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Scientific enterprise
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Scientific enterprise

Scientific enterprise is a term that refers to science-based projects, developed by private entrepreneurs. Often such projects are innovative and daring, and represent a risk of money and resources. A scientific enterprise undertakes research in some process known to science, in addition to the usual risks which are handled by project management. Thus the risks in a scientific enterprise are primarily intellectual, although the history of science records that the lives of some researchers have been lost, even as they were performing their experiments. A scientific enterprise does science. In the English language, enterprise has a connotation, that obstacles are being overcome, and that successes are being won: enterprising being an adjective like can-do.

See protective agency, below, for a discussion of the factors which a protected enterprise does not have to deal with, and without which a scientific enterprise could not exist. For example, overwhelming fear or rage are not conducive to rational thought.

Universities historically have provided the protections afforded above, but academia is not necessarily entrepreneurial.

Organizations such as the Canadian NRC, the US NAS, NAE, IOM, NSF all fund research, and publish work under their names. Mission-oriented organizations such as NASA also fund research.

Enterprises in the form of small and large businesses appear all over the world; not everyone can be an entrepreneur; but with motivation, an entrepreneur can "grow the business" and employ those who do not have that talent within them.See the role of risk in an enterprise, below, for a discussion of the unknowns which naturally beset enterprises, businesses and other organizations. There is intimate connection between risk and reward; namely, one cannot have a reward without also assuming a risk.

Albert Einstein said, partly in jest, but also in truth, If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called research, would it?

Table of contents
1 Science
2 The role of risk
3 Protective agency
4 Annotated list of related issues
5 Examples of enterprising scientific organizations
6 Stages of understanding
7 References


A science is a body of knowledge whose scope is defined by a smaller set of knowledge, its defining principles (much like mathematics, which might be seen as being defined by a set of given axioms, upon which a mathematical structure rests).

These defining principles serve to compress the subsequent knowledge, which is important in its own right, but which can be seen as subsidiary to more fundamental knowledge. These principles tend to be more stable over time, changing little in form as people use them, not subject to fashion.

Another name for these defining principles is scientific laws, which are produced by scientists using the scientific method, which is a repeating cycle of observation, hypothesis, prediction, and corroboration; this is an iterative, recursive and reproducible process.

But since we have limited cognitive capacity, the practice of science is limited to new knowledge, with existing knowledge relegated to the education of others; thus there is a demand for original findings by the researchers, first of all, in conversation with their peers, then in meetings, then in publications, and then, perhaps, in applications.

Real-world issues

When a subject is in the air, say in a meeting, it is tentative and possibly ill-formed; the researcher who utters it is at some risk of being labelled; but if the subject is well-received by peers, the success of the idea can feed on itself. Free discussion is perhaps the best method of learning a subject, as stated by
Stanislaw Ulam, with articles and textbooks less effective.

Free access to new scientific research world-wide could be a disruptive technology for science. This may affect some constraints of the scientific method, meaning peer-reviewed articles and reproducibility of experiments, and may very well affect scientific enterprise in the years to come. Thus an e-mail address together with a protected venue may, in time, become an effective mechanism for the progress of a scientific idea. No researcher would fail to note an e-mail from a distinguished name; just as in business and commerce, brand name merits attention.

The real-world issues of publication and funding

Publication - the move toward open-content: Established scientific journals are print-based, with an attendant cost of distribution to the research libraries. Journal prices have risen 215 percent from 1986 to 2003, as opposed to a rise of 63 percent in the consumer price index. One publisher of science journals, Elsevier, enjoys gross profit margins of 30 to 34 percent, a number which is not unusual for today's large businesses, and which reflects good management.
This bottleneck in publication is being directly addressed by the nascent practice of putting peer-reviewed articles on the Web, for example in PLoS Biology and in physics e-printss. Nonetheless, the less-prestigious articles tend to be put on-line, and the highest prestige articles tend to be put in print, such as in Physical Review, although this is changing, as in the case of PLoS Biology and ACM Transactions on Algorithms. Publishers such as Elsevier are now offering royalty-free publication of two-month-old articles on the web sites of their authors' respective enterprises, in a nod toward the open-content model. Other journals, like Science are speculating that an author fee of $10,000 might be necessary to fund such a model, as PLoS Biology is currently subsidized by grants.

