Tuesday, June 29, 2010

July Scientiae: Fantasy Institute

Scientists in Fantasy Land have announced the opening of a new Research Institute, to be located in Far Far Away. This Institute will be funded by grants from Bill Gates, Oprah, and Donald Trump, and will be dedicated to curing human disease because the drug companies won't do it and the Obamacare plan stalled and never helped anybody.

Fantasy Institute will be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with round-the-clock ordering, deliveries, and support staff for completely state-of-the-art equipment. Because of this 24-7 policy, FI will be able to employ 3 full shifts of researchers, all of whom can come and go as their experiments require. Equipment will be sufficiently available, maintained, and cutting-edge that all researchers can use any piece of equipment at any time, without having to sign up or worry that the person before them might have broken the instrument and forgot to tell anyone, or that the software is no longer compatible, or that the old Windows box it ran on died because someone spilled radioactivity on it.

Employees will be judged on only two criteria:

(1) Data points. All data will be uploaded to the Institute Wiki and shared worldwide in real time. Continued employment will depend on deposition of data points and pointers to said data points indicating usefulness to others.

(2) Training each other. Time spent instructing or helping other researchers will be logged, regardless of outcome, but a minimum amount of time must be spent each year helping at least 5 different people. No overlap is allowed from year to year for that minimum of 5 people. This requirement will prevent groups from weaseling out of it by helping only their buddies.

All employees will be hired at the same level and will be treated, paid, and funded as equals, regardless of length or level of previous employment or funding. There will be no internal competition among researchers, and no promotions. Helping each other is thus entirely voluntary, except for the training-each-other requirement as stated above.

Catering will be gourmet and on demand at all hours; the gym and outdoor recreational facilities will be similarly available 24-7, including the indoor swimming pool and ski slopes. Housing will be available within walking distance, and rapid public transportation is available every 5 minutes in all directions from FI to the surrounding neighborhoods.

24-7 daycare for children or pets is provided onsite. Emergency leave for either/both partners is paid for up to 2 years for any reason, including birth, death, or illness of family, friends, or pets. Healthcare for all workers, their families, and their pets will be given as lifetime contracts, such that any service longer than 1 year at FI guarantees lifetime top-notch healthcare for all its researchers, regardless of where they end up living later. Similarly, salary and retirement packages will be generous, including enforced vacation and sick days.

All restrooms will be unisex, include private showers with private changing areas, and will be stocked with any and all personal hygiene supplies that might be needed by anyone.

Sexual, religious, or ethical harassment will not be tolerated. Any discomfort on the part of any employees will result in the offender being voted off the island.

Researchers at FI anticipate cures for all known human diseases in the next 10 years. FI publicly thanks its insanely rich sponsors for finally getting together to spend all that money in one place, and is extremely grateful to its cadre of scientists who finally grew up enough to realize that they were wasting all their energy arguing about who was smarter instead of actually getting anything done.

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At 12:57 PM, Anonymous figuring-it-out said...

i'd like to apply :)
i've missed you YFS.
hope all is well with you.

At 5:41 PM, Blogger Kea said...

This sounds a lot like a few actual real Physics institutes that I know ... at least, the building and the philanthropy does. The research people not so much.

At 11:14 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

thanks, figuring-it-out.

kea, I've heard a lot of probably apocryphal stories about the defunct Bell Labs and what an amazing shangri-la that was. I don't think such a thing has ever existed for anything remotely like my field.

At 12:34 PM, Blogger Schlupp said...

"Any discomfort on the part of any employees will result in the offender being voted off the island."

You'd have to modify that one, otherwise it's a recipe for passive-aggressive disaster: What if someone feels "discomfort" because someone else has better ideas? (i.e. jealousy)

At 2:04 PM, Blogger Kea said...

Perimeter Institute in Waterloo is a stunning open air building with first rate support staff, nice offices, some child care, a good gym, a restaurant (which often has free meals), little leather lounges everywhere, fridges stocked with free cold drinks, free gourmet coffee beans for the many corner espresso machines, seminar rooms and a lecture theatre. No kidding.

The hotshots in Theory there no doubt think they deserve all this, although there is a rumour that the new head cut down on the expensive coffee beans. Meanwhile, I will get back to hitch hiking to the next town ...

