peter thiel competition

Peter Thiel – The Portal with Eric Weinstein

First, what’s a portal? Think: A “portal” into a different way of looking at the world.

Key Takeaways

  • Innovation in science and technology is stagnating, specifically within the world of atoms
    • This quote from Eric sums it up nicely – “Go into a room and subtract off all the screens. How do you then know you’re not in 1973?”
    • As fields have become more specialized, it’s gotten easier for experts to lie and exaggerate about the progress of their respective industries
  • Universities are costing more and more every year, but a good degree is still largely worth it
  • Because of slowed progress in the realm of university science & technology research, university presidents are forced to lie about the state of affairs (for a variety of reasons)
    • “The bigger the student debt gets, you can sort of think, ‘What does the $1.6 trillion in student debt pay for?’ In a sense, it pays for $1.6 trillion worth of lies about how great the system gets.”
  • Peter’s solution to the student debt crisis:
    • He’d make college debt dischargeable in bankruptcy (currently it’s nondischargeable) AND if people went bankrupt, part of the debt would have to be paid for by the university
  • The automation story has been oversold
    • “In the last 40-50 years, things have been slow, but we’ve been told things are about to accelerate like crazy. That may be true and I hope it’s true. But if one was simply extrapolating from the last 40-50 years, perhaps the default is that we should be more worried about the lack of automation than excess automation.”
  • [PORTAL] 
    • Preference falsification theory states people will broadly lie about their true preferences (thus keeping a public set of preference and a private set of preferences)
    • “One of the things about preference falsification is that when you start to believe it’s a robust phenomenon and when you see that all the economic models assume your private and public preferences are the same… you start to see the world VERY differently” – Eric
      • This is one of the PORTALS into an alternate way of seeing the universe so as not to get surprised by revolutions
  • “I always come back to thinking the problem of political correctness is our biggest political problem. We live in a world where people are uncomfortable saying what they think.”
    • Political correctness = the pressure on people to say things they don’t actually believe
  • “In a democracy, if 51% of people believe something, it’s probably right. If 70-80% of people believe something, it’s almost more certainly right. But if 99.99% of people believe something, at some point you shifted from democratic truth to North Korean insanity.”
  • “I secretly suspect, to be blunt about it, and this is kind of horrible, that a lot of Silicon Valley is extremely bigoted and misogynistic and it can’t actually make eye contact with the fact that it secretly thinks women aren’t as good programmers.” – Eric
  • [PORTAL]
    • Rene Girard‘s mimetic theory states that humans are mimetic creatures and tend to copy the desires of those around us
      • (This is why Peter advises to avoid competition in the business realm – when you’re competing with people, you’re competing over desires you most likely copied from them)

Books Mentioned

  • To read more about how Peter Thiel took down Gawker Media, check out the wonderful Ryan Holiday book – Conspiracy
  • To learn more about Rene Girard’s Mimetic Theory, check out Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World
    • “It’s a portal onto the past, onto human origins, our history. It’s a portal onto the present and the interpersonal dynamics of psychology. It’s a portal onto the future in terms of  whether or not we’re going to let these mimetic desires run amok and lead us to apocalyptic violence…”
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Intro

  • This is Eric’s brand new podcast
  • Peter Thiel (@peterthiel) is a famed Silicon Valley venture capitalist, philanthropist, the co-founder of Paypal and Palantir Technologies, as well as the founder of Thiel Capital
    • He’s also the author of the highly recommended Zero to One
  • Eric Weinstein (T:@EricRWeinstein and IG:@ericrweinstein) is the Managing Director at Thiel Capital (so Peter’s his boss)

Let’s Set the Stage – Innovation in Science and Technology Has Slowed

  • “It feels like we’re the outliers… We’re among the few people who reach the same conclusions about the relative stagnation in science and technology; the ways in which this is deranging our culture, our politics, and our society; and how we need to find some bold ways out through a portal to a different world” – Eric
    • “It’s striking how out of sync [these insights] feel with so much of our society, even in 2019” – Peter
    • Eric adds – too much time is being spent on the debate of whether or there has in fact a stagnation in science/tech innovation – THERE HAS

