48 Comments

If there's a sociology science house, I'm in. I'm making a plan to escape from academia even as we speak. I had the same soul-crushing experience trying to write journal articles in my discipline, which is why all my "scholarly work" is public sociology--books and articles about social science written for a general audience.

I can't tell you how affirming it is to read someone else smart and interesting express the things about this life and this job I've felt for so long.

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I remember an earlier post where you hinted at this idea, but it is great to see if fleshed out a bit more. I do think there are paths to find the $15 million in funding to launch the first Science House. I didn't read your post as a pitch to try and actually get this investment, but I think there are viable avenues to achieve this goal and so I'll take the liberty of offering some unsolicited advice. You can go the eccentric billionaire path--basically you just need to befriend and convince one ultra wealthy person that they should make this their version of the Thiel Fellowship. I don't know any eccentric billionaires, so I can't help you here.

You could also pursue philanthropic funding more generally. Here I have enough experience to, hopefully, offer some useful advice. This comes with its own set of suboptimal processes, some as frustrating as the academic grant process you outlined. But I will say that I am currently employed thanks to philanthropic funding on a project of far less import than potentially fostering the next paradigm for scientific advancement and we just got roughly half of the funding that you'd need for your science house for a project that will last for 3-4 years. I would also point out that the Center for Effective Altruism spent £15 million to buy an abbey last year, so that's one suggestion that this is possible. I am honestly and earnestly offering assistance if you are looking for ways to test your concept.

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I know this sounds like I’m making this up but honest-to-flying-spaghetti-monster it’s true: I would love to build a History House (combined with animal rescue). https://goodspot.substack.com/

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Sep 12Liked by Adam Mastroianni

If I ever win the Powerball, you've got $15M.

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100% on VIBE

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Sep 12Liked by Adam Mastroianni

I clicked on your Dan Gilbert link and noticed that he's the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard. I thought you might enjoy this 1969 notebook entry from a previous sitter in that chair:

"Last evening a man, calling from Oregon, asked me if my name was really Edgar Pierce. He had read my name and title on the cover of Walden Two—"B. F. Skinner is Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology"—with a comma after "Pierce."

Great essay, by the way! Much in the spirit of Walden Two.

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Sep 12Liked by Adam Mastroianni

This is sort of what happened with Bell Labs and Bell-Northern Research back in the day... It was a nurturing environment for thought and experiment. A ton of work came out of those immersion tanks filled with the sharpest scientific minds.

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Sep 12Liked by Adam Mastroianni

First, I love your idea of Science Houses!

The other thing is that, although I’m not a scientist, not involved with academia beyond being a university student, and just a random business school student at that, I’ve had basically that exact same idea on my mind for a while (from reading Experimental History too much, certainly). That’s really weird, since it totally doesn’t fit my background, and is something that probably no one will build anyway. And I’m like, now that we’re talking about daydreaming in real life, should I get into science to get to work on that sort of projects? But the whole point of this piece is that no one’s gonna do it anyway? And it’s not like being weirdly obsessed with that idea means I can make any useful contributions to making it happen? Daydreaming aside, why would I actually want to do that anyway?

I guess it just feels weird to see that my crazy daydreams are similar to other people’s, even though yours definitely inspired mine, so it’s not even that surprising.

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Brb, finding you grant funding.

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Sep 12Liked by Adam Mastroianni

Interesting piece Adam! 👏

Everybody knows the "Big Ship PhD" has its flaws. Creating an alternative process/structure that turns out measurably "better" science/scientists is no easy task. Many have tried, kind of like all the idealistic alternative communities that do well for a while and then fade away.

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Nice, sign me up for a science house!

By the way, you corrected 'archipelago' to 'flee' rather than 'fleet' when you made your edit :)

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Sep 12Liked by Adam Mastroianni

This is an amazing idea, and would be a refreshing change from the massive bureaucratic nonsense and closed-shop attitude that has permeated academia world-wide.

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Yeah.

Then, the director gets bored and moves on, dies or something and there needs to be a process to replace them. Either that or you close up shop and start over. Also, there's the possibility of a huge success and bam - try riding that wave.

I love it.

I build hardware, what's the hardware version, add a machine shop in the basement, or a lithography machine, or 3-D printers?

I think you need an umbrella organization to manage the successes. How do you keep that lightweight?

It's cool, but I have questions.

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"Johns Hopkins, for instance, levies a 63.75% tax on the federal funds that its researchers bring in. So for every dollar you pay a Johns Hopkins professor, you have to pay Johns Hopkins University an extra 63.75 cents."

Doesn't this actually work out so that for every 1 dollar you want to give to a professor, you pay and extra 175.86 cents? Assuming the 63.75% tax is correct.

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I agree wholeheartedly with the idea, but you are getting the numbers wrong. I work in a research nonprofit of 250 people, and we still have around the same indirect costs you cite (no, we don't have a yacht). We pay everything with grants and contracts, and the money needs to cover expenses like accounting, contracts, management, etc. A Science House would need to pay those costs; even with unrestricted funds you need to get things formalized, right? And the smaller the house, the higher the % of indirect costs.

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As I was reading the description of what a Science House is (younger bods come in to replace older bods, stay for a few years, don't end with a job in academia) - all I could think of was a university! Haha, appreciate the idea though, its like a start up university.

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