BJKS Podcast

76. Adam Mastroianni: Paradigms in psychology, science as a strong-link problem, and The Psychology House

October 13, 2023
76. Adam Mastroianni: Paradigms in psychology, science as a strong-link problem, and The Psychology House
BJKS Podcast
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BJKS Podcast
76. Adam Mastroianni: Paradigms in psychology, science as a strong-link problem, and The Psychology House
Oct 13, 2023

Adam Mastroianni is a scientist who writes the Substack 'Experimental History'. This is our second conversation. We discuss science as a strong-link problem, why everyone is allowed to do science, and some of Adam's suggestions for how science can be done differently.

Support the show:

0:00:00: Adam's Substack is now his main thing
0:05:32: Paradigms in psychology
0:16:40: Who's allowed to do science? Science as a strong-link problem
0:36:41: A fleet of ships, The Psychology House, and Dan Gilbert's supervsion
1:06:53: How to cultivate good feedback
1:13:20: A book, paper, or blog post more people should read
1:16:26: Something Adam wishes he'd learnt sooner
1:18:34: Any advice for PhD students or postdocs?

Podcast links

Adam's links

Ben's links

1st episode with Adam:

Pure green in Blackadder:

Blog posts

Behind the Bastard's episode about libertarians recreating governments at sea:

Cosmides & Tooby (2015). Neurocognitive adaptations designed for social exchange. The handbook of evo psych.
Gilbert (2006). Stumbling on happiness.
Hesse (1922). Siddhartha.
Mastroianni, AM & Ludwin-Peery, EJ. (2022). Things could be better.
Richerson & Boyd (1978). A dual inheritance model of the human evolutionary process. J of Soc and Bio Structu

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Adam Mastroianni is a scientist who writes the Substack 'Experimental History'. This is our second conversation. We discuss science as a strong-link problem, why everyone is allowed to do science, and some of Adam's suggestions for how science can be done differently.

Support the show:

0:00:00: Adam's Substack is now his main thing
0:05:32: Paradigms in psychology
0:16:40: Who's allowed to do science? Science as a strong-link problem
0:36:41: A fleet of ships, The Psychology House, and Dan Gilbert's supervsion
1:06:53: How to cultivate good feedback
1:13:20: A book, paper, or blog post more people should read
1:16:26: Something Adam wishes he'd learnt sooner
1:18:34: Any advice for PhD students or postdocs?

Podcast links

Adam's links

Ben's links

1st episode with Adam:

Pure green in Blackadder:

Blog posts

Behind the Bastard's episode about libertarians recreating governments at sea:

Cosmides & Tooby (2015). Neurocognitive adaptations designed for social exchange. The handbook of evo psych.
Gilbert (2006). Stumbling on happiness.
Hesse (1922). Siddhartha.
Mastroianni, AM & Ludwin-Peery, EJ. (2022). Things could be better.
Richerson & Boyd (1978). A dual inheritance model of the human evolutionary process. J of Soc and Bio Structu

(This is an automated transcript with many errors)


Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: [00:00:00] So maybe as a brief recap, because I guess what we're talking about today is going to be very much building on what we talked about last time, because, um, I guess I didn't quite realize last time 

Adam Mastroianni: Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh. Heh heh, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: actually was going on, 

Adam Mastroianni: yeah, me neither. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: it's not really that complex of a topic, but somehow it took me about an hour, um, I guess as a brief recap, so last time, which was about 10 months ago, um, we talked about things could be better, uh, what you're doing with Substack, some of the content there, and then halfway through, I realized that Things Could Be Better is actually the final product, you're not submitting this to a journal, 

Adam Mastroianni: Yep. Heh heh heh heh heh heh. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: positions and you're hoping that someone's going to give you the chance to, to kind of try your crazy experiment out. 

And then I think literally three weeks later, you announced you were going to go to Substack full time. So. Uh, yeah, I guess we'll be kind of questioning some of the academic norms. Something's [00:01:00] going on exploring some, some slightly unusual paths that especially you've taken. So maybe as a, as a very kind of straightforward question, maybe, um, kind of, what have you been doing then in the last 10 months? 