The Innovation Stagnation Lies Within the World of Atoms

  • “I date this era of stagnation and slowed progress all the way back to the 1970s”
    • This stagnation is most present within the “world of atoms”
    • Perhaps there’s an exception in the world of bits, software, and internet (essentially all of Silicon Valley)
      • “But there are questions even within these fields. The iPhone is now looking the same as it did 7-8 years ago.”
      • “I’m optimistic… I think we could do better. We might not be able to advance on all fronts in every direction, but I think there’s more space on the frontier than just in the world of bits.”
    • “We live in a world where we’re working on the Stark Trek computer in Silicon Valley but we don’t have anything else from Stark Trek – we don’t have the warp drive, we don’t have the transporter, and we can’t re-engineer matter…. How good is a society where you have a well-functioning Star Trek computer but nothing else from Star Trek?”
  • ‘I’ve been talking about the tech stagnation problem for the better part of a decade. In 2008, 2009, and 2010 this was still a fringe view… But even in Silicon Valley there’s lot of people who have come around to it.”

What’s the cause of this stagnation?

  • “Perhaps we’ve exhausted one orchard of low-hanging fruit [of tech innovation] and haven’t gotten to the next” – Eric
  • Peter thinks it’s a problem of both nature and culture:
    • Perhaps we simply ran out of useful ideas to discover in nature
    • In regards to culture – perhaps there was a lot to be discovered that could be made useful, but the culture had gotten deranged

Why is it hard to convince people innovation has slowed?

  • Eric has a great point – “Go into a room and subtract off all the screens. How do you then know you’re not in 1973?”
  • “In late modernity there’s simply too much knowledge for any individual human to understand all of it.”
    • This results in hyper-specialization and hyper-expertise and further… people who only police themselves (as a side effect – this makes it much harder to get a handle on the status of innovation as a whole)
      • As it’s gotten harder to evaluate what’s going on, it’s gotten easier for people to lie and exaggerate about the progress of their respective industries
  • It’s also a little difficult to see, here’s why:
    • There’s been a series of up and downs – the 70s were down, the 80s and 90s were down, and the 2000s were up
      • (which in total = a net flat)
    • But instead, if the growth in the 1970s had just flat lined, the stagnation would be much easier to see

When will the stagnation of science and technology innovation come to an end?

  • Peter estimates within the next 5-20 years

Physics and the Slowing Progress of Biology 

  • Physics gave us a whole lot: Atomic devices, nuclear power, the semiconductor, the world wide web, molecular biology, and the communication revolution
    • “You could make the argument that physics has been really underrated in powering the world economy” – Eric
    • In physics, there was a clear translation of the hard science to real-world applications
      • But this translation has been absent in areas like genetics – we’ve had very little to show in the realm of gene therapy for all of our newfound biology knowledge
  • Peter’s take:
    • “I continue to think we could be making a lot more progress in biology”
      • Perhaps biology is more complicated than physics
      • OR – perhaps biology attracts people who are less intelligent in the realm of mathematics/science compared to physics

The Problem With Universities

  • The great scientists of our time were polymaths (like Richard Feynman) – they knew a lot about many different subjects
    • This has since changed – disciplines have gotten more rigid and people have gotten more specialized
      • It’s actually become taboo to have other interests besides your respective field in the university/research system
  • In a way: “There’s no level you can rise to in the field that allows you to question the assumptions of that field” – Eric
    • This makes it hard to then talk about the respective field’s problem of stagnation
      • “In a healthy system, you can have wild dissent and it’s not threatening because everyone knows the system is healthy. But in an unhealthy system, the dissent becomes much more dangerous.” – Peter
    • So: “The disruptive intellectual has no place left inside this system” – Eric
  • University presidents should be able to speak freely about the progress of university research (without having to lie)
    • They’re so focused on convincing alumni to continue donating money that they’re forced to keep the “everything is great in the research department” narrative going (even though it’s far from true)

