Brookings Hamilton Project

Left to Right: NIH Director Francis Collins, Moderator Ann Kellan, MIT’s Angela Belcher 

Left to Right: Tim Bresnahan, Anesh Chopra, Michael Greenstone, Glenn Hutchins and Tyler Cowen

Brookings’ Hamilton Project is about America flourishing, to use the term of positive psychologists.  This morning’s symposium on Capitol Hill was entitled “PhD’s, Policies and Patents: Innovation and America’s Future”. I stayed as long as I could through the first two sessions.

NIH Director Francis Collins had two really interesting ideas that are relevant to what we do at Krasnow. The first is the notion that “the genome is a bounded set of information”. Of course that is what gives power to bioinformatics (Mason gave birth to what I believe was the US’s first degree program in this field). But it also shows the way to Collins second big idea: “hypothesis limited research”.  This of course in contrast to the Popperian hypothesis-based research. In other words, use the boundedness of the genome to discover the full set of answers to a scientific question (e.g.: tell me all of the genes expressed by a pyramidal neuron).

Chopra had another interesting idea: that we lack an instrumented medical system, educational system and power grid. In other words, policy makers can’t get at the real-time granular and aggregated data. He also characterized the Administration (where he serves as CTO) as an “impatient convener”. Well, with the debt limit crisis coming to a critical phase, I’d say that’s a pretty accurate description of what the President’s got in front of him over the next four weeks.

Finally, my colleague Tyler Cowen went beyond his new book, The Great Stagnation, and talked about an agenda for studying historical episodes where great innovation has taken place (his example is late 19th century Hungary) without obvious prerequisites being met.

I also ran into Krasnow Advisory Board Member, Elizabeth Marincola.

All told, an interesting morning.