And if 

Adam Mastroianni: Heh heh heh heh heh heh. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: since when have you been doing the four steps like full time? 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: and, um, and kind of 

Adam Mastroianni: So I found out, I guess at the end of last year or early this year that I was, I was at Columbia doing a position that was part research, part teaching. And I thought I was going to have a third year there and then found out that I wasn't. And so in January of this year, I had to figure out like, okay, what am I doing for like a paycheck and health insurance, which in the UK are very separate. 

Uh, or, or one is not guaranteed, right? Uh, come July and, and 

what's that? 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: in the U S you mean 

Adam Mastroianni: Yes. Yes. 

Yes. Yes. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I think it's educate. Anyway, it doesn't matter. 

Adam Mastroianni: Oh, sorry. Yeah. Well, I'm, uh, used to live in the UK. My, maybe my brain is still there. Um, so, so I was like, okay, I need to do something, [00:02:00] uh, six months from now to not die. And at the time I hadn't even started taking paid subscriptions on my subsec. 

I had no idea how it was going to work, but also at the time there was a postdoc out for a guy at a Kellogg, which is the business school at Northwestern. And a friend of mine was like, Hey, he reads your blog. And like, you don't have really any research interests in common, but I know he likes your stuff. 

Like, why don't you reach out to him? And so I was like, Hey, would you be interested in working with me? Even though like, it doesn't really make sense. He was like, yeah, actually. And so started doing that. I committed to doing that. And so, uh, I'm still writing the substack and doing that. But like, that was the thing that I was like, okay, here's how I'm going to not die in the meantime. 

Uh, and if I had known how well substack was going to go back then, maybe I would have been like, okay, now is the time to break ranks forever. But it is still the thing that I spend the most time on. So I'm fortunate that like my position has a lot of flexibility. Uh, I mean, in fact, in fact, 10 months, uh, I was at Columbia actually, or finishing Columbia for most of that over the summer, I was getting married. 

Uh, and then just this month I've like started this postdoc, [00:03:00] which again, if I had known, like what, what I would be able to do, I might've been like, Oh, maybe I shouldn't do this, but now I've kind of committed to doing it. Um, so I can give you a better answer for like, what have I been doing for the past 10 months, trying to see through, like, what can I do with, with like this different way of developing ideas? 

And, and really like, I don't have exactly like a plan of like, here is what the next 10 years of like my research that I do on sub stack looks like it really feels more like a series of demonic possessions that like each new idea comes and I can't think about anything else. And the only way to kind of exercise that demon is to put it in the form of, uh, of like a post on experimental history. 

If there is anything that, like, is a through line that I want to draw out, maybe for the next five or ten years, it is trying to find a paradigm for psychology that I think almost, like, basically no one is working on, and I think it's really hard to do within the structures that academia affords you, [00:04:00] because it's very good at incentivizing basically doing normal science. 

It is not good at providing a structure for doing revolutionary science, right? It's, it's actually a very conservative institution. And I think if someone is going to do that work of exploring it, they have to occupy a sort of weird niche in the ecosystem. And that is a niche that like I've been able to carve out somewhat. 

Um, and so I want to take advantage of. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, you mean like the, the kind of, sorry, I'm going to call it a niche, uh, but the niche of, um, the kind of slight outsider, you know, like 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: not really like completely outside, but like on the, on the edge, basically. 

Adam Mastroianni: exactly. But like, I mean, I know I come off as very critical of academia a lot, but it's not like I want to burn it down or I'm like, Oh, I'd never want to touch it at all. Uh, cause I think those are also, uh, like those are just reactionary positions, right? You allow yourself to be defined by the thing that you don't like. 

That I think I have to be academia is optimized for solving certain kinds of problems, but you can't optimize for solving all kinds of problems. So you need like different [00:05:00] configurations of optimization to explore all the problem, the possible like problem space. So, so like I don't harbor, I mean, I do harbor some ill will toward its greater abuses. 

