Long Science

Tim Hwang with a great post on long-term scientific experiments:

“If you’re not already familiar… I highly recommend that you immediately stop what you’re doing and visit the Wikipedia page for ‘long-term experiment’. Then, check out Sam Arbesman’s collection of Long Data. Then, Michael Nielsen’s list of long projects.

“If you’re anything like me, the scientific efforts that appear on these lists are deeply compelling. That’s due in part to their relative rarity. It’s hard to find cases of an experiment or a data collection effort that grinds away on the scale of decades, and easy to appreciate the uncommon dedication and focus they represent.

“These efforts are also compelling on an epistemological level. They suggest that there is a wealth of valuable knowledge to be gleaned from even fairly humble explorations that operate over a long, long period of time.”

Tim reckons that such experiments are under-performed, especially given how simple and cheap they can be relative to the insights they can deliver. He suggests a new way of funding them:

“One approach could be to popularize a style of grant that I call TILT – tiny investment, long term. Under a TILT grant, a foundation or government agency would award grantees a relatively small stream of money spread out over an extremely long period of time, say twenty or thirty years.”