Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Scientific Life: entrepreneurs

From The Scientific Life, by Harvard historian of science Steven Shapin. This book is full of realistic descriptions of the "late modern" scientific enterprise, and how it came to be. (Publisher synopsis, interview, talk.)

Many scientific entrepreneurs reject any notion that the transformation of knowledge into material products or marketable services is any less intellectually demanding, or that it requires any lesser degree of intelligence, than so called pure science. ... The problems may be diffusely framed -- how to raise finance, recruit and motivate people, organize the corporate environment, locate markets and identify competitors -- but, because of that, they can plausibly be seen as more intellectually demanding than the well-framed problems of academic science. Entrepreneurs may see themselves as having a broad vision of the world, contrasted to the narrowness and inwardness of their purely academic colleagues. They know how to do things about which their colleagues are clueless. It's a matter of experience, of course, but it may also be seen as a form of constitutional intelligence.

While I can't help but like this paragraph, I do think we should distinguish between intellectual ability and other sorts of abilities. Scientists who start and run companies may have a broader set of skills (leadership, negotiation, risk taking, communication, psychological insight, etc.) than the typical academic, but I wouldn't describe running a startup as more intellectually demanding than pure scientific research (at least not theoretical physics!).


Ian Smith said...

Entrepreneurs also understand that making a living as a professor is morally unacceptable.

Eko Wurianto said...

i remind you another example that then is called as WARREN HARDING ERROR. the truth is often obtained from the mistakes we did

Anonymous said...


Unknown said...

"Not less" isn't the same as "more".

The practice of transforming "knowledge into material products or marketable services" has always been called Engineering. To pretend it is more respectable if it's called "entrepreneurial science" is bigotry. It's not science, and it has nothing to do with science. Engineering has a proud tradition going back many thousands of years.

It's traditional for people trained as scientists to to taught to sneer at engineers, and to insist that what they do is less demanding than "science". It's also traditional to sneer at technicians. Both practices are ugly vices that retard scientific progress as they blight careers.

Unknown said...

So, shame on Steven Shapin.

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