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Yes, researchers would like more money and time

August 16, 2009

What else is new?

I received a copy of Judy Estrin’s book Closing the Innovation Gap free at work. I’d missed her talk and heard good things about it, so figured I’d make time to read the book.  I have to say, I was thoroughly underwhelmed.  Estrin takes over 200 pages (granted using a large, well-spaced font) to essentially make just two points:

  • Researchers could explore more if they had more money and a longer time horizon.
  • We need to make science and math a higher priority in schools.

That’s pretty much it.  And despite the length she doesn’t back up those points with much evidence. For example, she keeps using computer science as her example for a field that started off with a lot of exploratory work funded by DARPA and laments that there isn’t as much funding now for broad exploration. However, she ignores the fact that due to the inertia of the deployed systems we have it’s harder to make a practical impact with broad exploration (for example, what was the last truly new operating system you encountered?). Is it really the case that throwing more money at computer science research would necessarily result in more innovation?  How would she then explain Apple, which I would argue is very innovation yet dumped Apple Research way back?

Estrin also doesn’t really make any concrete policy suggestions either.  Sure, researchers would love more money and scientists think teachers need to incorporate more math and science into the schools.  That’s great, but how to get to there from here?  Saying where you think society needs to go is only part of the battle; you also need to strong arguments for why that’s the right direction and a plan for getting there.  The book falls short of providing either.

Bottom line, I was disappointed by this book. Management would have been better off buying us all copies of Good to Great.

From → Books

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