breathtaking and across-the-board progress is far from the mark. If one believes the economic data, then one must reject the optimism of the scientific establishment. Indeed, if one shares the widely held view that the U.S. government may have understated the true rate of inflation — perhaps by ignoring the runaway inflation in government itself, notably in education and health care (where much higher spending has yielded no improvement in the former and only modest improvement in the latter) — then one may be inclined to take gold prices seriously and conclude that real incomes have fared even worse than the official data indicate. [...]

College graduates did better, and high-school graduates did worse. But both became worse off in the years after 2000, especially when one includes the rapidly escalating costs of college.[...]

The current crisis of housing and financial leverage contains many hidden links to broader questions concerning long-term progress in science and technology. On one hand, the lack of easy progress makes leverage more dangerous, because when something goes wrong, macroeconomic growth cannot offer a salve; time will not cure liquidity or solvency problems in a world where little grows or improves with time.

HT: MarginalRevolution