--How many of those predictions were based on the erroneous belief that communist states were also valiantly leading the charge of progress? We now know that half the world essentially squandered five decades of human progress.

This seems like an interesting idea but it exaggerates things. First of all, I think that everyone thought that there was a large amount of overlap between research being done in the both the US and the USSR (look at the space programs for example). Second, the USSR did do a lot of very good research on their own (look for example how many Nobel and Fields medal they won as a very rough metric).

To what extent were they underestimating the technical challenges involved?

This seems to be the biggest issue. There seems to have been a massive underestimate of just how tough space travel and associated technologies are. People expected the expense to go down at a far faster rate than it did. On the other hand, some technologies that almost no one saw coming, such as personal computers and the internet have if anything become extremely ubiquitous.

How many misplaced ideas about society were there? Many ideas, like interplanetary colonization, seemed to spring from a belief that people would want to play Daniel Boone in space suits.

I think that this belief isn't misplaced. The cost and tech issues seem to be more relevant. Being Daniel Boone in space is really expensive.

How much of it was driven by the now commonly understood ability of media to twist scientific findings?

Answering this is probably going to be difficult. But I think that even the people who were scientists were extremely optimistic. I don't have the precise year but in I think either the late 1960s or early 1970s, Asimov wrote an essay for the World Book Encyclopedia in which he laid out what he thought was going to happen. There would be colonies on Mars and other planets, and humans engaging in missions to the upper atmosphere of Venus, and about nowish we were supposed to start preparing a generation ship. The optimism was not the fault of the media simply twisting the science.

So, overall, I think for many of these technologies the main issues were not realizing how tough they were along with general unjustified optimism.

This seems like an interesting idea but it exaggerates things. First of all, I think that everyone thought that there was a large amount of overlap between research being done in the both the US and the USSR (look at the space programs for example). Second, the USSR did do a lot of very good research on their own (look for example how many Nobel and Fields medal they won as a very rough metric).

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 Franc... (read more)

Peter Thiel warns of upcoming (and current) stagnation

by SilasBarta 1 min read4th Oct 2011121 comments

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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

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