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Gregory Chaitin on the dead hand of bureaucracy in science

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Chaitin complains that they’re “managing to make it impossible for anybody to do any real research. You have to say in advance what you’re going to accomplish. You have to have milestones, reports.” The trouble is, he says, real advances often don’t work that way:

Gregory Chaitin: It’s tough. I have a pessimistic vision which I hope is completely wrong, that the bureaucracies are like a cancer — the ones that control research and funding for research and counting how much you’ve been publishing. I’ve noticed that at universities, for example, the administrative personnel are gradually taking all the best buildings and expanding. So I think that the bureaucracy and the rules and regulations increases to the point that it sinks the society.

At that point, basically, I expect, as with companies, the country will collapse because it will fail in a competition with a younger, more vigorous, more daring country. So nations and corporations seem to have a life cycle like human beings do: Vigorous youth where they think they can do anything and then they get very conservative. They don’t want to come up with a new product which competes with their existing product line because you can’t predict how much it’s going to earn in advance.

At IBM it used to happen. The salespeople would — with a completely new technology, a new kind of computer — make a very low estimate of how many are going to sell. So we have to charge a lot for each one because we had a lot of development costs and we weren’t allowed to dump products.

Robert J. Marks: Yeah. It’s frustrating.

Gregory Chaitin: It’s more than frustrating. I think it’s the end. When our society reaches that point, their innovation is going to go down.

So the result is that it’s a lost cause. If you want to try some daring new product, it’s going to be so expensive that no one is going to buy it.

News, “Gregory Chaitin on how bureaucracy chokes science today” at Mind Matters News

In Chaitin’s view, a key problem is that the current system cannot afford failure — but the risk of some failures is often the price of later success.

Note: Chaitin is best known for Chaitin’s unknowable number.

6 Replies to “Gregory Chaitin on the dead hand of bureaucracy in science

  1. 1
    BobRyan says:

    Bureaucracy is the enemy of innovation. The more bureaucratic something is, the less innovative it becomes. Guild masters controlled everything from what could be made to the price. They wanted no competition and had no interest in innovation. After the Peasants’ Revolt, thanks in large part to Magna Carta limiting more than just kings, the people outside the cities were no longer owned by the land owners and free from the guilds. They were free to pursue anything they wished, which led to incredible breakthroughs. When people are free, innovation always follows.

  2. 2
    polistra says:

    The only answer is to form new guilds. The lockdown and lockout of public “schools” has already created more private education zones (teacheasies), so there’s momentum in this direction.

  3. 3
    Seversky says:

    Any project or service or business or system of government needs to be organized so as to make the best use of available resources. That inevitably means some sort of management or administration or bureaucracy. The problem is always to somehow control the size and power of bureaucracy so that, as BobRyan says, it doesn’t come to stifle innovation. It should be the servant not the master of any enterprise.

  4. 4
    BobRyan says:

    In the US, scientists can generally work one of three places, colleges/universities, government or corporations. All three are heavily bureaucratic, which is why there hasn’t been much in the way of innovation for decades. During the time of Edison, there was far less bureaucracy leaving people free to create as they saw fit. Madam CJ Walker used her own kitchen to develop her hair care product, which was the start of her becoming the first self-made female millionaire in the history of the world.

  5. 5
    Concealed Citizen says:

    I think it’s non-controversial to say that after a while, the primary purpose of any bureaucracy is the perpetuation of the bureaucracy. Self-interest is primary among humans, and tribalism is a powerful tool to that end. Bureaucracies are just another form of tribalism.

  6. 6
    Steve Alten2 says:

    I worked for just over a decade as a manager in a municipal government. The bureaucracy can definitely stifle innovation. There is no incentive to improve efficiency because you get in trouble for not spending your budget. I actually got in trouble for using my computer to draft my own memos and reports rather that giving it to my secretary in a hand-written. Format for her to type up. This was the early 90s.

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