At 11:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent suggestions!!!


At 11:08 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Schlupp, I was hoping the idea that no one would be compensated, neither by promotion nor by increased salary, would help decrease any feelings of jealousy.

Maybe I should also add rules about no media coverage, no awards of any kind, and just leave the fucking egotistical insecure nonsense at the door? Do you think a sign would work, or would we also have to smack the backs of their hands with rulers?

At 5:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right, because not providing incentives for quality work was such a raging success in socialist countries.

At 6:44 AM, Blogger SB said...

Sounds a lot like working at google to me!

At 9:15 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

@Anon, the idea is that working with people who aren't a bunch of cutthroat assholes IS the incentive.

SB, how do I get a job at google??

At 5:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At google your performance is evaluated continuously and compensation is strongly tied to performance. I've heard stories about six figure bonuses to rank and file employees who came up with really good ideas.

At 4:37 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

yeah, more money might have taken the sting out of the complete lack of respect or glory.

Still, in my book, money is necessary but not sufficient.

At 3:23 AM, Blogger Tony said...

Sounds pretty awesome to me. I'd work there for regular money.

Surely there'd be plenty of respect just because you work at the institution. Also if the training thing happens you'll potentially become a pretty awesome scientist. And if you're part of curing all known diseases within 10 years, I don't think you'd mind that you were 'one of the gang' that did it, and not a solo act...

I say sign me up.

At 11:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The HHMI Janelia Farm Research Campus seems to have some elements of this.

At 9:36 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon - Yes, some. I blogged about that a couple of times in the past.

But it doesn't exactly live up to the fantasy ideal.

At 2:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everyone to be paid as equals, regardless of previous work, experience, and outcome?

No internal competitions, no promotions?

Does anybody have a copy of the book: "Quotations from Chairman Mao"?

At 11:35 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

@anon, forgive me if I have this wrong, I'm a bit rusty on what little Mao I ever read (not much). But I'm pretty sure Mao didn't hire people based on merit.

Also, I don't believe in work camps, brainwashing, swearing allegiance, or torture. But hey, that's just me.

At 7:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well sorry...I forgot that merit has nothing to do with sum total of previous work, experience, funding and outcome.

Wonder what factors "merit" will be determined by at FI, now that we have decided to discount prior work, experience, funding and quality of outcome.

Judging by the intellectual quality of feminist thought, I guess they must be using the FI model of work in that world. Hey...how about we name FI the Feminist Institute?

At 12:19 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

@anon, actually one of the factors for MERIT will be determined by literacy. You said we would discount quality of outcome, despite what i had written as the #1 criterion for continued employment:

Continued employment will depend on deposition of data points and pointers to said data points indicating usefulness to others.

And yeah, feminist institute would be fine by me.

At 10:19 PM, Anonymous Mordecai said...

I've been reading through the archives; this is a wonderful blog and a joy to read. So in the same vein as the above:

"The new Fed Chairman, Paul Krugman, has deemed that since the US Federal Reserve already uses its power of seignorage to set a specific interest rate for loans to key financial institutions as a means of stimulating the economy, it may as well also use its power of seignorage to fund basic science as a means of stimulating the economy. Patents are obviated by this new system, and reimbursement for effective research shall be in direct proportion to the economic return + the extent to which it advances basic science, as determined by a small army of specialists at the fed, quarterly. Due to the state of the economy, the rate of reimbursement is for the time being set to 300%.

"We at the Fed anticipate that this will immediately spawn a network of private "grant firms," who accept grant proposals and award grant money precisely when the proposals look promising by the standards of the Fed, which are of course perfect. We anticipate that this will in turn spawn an enormous, self-supporting and lavishly-funded network of research firms; though universities may compete for this money on the same grounds we anticipate that their relative inflexibility will necessitate immediate reform, the elimination of all academic hierarchy, and that nevertheless they will come to be eclipsed by the newly created para-academic sector.

"Jobs in this sector will, due simply to the consequences of this change and the profit motive of the research firms, be given to anyone who can write solid grants and/or effectively train prospective colleagues, and their pay will by the same mechanism be exactly what these skills are worth, as determined by the Fed's rate of reimbursement, which should probably be higher, so let's make it 500%, starting... now."

(I think this might actually work, too.)


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