Black swans of startups and science

The result, he suggests, is that science is becoming less a “bottom-up” enterprise of free-wheeling exploration — energized by the kind of thinking that led Einstein to relativity — and more a “top-down” process strongly constrained by social conformity, with scientific funding following along fashionable lines. The publish-or-perish ethic, in particular, strongly rewards those scientists doing more or less routine technical work in established fields, and punishes more risky work exploring unproven ideas that may take a considerable period of time to reach maturity. This is especially damaging given the disproportionate benefits that come from the most important discoveries, which seem to be inherently unpredictable in both timing and nature. As Taleb argues persuasively in The Black Swan, any sensible long-term strategy in a world dominated by extreme and unpredictable events has to accept, and even embrace, that unpredictability. He illustrates the idea in the financial context. People investing in venture-capital start-ups, for example, have to expect continual losses in the short term, and bank on the fact that they will ultimately make up for those losses by hitting on a few really big winners in the long run.

Source: In search of the black swans

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