But it's not like I want to take a wrecking ball to it and knock it over. I would rather use that wrecking ball to like carve out more space to do more different things. Uh, cause I don't think we actually gain from like removing bricks from on top of bricks. I think we gain by putting more bricks on top of other bricks. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Or at least building a little side house, 

Adam Mastroianni: Yes. Yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: just the house, if that makes sense. Okay, just I don't think we're going to get there quite as early, but I guess, um, I want to pick up on your, the through line you mentioned of trying to develop a paradigm for psychology. I mean, this is going to be, this is a big topic. Um, maybe I'm just going to, um, be rude and, and throw a big question at you, but what exactly is the problem with the current paradigm or lack of paradigm psychology? 

Adam Mastroianni: Oh yeah. Um, well [00:06:00] the problem with not having a paradigm is that it's pretty unclear. Like what matters and what's important and how to build anything on anything else That doesn't mean it's impossible to do work that will ultimately matter But it does make it very difficult to recognize that work when it happens. 

And so it can be useful to think of like how other sciences made this transition. Right. That, that like before chemistry, there were a lot of people doing things that looked a lot like chemistry. They thought of it as alchemy and, you know, we're mixing things together and we're heating things up a lot. 

And, uh, we're trying to purify things and we're wondering like what's in air. And some of those things turned out to be pretty important, but a lot of the times people didn't even understand what the important, what importance was. Until we develop a better way of thinking about those things. And in some cases, it wasn't like they could have just developed a paradigm for, for chemistry, you know, in like 1530. 

They hadn't discovered enough things at that point, uh, to be able to even say something sensical, right? You can't have, for instance, a periodic table until you know about atomic mass. [00:07:00] And so it may, we might not be yet at a point in psychology where we've actually... Like observe the empirical phenomena enough to know how to like sort it correctly. 

And so this may all be for naught, but it could be possible that we will, I mean, it's certainly the case that we will never actually find that paradigm if we don't try to develop one that like our version of normal science is like to do the things that is required to continue to produce journal articles. 

And like, that is actually the closest thing that we have to a paradigm, like. There's, there's a bunch of like weird different assumptions, but, but no one I think can really tell you Like what it is that we do. I had like a back and forth with Paul Bloom recently where like I had written an article about like proto paradigms in psychology He wrote an article about how psychology is actually okay And he's like here's this list of all the, you know, a bunch of important findings And I'm like, yeah, it's good that we have a list, but like a list is not a paradigm. 

And if all that we have is a list, then are we just, are we just list lengtheners? Like if you want to be a psychologist, [00:08:00] is that all you do? I just tried to like, get like entry number 497 on the list. Like what happens when we double that list? What happens when we triple that list? Have we actually come to better understand the mind or we just, do we just have a longer list of facts? 

I mean, you'll notice that like chemistry is not just a list of facts, like it does have a model of how the world works and how the facts interact with one another. I don't think we really have that. I think we have a few collections of facts that have some relationship to each other, but they're pretty separate and disparate. 

And there's not, there's not an easy way to know, like, how might you find a fact that's useful in those collections of facts. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: From the example of chemistry, do you know whether Okay. I mean, I know nothing about chemistry. It's my least favorite topic of all of them. Uh, but do you know whether the who, you know, came up with the paradigm basically, they trying to come up with a paradigm or were they also just fiddling around with things and suddenly it just like kind of fell into place and then everyone realized like, Oh, a way, here's, here's a model to structure our [00:09:00] thoughts around, or our findings around, um, and 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, I don't I don't think I know the history of science enough to answer that conclusively, but they definitely didn't have the concept of a paradigm, right? Even if they were, like, they certainly didn't have the word because we didn't really invent the word until, like, 1963. So they might have had some inkling of the thing that they were doing, which makes it remarkable that they were able to do it even without the concept as well developed as we have it now. 

