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The National Science Foundation headquarters in Alexandria, VA. Image Credits: NSF / U.S. Government

There are many activities that are valuable for science. However, only a small subset of these are actually valued by scientific academia; in other words, there are only certain activities that will get you tenure (certain kinds of research, certain types of scientific publication).

As a result of this, we need to create and foster new types of scientific organizations, ones that make space for a broader set of research activities that are valuable for science, whether it’s allowing for more interdisciplinary science, undertaking longer-term research projects, or building software tools to spur further discovery.

While it’s certainly a good thing that research can be conducted within universities, corporate industry labs, or even within deep tech startups, we must recognize that these are just a few points within a high-dimensional space of potential research institutions. We need to begin exploring this high-dimensional space more deliberately and find new models to allow for the full spectrum of science to occur.

Beginning over a year ago, I began to compile a list of these kinds of new research institutions in the Overedge Catalog (there are also educational institutions included, as well as other “misfit” organizations). And since then, I’ve been delighted to see that there has been an acceleration in the construction of new organizations, from Arc Institute and New Science to Arcadia and Convergent Research.

The institutional models of all of these organizations compiled in the Overedge Catalog, both the new ones as well as the more established ones, are quite varied. Some of these organizations are more traditional in structure or funding style and some are weirder (in the best sense!), some are for-profit and some are non-profit, some are distributed and some have physical spaces, some fund projects and some fund people. But all of these are important attempts that merit following closely.

I liken this work to an evolutionary process, with a Cambrian Explosion currently happening in scientific institutional innovation, with many new attempts being tried and new forms being created.

Which ones will succeed? I have guesses for what might work, but in the end I am reasonably agnostic, and am more invested in this evolutionary process overall. Some will succeed and some will fail, and that’s okay, because we need to begin to explore this high-dimensional space as thoroughly as possible. Only then can we discover new models for how science can be done, new models for institutions to allow the full spectrum of scientifically valuable activities to be accomplished.

“Securities” for the 21st Century