Funding costs for the laboratories of a scientific enterprise need not be large, and in fact may be unrelated to the successes of the enterprise. Richard Feynman spoke of the disparity between some laboratories which had first-class equipment, but results which have lagged those from some more poorly equipped, but better-utilized laboratories.
Lew Kowarski, a former director of CERN mentioned the rise of big science, especially in particle physics, which uses hundreds of Ph.D. -level researchers, and for which a Nobel Prize for the entrepreneur was at stake. Other sciences for which this concept is growing include astronomy, with big telescopes using adaptive optics with deformable mirrors.
Funding costs, for the salaries of scientific researchers tend to be sufficient for a middle-class lifestyle, although a physics graduate student, for example, has basically taken a vow of (financial) poverty, as a conscious choice (in favor of intellectual wealth).
The way out, for the lower-paid researchers, is to produce some good ideas, and place them in publications, which makes them known to the larger community of scientists.
It should be noted that professors at the larger/higher-prestige universities can enjoy salary parity with the vice presidents of a Fortune 500 company, but that the priorities of a professor can vary radically from the priorities of a vice president.
For example, when Richard Feynman was invited to a conference on path integrals, a subject that he invented, he refused: "I didn't want to be the old guy in the back who knows less than everyone else.", which bespeaks his intellectual motivation.
Both Richard Feynman and Enrico Fermi drove tiny cars or rode bicycles to work, in a lifestyle which is directly emulated by others in their field. In the end, it is their ideas which gain them scientific reknown, and not the size of their paycheck, which tends to be a lagging financial indicator.

The role of risk

Today, many scientific laws have been formulated; the risk behind them is low (but non-zero), because of the requirement for
reproducibility at every conceivable level of knowledge, whether phenomenological or theoretical; even the limitations of the laws are known, in some cases, such as Newton's laws, and Maxwell's equations. In our times, risk can even be limited to some intellectual topic, and what is at stake is relatively small compared to the risk involved in past times. Thus, from today's point of view, there is a progression of knowledge:
  1. A progression of knowledge from high risk to lower risk
    1. Unknown
    2. Undefined
    3. Defined with bias - see cognitive bias
    4. Controversial - see agenda
    5. Contradiction, therefore can be ignored.
      1. Ill-formed
    6. Evaluated
      1. False with condition (observables), error is lessening.
      2. True with condition (observables), critical regions are becoming known.
    7. Tautology, therefore reliable.
      1. Well-formed - now a topic for engineering.

We start with cogency, a probabilistic concept, and with risk, which is how the theory of probability started: betting. Researchers take a risk by associating themselves with a hypothesis, which if not disproven, leaves them in the game. The bystanders, who have no risk, can merely take the syllogism and add it to their armamentarium; but in so doing, the researcher gains reward, namely intellectual credit. Bayesians would feel at home with this, as Bayesians use an estimate of their degree of belief in a hypothesis: for example, during Franklin's researches in electricity, he used the similarity in the shapes of lightning with the shapes of electric sparks, and in the effect of an electric shock to his body, as his heuristic; he was building a cogent argument for his view of electricity. Cogent argument in inductive reasoning is the same type of reasoning (based on hypotheticals) as that used in the scientific method.
The long-term value of Franklin's researches was his clear result: Lightning is electricity. Others actually published his result, with credit to him; but his insight was key for the science of electricity.

Before these scientific laws were known, the risk was high. Men embarking on enterprises did so with the knowledge that they could even lose their lives in those enterprises, as discussed below.

The scientific enterprise began in the Age of Exploration, first in monarchies like Portugal, in which leaders like Henry the Navigator founded schools of navigation, from which stemmed voyages of exploration. Other civilizations, like China also funded voyages of exploration. These monarchs had profit or perhaps direct plunder in mind, as part of their program of direct expansion of power. Portugal later had succession problems, and lost their overseas empire as that nation was subsumed temporarily by Spain. Other monarchs, from Spain, the Netherlands, England, and many of the other monarchies embarked on a race to colonize the rest of the world.

During the voyages, no expense was spared; gunners, astrologers, navigators, mariners, and supernumeraries were signed on, in exchange for the privilege of embarking on an enterprise with an unknown result, but with the promise of reward for the participants.

How did these enterprises differ from simple conquests?

One obvious difference was the technology; the ship, made of wood, sail, and rigging; the mariners, who had to ensure that the ship could sail and not sink; and the captains, who were responsible for the safety of all, and who ultimately held the power of life or death for any man on the ship. Of course, once they returned to port, the captains were responsible to those who funded the voyage, and remained ultimately subject to the laws of their nation.
Because of this technological base, the ruling states were thalassocracies: Venice, Dubrovnnik, Portugal, and Britain. Spain added soldiers with small guns and horses to the enterprise; together with their religion, these empires managed to funnel huge amounts of wealth to the entrepreneurs, to the investors, in this case, the monarchs, to the merchants who wished for trade goods, and to also to those who funded the technology, such as the small (in modern eyes) bankers. What did they get? In Spain's case, rooms full of gold. Other monarchs desired such wealth; they too started funding enterprises.