The Student Debt Crisis

  • Universities are costing more and more every year, but a good degree is still largely worth it
    • “If you get into an elite university, it probably still makes sense to go… but it probably wouldn’t make sense to go to a [university ranked] #100” – Peter
      • Eric agrees
    • In 2000, college debt in the U.S. totaled $300 billion
      • It’s now ~$1.7 trillion
  • “The bigger the student debt gets, you can sort of think, ‘What does the $1.6 trillion in student debt pay for?’ In a sense, it pays for $1.6 trillion worth of lies about how great the system gets.”
    • So the larger the debt rises, the crazier the system gets, but also the more lies you have to tell
  • In 2005, student debt became non-discharagble in bankruptcy
    • If you don’t pay off your student loans by the time you’re 65, the government will garner your social security wages
  • “It’s always dangerous to be burdened with too much debt. It limits your freedom of action and it seems especially pernicious to do this early in your career”
    • If you’re $100k in debt right out of college, you’ll likely be severely demotivated and pushed into high-paying, uncreative professions that are “less good at moving our whole society forward”
  • Check out the Seeking – a company that introduces older men/women with money to younger men/women with a need for cash in exchange for dating/companionship
    • Eric recalls reading an article which claimed many students were using this service to relieve their debt burden
    • “It’s almost as if the baby boomers, by creating this system, are subjecting their own children to these things by pushing them towards a gray area that’s a few clicks away from honest prostitution” – Eric

Peter’s Solution to the Student Debt Crisis

  • He’d make college debt dischargeable in bankruptcy (it;s currently nondischargeable) AND if people went bankrupt, part of the debt would have to be paid for by the university
  • What does Peter think about the idea of a college equivalency degree (CED)?
    • What’s a CED? – It’d be something which proves you have an equivalent level (or fraction) of knowledge compared to someone who holds a graduating degree
    • Peter loves it
  • Peter launched The Theil Fellowship a while back
    • It’s a program that pays people who’ve been admitted to prestigious colleges to forgo attending and instead work on their dream project
      • They don’t get the degree, but they still get to keep the fact that they’ve been accepted to a prestigious school
  • Eric has an idea – perhaps allow students to skip undergrad and instead go straight to a masters/Ph.D.
    • Peter is meh – “I think the B.A. is not as valuable as it looks. I also think the Ph.D. is not as valuable as it looks.”
      • There’d probably be a ton of unintended consequences – students gather a lot of valuable life skills in undergrad (like how to interact with the opposite sex)

The Automation Story Has Been Oversold

  • “If we have runaway automation and we’re building robots that are smarter than humans…. then we probably have to have a serious conversation about universal basic income”
    • BUT – “I don’t see the automation happening… at all.”
      • “The automation story has been oversold”
      • Most jobs in the 21st century are service sector jobs that are not easily automatable (yoga instructors, teachers, waiters, etc.)
        • So even if automation is increasing in areas like manufacturing and agricultural – they’re becoming a smaller and smaller part of the economy
      • “In the last 40-50 years, things have been slow and we’ve been told things are about to accelerate like crazy. That may be true and I hope it’s true. But if one was simply extrapolating from the last 40-50 years, perhaps the default is that we should be more worried about the lack of automation than excess automation.”
    • IF automation did pick up and productivity grew – “If we can get the GDP growth back to 3% per year on an annual basis, there would be a lot more room for various social programs… there would be a LOT of things we could do”
      • “But I’d be very uncomfortable starting with social programs [like universal basic income] without the growth first”
  • The state of affairs: Unemployment is currently ~3.6% in the U.S. (which is very low)

