Ep. 70: Kerry Vaughan on the history of science and building intellectually generative communities.

January 22, 2022
Trent Fowler

Watch our interview with Kerry on Youtube.

Kerry Vaughan is the Program Manager for Early Stage Science at Leverage Research. He studies the history of successful attempts at generating scientific knowledge in nascent fields, the characteristics these attempts share, and the historical relationship between failures in scientific ethics and slowdowns in scientific advance.


Show notes

  • The goal of the history of science research program at leverage research is to take fields of science that are highly successful today and try to work out how they got there.
  • In other words, Kerry asks himself what questions like 'what were the important discoveries that led to a field's success?', and 'how are those discoveries actually made?'
  • They hope to then use that research to gain insights into how struggling or nascent fields today might be able to make progress.
  • Right now their focus is on the history of electricity, because it's been highly successful and its history is really interesting.
  • Trent Fowler asks what the broad principles are which characterize scientific fields that go from nascent to mature in a successful way, and the extent to which those principles can be adopted by newer fields.
  • Kerry says that the history of science probably doesn't have much to tell particle physicists, who've been pretty successful, but it might have a lot to teach #[[social science]].
  • One problem with #[[social science]]s generally is that they attempt to model #economics by building complex mathematical models long before it's appropriate to do so.
  • A field can't properly create a body of mathematical work until it has a very good handle on the theoretical phenomenon it's studying and has very high-fidelity tools for measurement.
  • Thomas notes that the entrepreneur has a key role to play in the advance of science. Once someone has produced a discovery or a new invention, they need to take that and put it in the hands of a very durable entrepreneur that can see it through to production and profit.
  • Kerry agrees. His case studies have revealed that the scientists who have been the most successful in spreading their ideas have often had very good instincts for marketing and promotion.
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