What risks did they take?
The risks included dealing with the unknown.
Christopher Columbus sailed westward from Spain with no reliable knowledge of what he would find, and in fact thought that he had found the Indies (India).
In the case of Ferdinand Magellan, who sailed under the aegis of the King of Spain, most of the men who started the voyage with the mission, to find the Spice Islands, lost their lives; Magellan was also killed during the epochal voyage; only one of the five ships that embarked returned with spices. Other risks included the reliability of their knowledge; when Magellan had voyaged to the midst of the Pacific Ocean, he threw his navigational charts overboard after he finally realized they were undependable. After his last ship, the Victoria returned to Spain, the ship's logs were turned over to the Spanish Realm, where they were to be used in future conquests, because they were based on direct observation, and not hearsay.

Today, the risks to an enterprise may not necessarily be to life and limb, but to reputation: for example, Gartner, Inc.'s researchers were called into question when they published results which were favorable to Microsoft's products, but which in fact were funded by Microsoft itself. Thus the impact to Bell Laboratories' reputation, when a dishonest researcher is discovered and dismissed. The requirement for objective results has resulted in policy changes for many consulting groups, in order to retain their reputation for objective thought, without the risk of being perceived as self-serving. But generally, people leave a poorly-run organization when they can, which gives the entrepreneur a motivation for ethical behavior.

What did these explorers find?
Columbus found a New World, two new continents which he refused to acknowledge himself.
Magellan's voyage, for example, determined the extent of the earth, and incidentally discovered the Magellanic clouds, two of the nearest galaxies to our Milky Way galaxy.
The past 500 years have seen huge increases in the sum of our knowledge, in many spheres, including new ways of thinking; five hundred years ago, the peoples of the earth were segmented from each other; four hundred years later, people in Africa knew that the navy of Japan had just defeated the navy of Russia; today, it is only the rare exception that some people do not have some inkling of some global phenomenon, such as the intermingling of the peoples of the earth.
Isaac Newton was able to use the maritime observations of these explorers to illustrate his System of the World of his Principia Mathematica. which were concrete examples of measureable phenomena that were explainable by physical models; the universe was comprehensible, as Albert Einstein later said.

New ways of thinking about the world

Peirce's Law, 'If P then Q' implies P. Therefore P. is a syllogism which can be used in inductive reasoning. It is what Ben Franklin did when he risked his life with the Kite Experiment. Note that logic is only half the story. Intuition, cognition, etc all play a part in a discovery, which is the topic of heuristic. Inductive reasoning has a place in an open system, ie. science is open because of the continual growth of it's knowledge - science, like life, is an open system. One underlying assumption behind deductive reasoning is the closed universe hypothesis which attempts to limit the universe of discourse in order to permit deduction and evalation of a manageable set of possibilities.

Feynman said once the wonderful thing about science is that it's alive.

One iteration of the scientific method

The scientific method is a cycle of the following processes:

  1. Observation O: some phenomenon arouses a constructive question by the researcher- What, where, when, how, why, etc.
  2. Hypothesis H: Perhaps ... H ..., I wonder whether .... The researcher formulates some explanation for the observation.
  3. Prediction P: If H then P. The researcher deduces some logical consequence (P) of the hypothesis, and designs an experiment to look for P.
  4. Test T: A carefully designed experiment uses the prediction to corroborate the hypothesis and allows the researcher to rule out possibilities:
    1. Result: P is not seen. Therefore H is disproven. Review H to see what was wrong with it. Fix H and repeat H, P, T in a new iteration of the scientific method.
    2. Result: P is seen. Therefore H is not disproven. (It does not follow that H is proven. That would be the fallacy of affirming the consequent.) If deemed necessary for reliability, design a sampling program which monitors the truth of P. Eventually, H will get subsumed into the body of reliable knowledge, as applications for O, H, P, T become known, in a recursive use of the scientific method.

One technique for proving the truth of If H then P is to disprove its contrapositive If Not P then Not H. Thus, when Albert Einstein was trying to disprove the basis of quantum mechanics, he developed the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox, which is the theoretical basis for quantum teleportation.