The Tie Between Growth and Violence

  • Eric says of Peter – “Ever since I’ve known you, your focus has been a reduction of violence across a great number of different topics at levels I don’t think have leaked out into the public’s understanding of you and what causes you to make the choices you make”
  • Without growth, societies stop functioning
    • As long as the pie is growing, you can give something to everybody, but when it stops – it becomes a zero-sum dynamic
    • “I suspect that if we’re in for a period of a lack of growth, I don’t think our kind of government can work”
      • This may result in:
        • Violence by the state against citizens
        • More zero-sum wars globally
      • “A world without growth will be a much more violent or deformed world”
  • “People generally don’t think of the problem of violence quite as central as I think it is”
    • Violence is a deep problem on a human level – there’s a ton of room for conflict between and within human societies
    • “The softer biases that people have in the enlightenment world that humans are by nature good and peaceful – that’s not the norm”

PORTAL #1 – Understanding Preference Falsification 

  • Both Eric and Peter believed the odds that Trump would get elected president were much higher than the general public thought
    • This has to do with the theory of preference falsification:
      • This theory states people will broadly lie about their true preferences (thus keeping a public set of preference and a private set of preferences)
        • In our culture, every 4 years these private preferences are revealed through an election
      • “One of the things about preference falsification is that when you start to believe it’s a robust phenomenon and when you see that all the economic models assume your private and public preferences are the same… you start to see the world VERY differently” – Eric
        • This is one of the PORTALS into an alternate way of seeing the universe so as not to get surprised by revolutions
    • Eric voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primaries but says – “I felt that both you and I had realized the Clinton neoliberal story was a slow motion one-way ticket to disaster”

Political Correctness

  • “I always come back to thinking the problem of political correctness is our biggest political problem. We live in a world where people are uncomfortable saying what they think.”
    • Political correctness = the pressure on people to say things they don’t actually believe
    • Eric started the intellectual dark web in part to create a coalition of people who are willing to speak out in public and take risks for the larger majority
  • There’s a soft tipping point where the wisdom of crowds shifts to into something that’s “softly totalitarian”
    • There’s 2 ways to have a one-party state:
      • If everyone happens to believe X
      • If 85% of people believe X and the other 15% pretend to
    • “In a democracy, if 51% of people believe something, it’s probably right. If 70-80% of people believe something, it’s almost more certainly right. But if 99.99% of people believe something, at some point you shifted from democratic truth to North Korean insanity.”
  • “I secretly suspect, to be blunt about it, and this is kind of horrible, that a lot of Silicon Valley is extremely bigoted and misogynistic and it can’t actually make eye contact with the fact that it secretly thinks women aren’t as good programmers.” – Eric
  • “When we can’t talk about things, we can’t solve them” – Peter

A Valuable Lesson Eric Learned From Peter

  • One thing Eric learned from Peter – “It’s one thing to have a contrarian position, it’s another thing to hold it when the whole world starts hating on you” – how so?
    • Specifically related to Peter’s support of Trump from the beginning
    • And his battle to take down Gawker Media, which you can read about in the wonderful Ryan Holiday book – Conspiracy

PORTAL #2 – Girard’s Mimetic Theory

  • Another theory that’s a portal into a different way of looking at the world – Rene Girard‘s Theory
    • What’s the underlying principle of his theory? – Humans are deeply mimetic and tend to imitate others
      • The most important part to know about – our desires are often copied from other people
        • this is why Peter advises to avoid competition in the business realm – when you’re competing with people, you’re competing over desires you most likely copied from them
    • After discovering this theory as an undergrad at Stanford, Peter really began to question many areas of his life. He found himself asking:
      • “Why am I at Stanford?”
      • “Why does this matter so much?”
      • “Why am I doing all the things I’m doing?”
  • To learn more about Rene Girard’s Mimetic Theory, check out Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World
    • “It’s a portal onto the past, onto human origins, and onto our history. It’t a portal onto the present and the interpersonal dynamics of psychology. It’s a portal onto the future in terms of whether or not we’re going to let these mimetic desires run amok and lead us to apocalyptic violence…”

