Here’s a interesting article in on the prevalence of physical scientists founding and otherwise involved in early stage startups. The article is interesting for a lot of reasons that I regularly blog about: markets and the invisible hand (incentives), thinking, the dysfunction of academia, thinking.

Here are a couple of nice snippets:

“More than anything, an education in the physical sciences teaches you how to think,” says Cloudant co-founder and chief technology officer Adam Kocoloski. “Startups are all about solving new problems. A background in science helps you react quickly to new and unknown situations.”

Yes. This is why I think everybody who goes to college should major in mathematics or physics (but underneath the major should be a general, liberal arts education). I really don’t think there should be other majors. Pretty much everything else can be learned on one’s own (that is: through some mechanism that involves paying much less than college costs); and anything can be learned if you have a good background in math and physics.

And there’s this:

He, like many other jaded PhDs, calls academia a Ponzi scheme.

Those that do land jobs are often frustrated. “Scientists spend more time chasing funding than thinking about the science,” Berkolz says. And because funding sources are so risk adverse, the type of research funded tends to be conservative. “Scientists are supposed to be all about falsifiability,” Miller says. “But your job as a professor is to never be wrong. It’s hard to be intellectually experimental when you’re a scientist.”

He’s being polite. The Ponzi scheme of academia is that scientists pat each other on the back – they help each other publish by favorably reviewing each other’s manuscripts, and they do the same with grants. In academia the fox is guarding the hen house. There is also the issue noted above: that scientists tend not to be very experimental because making mistakes generally leads to no funding.

But the article is really just interesting because it gives a glimpse into a few aspects of the life of scientist-turned-entrepreneur. It should be enjoyed as such; the underlying editorializing is just what I do for fun.

-JD Cross