Some notable scientific advances occur when a scientist intuitively links observations form different fields to discover underlying relationships. For example cosmology and thermodynamics were usefullly combined in deloping thiinking about singularities, black holes etc.. See the work of Stephen Hawking.

In physics, for example, when quantum entanglement was a disreputable concept, some researchers were willing to design experiments to test it, and did so. After the experiments, quantum entanglement then became fashionable in physics. (Note the role of non-risk to the bystanders.)

There is a role for fashion in this social activity; Chen Ning Yang has stated that all the physics he needed, he had already learned from his education in China, but that it took going to the University of Chicago, which had Enrico Fermi, to learn what the good problems in physics were, to be worked on. (For more on an insider's view of physics in the twentieth century, see Abraham Pais' Inward Bound.)

Process of scientific change, or progress

Note that the work of a scientific enterprise is a link in an ecology of ideas; for example, in the list below, if quantum information processing were at step 6, the phenomenon of quantum entanglement would correspond to an item within step 3, and the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox an item within step 1.
  1. Gerald Holton's hierarchy of realization
    1. Blackboard model - a working theory
    2. Simulation on a computer or other model
    3. Partial realization of segments of a physical model
    4. Laboratory demonstration, also called Proof of principle.
    5. Engineered prototype, which is a typical high-tech organization's product.
    6. Industrial application, which is part of a business process.

Change or progress in science is effectively the result of several of the above recursive cycles intersecting and grinding along together smoothly, perhaps for a limited period.

For example, a scientist discovers a new chemical process after hypothsising and testing: he publishes his work; the principle or theory is further refined and popularised through criticism, comment, confirmation or amendment through attempts at replication; then the social implementation through commercial development can begin (as in this section's illustration).

'Scientific method' probably can be used in a loosely descriptive, sociological sense to include the above empirical and quasi-empirical methods. The term can also be used didactically or prescriptively. In one of the above recursions for example it could be said that the author has not acted in accord with scientific method, and this would be held to undermine the validity of some of the tests. This dual sense of the term is proabably the cause of the controversial nature of this topic.

Protective agency

Historically, the protection afforded by a protective agency (such as a monarch) allowed an enterprise to concentrate its energies on its own mission and vision without having to worry about other factors. These factors include:

Annotated list of related issues

Empirical methods

Examples of enterprising scientific organizations

Each of the organizations listed below, have the ability to conduct scientific research on an extended basis, involving multiple researchers over an extended time. Generally, the research is funded not only for the science itself, but for some application which shows promise for the enterprise. But the researchers, if left to their own choices, will tend to follow their research interest, which is essential for the long-term health of their chosen field. Note that a successful scientific enterprise is not equivalent to a successful high-tech enterprise or to a successful business enterprise, but that they form an ecology, a food chain.
Benjamin Franklin's researches in electricity can serve as an example of scientific enterprise: he showed that lightning is a form of electricity, named the electrical charges + and -, correctly identified St. Elmo's fire as an electrical phenomenon, and invented the lightning rod. He demonstrated that it is possible to innovate at every level of this science with fundamental definitions, experiment, theory, and application. (As an individual, Franklin feared the ridicule of others; his solution to this problem was to perform the experiment in private, accompanied only by his son, to minimize the risk to his reputation; Franklin was willing to risk his life, but not his intellectual reputation with his peers.)

The heritage of his enterprise? Our electrical knowledge. The reproducibility of our electrical knowledge, for example is verified by anyone who presses a switch to light a room; the electrical principles which were arrived at 250 years ago, have not changed, but are now available to us, as consumers or workmen in the form of products in any hardware store.

Stages of understanding

An iteration of the scientific method occurs when some phenomenon is not well understood. But by patient examination of the issues, that phenomenon can become understood, and eventually subsumed under existing scientific laws or perhaps creating new scientific knowledge.
Isaac Newton said it is not necessary to explain everything; it is enough to do one thing well, and leave the rest for those who come after us. Thus even the greatest scientist of the scientific revolution did not attempt a theory of everything.
A recursion of the scientific method occurs when some issue itself becomes the topic of investigation; the previous theory and its data become the phenomena under investigation; in this sense, the scientific method becomes even more powerful, bootstrapping a science with a new, more compressed section of established knowledge, to become part of a more general science.
Physics is the classical example of this process of generalization, gradually unifying topics such as magnetism and electricity under Maxwell's equations, the motion of the planets and the motions of the sea under Newton's laws, etc. in the history of physics.