Innovations in Science and Tech Should Be the Result of Non-violent Means

  • An honest account of scientific progress reveals that advanced weapons were mostly developed for the pursuit of violence
    • Ex. – Developing rockets to deliver atom bombs
  • “One of the challenges, and we should not understate how big it is, at resetting science and tech in the 21st century is how do we tell a story that motivates sacrifice, hard work, and deterred gratification for the future that’s not intrinsically violent.”
  • Sure people are scared where runaway AI or biotech weapons might lead humanity, but we should also be considering how a science/tech stagnation might possibly lead us to very negative situations
    • “I’m more scared of the world where nothing happens. The stagnation world goes straight to apocalypse. I’m much more scared of that.”

Additional Notes

  • “Let’s not dance around it, it feels like, almost universally, all of our institutions are now pathological” – Eric
    • “Or sociopathic” – Peter
    • “You can try to be honest and say the expectations are dialed down or you can continue to say everything’s great, and somehow it’s been very hard to have the honest reset” – Peter
  • “It feels to me that almost all of out institutions are carbon copies of each other at different levels of quality and that there are only a tiny number of really innovative intuitions” – Eric
    • “The diversity of institutions is unbelievably low”
  • Check out Peter’s appearance on Dave Rubin’s podcast
  • Peter was born in Germany
    • His family moved to Africa when he was 1
    • Comparing Germany and California – “California is optimistic but desperate. Germany is pessimistic but comfortable.”
  • Looking forward to the 2020 U.S. election
    • “I think the Democrats can win in 2020, but they have to have more of an agenda than just telling the Republicans to hurry up and die’

3 thoughts on “Peter Thiel – The Portal with Eric Weinstein

  1. I have interacted with Peter’s organization as an entrepreneur and I have quite a bit to say in response to the podcast. I’ll start by saying that like all billionaires Peter lives in a bubble that is insulating. His organization(s) have people in them, that as you get away from Peter, are mostly self-serving and only interested in their own personal goals. Dealing with the guy the Peter directly tapped was good. Dealing with the relative drones that get pulled in was, in a word, abysmal. One just dodged all meetings because he wanted funding for his stuff. The other listened, was obviously lost, and said that he had no idea how to evaluate me. And that was that. So his organization(s) suffer from the same sort of issues that you were discussing in the podcast.

    My education
    You could, arguably, call me a CED degree of sorts. I went to conventional college and was tied for top of my class as an undergrad. I dropped out to work and support my wife through med school. I completed my degree 10 years later in a non-residential program in Computer Science. By that time, it was anticlimactic. The month before I got the degree, I was the guy in the room with all these professors from Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, and elsewhere who was saying what was real in industrial automation. I had run the first successful plantwide factory automation project in the world in Wayne Michigan at a Ford plant working for Integrated Automation. I had a career in various startups including my own, and a consulting company. But, I had that BSCS. And later, that non-residential experience studying on my own and writing papers was excellent prep for grad school.

    In the 2000’s after running an office in Central Asia for 5 years, I went to grad school at UC Davis, getting recommendations from folks at DTRA. I had written an epidemic model that showed some disquieting things. There I taught classes, which PhD students do and saw the problems directly. I wrote up a legislation guideline to reform of the University patent system and took it to Capitol Hill. I wrote up a proposal for reform of academia that I’ll get to. I basically showed that when I entered I was functioning at a PhD level, although there was a bit of learning, mostly about the medieval grad school system. The work of my thesis was done my 1st year, and 4 papers published in my 1st year. I graduated in under 3 years. But in the process, along with getting an award my first year for my research, and tying for top of my class academically, I also ran afoul of dishonest professors. I saw the underside of academia quite clearly.

