☞ New Types of Long-Term Scientific Institutions

I recently had a discussion with David Lang for Science Better about institutional experimentation in the sciences, the Overedge Catalog, and more (you can watch it here). This has been one of many recent discussions I’ve been having about the need for innovation in how we build research organizations.

And one question I’ve been thinking about is which aspects of institutional experimentation have we not seen yet in the wild. In other words, in the high-dimensional space of research organizations, which spaces are under-explored? One area seems to be institutional longevity. While more traditional institutions—particularly universities or philanthropic foundations—are not only built for the long-term but can last centuries, this doesn’t seem to be as true in the world of the organizations found in the Overedge Catalog. Of course, many of these organizations are very new, but I don’t think they are necessarily being built for long-term continuity, or even intergenerational persistence.

I’m affiliated with the Long Now Foundation, and as part of that, I’m involved in their Organizational Continuity Project, which is devoted to trying to discern the mechanisms for organizations lasting over long stretches of time. And related to this, I’m interested in the ways that we can build scientific institutions that will last. Because when these organizations last for the long-term, they can be better able to having enduring impact.

Of course, being long-lasting for long-term’s sake is not enough. An institution requires an enduring mission and vision, one that can sustain an organization multi-generationally. But if an organization can help articulate a clear vision and make sure that at each moment in time the people in that institution are working towards these goals, longevity can be a powerful multiplier.

And what are the mechanisms that might be necessary for such new types of research institutions? Obviously, a clear ever-green vision is vital. I also think a plan towards building and growing an endowment is an important feature. But there are many other open questions, from whether tenure-like job security is something that can aid longevity or hurt it, to whether being for-profit or nonprofit matters.

So, Dear Reader, I’d like to ask you: What are the mechanisms for long-term scientific institutions that the organizations of the Overedge Catalog should be experimenting with?

Bonus: Michael Nielsen has compiled a list of long-term projects, which includes some long-running scientific research projects.

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I am pleased to announce that I’m going to be hosting my first Interintellect salon next month, focusing on how to think about technological complexity: Enlightenment to Entanglement: How to Think About Technological Complexity:

From machine-learning systems and desktop computers, to our automobiles and the infrastructure of the Internet, we are in an era of complex technologies, ones that are increasingly incomprehensible. And this is true not just for everyday users who might be confounded by the nature of smartphones and their computer’s software, but even for the experts who work with massive complex systems on a regular basis, or even built them. Regardless of our relationship with technology—users or builders—we require new ways of approaching these systems.

In this wide-ranging discussion, we’ll talk about everything from legacy code and AI to how our children should engage with technology to whether we have truly left the Enlightenment for the Entanglement.

I’d love to have readers join this conversation.


I recently came across tixy.land and was delighted. As readers know, I am intrigued by small bits of code that can unspool computational worlds. Tixy.land is a perfect example of what this kind of desire can result in. As per its tagline of “creative code golfing,” it is a fantastic combination of code golf and creative code: you write small snippets of code that can generate amazing visuals. Go play!

And a few other links worth checking out:

Until next month.