    What’s wrong with academia?
    Peter put his finger on a problem. I think I saw that problem more clearly and it has multiple facets.
    A switch to rote learning.
    The most basic issue is “no child left behind” which has installed a rote-learning system across this nation. The generation coming in doesn’t learn thought. What they believe is thinking is consulting authorities and regurgitation of facts. This is a very serious problem. Outside of a few places like coding, or perhaps biohacking (in rare cases) there isn’t much thinking going on out there. Instead, there is sharing of memes, and young people, the majority of whom can’t think their way out of a wet paper bag.

    Radical loss of arithmetic and math abilities.
    This began with the boomer generation who replaced slide rules with calculators. I am part of that and had my first Honeywell punch tape programming class when I was 12. My father went to MIT, and in his generation to be an engineer you had to be able to do arithmetic in your head to 3 decimal places, and estimate multiplication and division using logs. It’s not actually that hard, it just takes practice like times tables. They also memorized a few constants like diameter of the hydrogen atom and how to scale up from that to other atoms. So, when I called him at the age of 40 and mentioned a new silicon crystal memory, within 15 seconds he had calculated within less than one order of magnitude what the memory capacity of it was. In his generation, this was normal.
    That was the generation that built Apollo using slide rules and designed and built the SR-71 the same way, drawing by hand. Oh, you say, but we don’t need to do that now. We have computers.
    Yes, we do, but nobody I know can calculate that memory capacity as fast using any set of tools. All of that generation of engineers could, and did, figure out in their head, as someone was talking to them, whether or not what was being said was correct. Nobody does that now.
    Similarly, calculus, etc., is consigned to fire-hose classes that students pass somehow, then promptly forget. Most everyone says they don’t need it and will never use it. This is often true, but if it isn’t something in your repertoire, it’s definitely self-fulfulling. Sure, calculus has limitations and doesn’t always get you the right answer, but you should be able to talk about that and why.
    Yes, I use Maple for calculus now. It speeds things up a lot, and catches errors. But I also do it myself because the tools don’t always to the elegant thing.

    The cure is obvious. Teach and value log-math in the head. And spread out the teaching of calculus. Never compress a semester into a quarter. Make it interesting, and concentrate on fundamentals.

    Emphasis on piles of knowledge instead of fundamentals
    This is part of the rote-learning rot. With the right fundamentals, you can figure out most of the rest. But these days undergrads are expected to memorize stuff that is often esoteric and was discovered recently. There is so much of it that the fundamentals are drowned.

    Abysmal teaching and warfare between students and teachers
    So much teaching is terrible. There’s no other word for it. I counseled quite a few students to leave UC Davis and go to a 4-year or community college where professors are paid to teach well and mostly do. Students respond by cheating and, if they can’t get the test ahead of time by guile, getting old tests. Which means that professors compete with the students to create tests that can’t be cracked that way. The end result is ridiculous. I looked at one test I proctored and I would have failed it because it was so weird. It was all trick questions on esoterica. The top score was around 30%. This is not unique to UC Davis. It is a general problem at all of the top research universities.

    The internet CED idea is dead on arrival.
    Read, “The shadow scholar”. The shadow scholar documents that the internet has made it possible for people to get entire advanced degrees without doing any of it themselves. He says that the most common doctorates he did for people were in education and divinity. That tells you something is seriously wrong. It is also pathetically easy for any student at any level to get papers written overnight. Teachers can tell this by the student doing really well in out of class assignments and badly in class. But many don’t do anything about it. It’s too much work.
    So, we are creating a new class of complete fakes coming out of college. It’s bad enough in brick and mortar. For internet schools it’s appalling. They have no education whatsoever. These used to be called “diploma mills”. We need to deal with this.
    And study the history of University of Phoenix. Before I cited it, and the OEDB removed it, University of Phoenix had a 4% graduation rate. They were sued multiple times for doing things like signing up winos, paying them $20 each so they could grant them student loans and get them Pell grants that University of Phoenix swallowed up to make its billions. They say that they give opportunity to the downtrodden, but all they really did was fleece uncle Sam and step on them some more. You see, Wayne State has done great with that same demographic. But teaching is hard work, and not something that University of Phoenix was good at.
    So, Peter is right that it’s very hard to implement. University of South Africa did it long ago. It’s possible, but it’s not going to make a lot of profit.

    Student debt
    This one is easy. In California in 1970, each student in the UC system was paid for with over $20,000. If that amount had kept up with inflation, it would be $120,000 today. That’s why students are in debt. The tax revolt of the boomers did it. Restore taxation to the pre-Jarvis rules and you’ve knocked it. As an undergrad back when, tuition and books and living expenses could be paid with part-time work and a little sacrifice. As a grad student, I used money I’d built up as an entrepreneur. Even with stipends, it was costly. In today’s world, impossible to pay for with part-time work. Which is why there are students living homeless. They couch surf or pitch tents, or sleep under the pines or in the bushes.
    Students are in debt because the boomers are selfish piglets who don’t want to pay taxes. That’s all. It’s very simple.

    A cultural shift to selfishness over society
    This isn’t as simple as it sounds. You can see this in academia with professors who are 2nd, 3rd, 4th rate, or can’t even handle basic undergrad material. (I had one whose jaw dropped when confronted with basic geometry fundamental to his field. He started to argue until a post-doc chimed in. That guy was an editor of CELL. I kid you not.) But this kind of professor is good socially, and outcompetes the relatively naive naifs who are really good at one thing or another. I saw this type collaborating. They collaborated to steal the work of a post-doc and give it to another lab that had done nothing. This was rewarded with insider help getting the next grant to the professor who sold out his post-doc. Later, the professor who stole the work got an award from UC Davis for that work he had nothing to do with. I saw another professor collaborated to steal the work of his grad student. This was, apparently, so he could get help getting a new position in Singapore. Another professor rewarded a post-doc who manufactured data out of whole cloth with recommendations to get him a plum professorship with DoD.
    My estimate is that about 5% or more are bozos and professional thieves. What I’ve said isn’t the half of it.
    There is a total lack of interest in dealing with it. The University doesn’t want to because if they get a $1 million grant, the administration gets $500K on top of that. If they admit a problem with a grant, then they have to give the money back. Big problem. So, they don’t. The NIH’s office of research integrity doesn’t give a damn really. Only if a big cheese notices and takes action will anything happen.
    This leads to multiple papers published in places like Nature that shouldn’t get a passing grade at a high school science fair, and probably wouldn’t. [1,2] Pubpeer was established to attempt to create some accountability. But as you can see if you examine these two papers, the authors just ignore them. Pubpeer is “the little people”. Nobody cares.

    Influential bozos
    The most influential bozo in our time is Drexler and his ridiculous book, “Engines of Creation”. How Drexler got what is a chemistry and physics doctoral thesis approved by the computer science department of MIT is a story I am still curious about. It was obvious malarkey when I first found out about it. I was asked to be part of a new journal for nanotechnology. But it was utter balderdash so that publishing organization dropped the idea.
    But, people say to me, there’s all this stuff called nano now! Not really. There’s old wine in new bottles, that’s all. Buckyballs and buckytubes? I was a kid when those were discovered. It’s just a kind of structural carbon chemistry. Colloids? 1862. But cells! Those are nano! Yes. And that’s called biology. It’s biochemistry. It’s molecular biology.
    Drexler’s idea wasn’t even his. It was a sci-fi story I read from the 1960’s about gray goo taking over the world. But, we have an institute that people give money to! Wow. That’s all.

    Stagnation of science/technology – Bozos, Siloed academics, and industrial war on innovation
    Part of it is the bozo problem. Part of it is that academia has become a place where everything is siloed as Peter says. I have publications in 3 different basic areas. Defense, biology, and economics. Coming in as an outsider, I may see some of that more clearly. But, a big part of it I will also lay at the feet of industry.
    Specifically, there has been a huge distortion of reality curated by the oil, coal, and gas industry against nuclear power. The earliest case of this was Rockefeller money that pushed for the linear no threshold (LNT) model to be adopted, which model is just flat wrong. We still can’t get that limpet unstuck.
    The next big case was when Standard Oil gave $200,000 to David Brower to create Friends of the Earth which he used to take over the Sierra Club and turn it into an anti-nuclear forum. $200,000 is $1.2 million in today’s dollars.
    In recent time, the oil industry funded the cut-out that has provided Mark Z. Jacobson with all of the money he has gotten for his research. After that big paper that made the splash claiming 100% renewables? Tens of millions more ($70MM IIRC) dropped into that research funding cutout for Stanford. If you know that, Jacobson’s actions make perfect sense, including that lawsuit he filed against Clackas and PNAS over that slapdown refutation.
    This is how you get bullshit science, and fantasy nonsense running the world. Mark Z Jacobson’s claims are flat out hogwash. They cannot work. Anybody who can pay attention and do some arithmetic can see that. But those claims are accomplishing something near and dear to oil’s balance sheet. They will force the world to burn fossil fuel until the world figures that out. We have the Green New Deal. And it’s pathetic nonsense curated by fossil fuel.
    Please note here that only Democratic governors have shut down nuclear plants. And democratic governors are mostly at war with them. Because of that, there is zero drop in CO2 for all that solar and wind capacity we installed. Think that over.

    Because we have made war on nuclear power, we have high electrical energy costs that are spiraling up. Germany’s have already increased by 50%. Energy is very closely linked to value of currency, to GDP per capita, to every economic measure. If you remove the legal/regulatory cost, then nuclear is by far cheaper. If you leave those costs in, nuclear is competitive even now.

    You want your flying car Peter? Cheap energy. We can build such cars now.

    The problems of biotech – lack of understanding of this sector
    I work on gene therapies these days. I think I have a way to make real human transformations possible. This area has tons of stuff just dropped on the floor. We know it works to enhance life span, energy, fitness, even intelligence. But it gets dropped. Why?
    One big reason is that VC’s don’t understand it. It’s very rare to find a VC who has the slightest clue how to correctly invest in health care in general, (witness Theranos). It’s even rarer to find one that understands gene therapy and enhancements. I don’t even bother talking to most of them anymore. If I do, I first give them a presentation about how to do it right. So far, every time, this incenses them. How dare I! Who do I think I am?! They have the money. And I’m just an entrepreneur who needs their help. (Yes. An entrepreneur who guest lectured at the Leavey School in Santa Clara to the MBA students for 6 years. An entrepreneur with 5 papers in monetary economics. Yeah, I’m well qualified to lecture our sorry behind. You think just because you graduated with that MBA and got a job you suddenly know everything?)
    Seriously, guys. You are clueless. You think early revenue is a good sign. You think you can get a turnaround in 5 years on a product. You think ignoring the law and regulators is the way to go because, hey, that works for Uber and Lyft. You don’t know the first thing about this industry. So, over and over, you invest wrong, don’t make money and wonder why. And that is just fine with big pharma. They love that you can’t figure it out. Because it’s a motherlode of opportunity.
    For starters, in this industry, the decision maker doesn’t pay and rarely cares about price. The customer usually doesn’t pay, but might care about price, maybe. The payer can’t decide anything except maybe they won’t pay for your product. And the product life cycle is very long. VCs in healthcare literally cannot tell the difference most of the time between basic research and translation. And they they think translation is easy.
    Basic research is like Goddard making his rocket work. Translation is what SpaceX does to make the rocket really work. Translation is hard enough.

    References
    1. https://pubpeer.com/publications/28976568184E8C7FF4FB248F6B488C
    2. https://pubpeer.com/publications/121B6724F1A7697B16B2164421DBD8

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