Which is why I'm actually much more hopeful for being able to do this in psychology because we have the example of other sciences that have done it and we have more of a conceptual framework for understanding what it is that we're doing when, when you're just living in the physical world being like, I don't know, there seems to be a bunch of different kinds of stuff and like some seems like earth and some seems like fire and some seems like air. 

And that seems pretty good. I think it takes a pretty big stroke of insight to go like, no, that doesn't seem to be carving nature at its joints that like. Yeah. What we call Earth, I think is many different things that don't all operate the same way and what we call fire might not even be a substance at all. 

It's really [00:10:00] hard to go from the the framework of like, there are four elements to the, the framework of like, no, there's actually many elements and here's what an element is. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: you can structure them. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. Yeah. That's why I think it's so difficult to have that same kind of understanding for psychology that like to put ourselves in the mindset of someone who exists early in history rather than late. 

Because if you think that we are late in psychology's history, you kind of think that like, this is our final form. But if you, like, appreciate the fact that like, something like what we are doing is going to be happening 500 years from now, God willing, will they be doing what we are doing? And I certainly hope not. 

I think it will look really different, and I think we'll look very strange to them. I think they will look, we will look as strange to them as alchemists look to us. Which I, I think, I find very humbling, uh, but also very inspiring. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, since you've lived in the UK, you, you might know the blackout episode where he's trying to, where they're trying to create gold and he creates green. so we, for those who've seen that he created some pure green. Um, yeah, I mean, I guess it's usually [00:11:00] the case that you kind of look back on the stuff people did in the past, or you, you yourself did in the past and go like, well, I thinking?  

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: idea. So is your kind of. longish term approach then to kind of have this parallel track where you try and have some findings and at the same time take a meta perspective of like how this whole thing works completely going the meta perspective and becoming a philosopher of science 

Adam Mastroianni: I think both, I mean, I think, uh, a useful paradigm is only useful if it can like help you produce empirical results that make sense. So I don't think this is going to be a completely, uh, or even mainly a philosophical, uh, like enterprise that, I mean, much like when you have a periodic table, you go like, oh, we're missing number 47. 

Like, we might have this right as a way of organizing our knowledge. If we can find number 47, if number 47 isn't there, we're really wrong about the way that we're thinking about this. Thanks. Uh, and yeah, I think a useful paradigm for psychology will have something similar. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: do you have [00:12:00] any inkling of what this is going to be 

Adam Mastroianni: I, I do a little bit, uh, but I think not enough to, uh, to discuss it now. I think like the idea is too tender to, uh, to really hold up to scrutiny. Um, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah then yeah 

Adam Mastroianni: but 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: like you're saying something that's like half baked and then everyone 

Adam Mastroianni: yeah, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: mean, not everyone trashes it, but I know what you mean. Yeah. 

Adam Mastroianni: yeah, yeah. So come back to me in five years. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. I'll write it in the calendar. yeah, I mean, that would, that would be a good podcast 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: paradigm for psychology now. 

Adam Mastroianni: we've done it. Uh, but. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: take it. 

Adam Mastroianni: But even that, I think, uh, I think the, the, the best case reasonable scenario isn't going to be that. Oh, we can slot everything that we know into this right now. I think it's going to be able to capture some chunk of facts. And then I think it's going to do like a less good job of explaining facts that are on the border of that. 

And I think it's not going to have much at all to say about a whole class of facts. Right? Because what we think about as [00:13:00] psychology is like a bunch of weird, different things. Um, and it's not clear, like, what are going to be the things that all fall together, and what are going to be the things that, like, don't really make sense to think about in the same, in the same paradigm. 

I mean, much like Newtonian physics versus quantum physics, right? That like, there is a paradigm that makes a lot of sense at a certain level of explanation, and then it doesn't make any sense at a different level of explanation. Or a different level of analysis. And like, we don't, we don't even have the first part, right? 

So it's hard to know, like, where's that first part going to end? But it will end, I think, somewhere. So I, I don't think it's going to be that, like, we can shred all of the stuff that we've found, uh, or, or we can, like, boil it down and pour it into this mold that we now have. I think we're gonna get some of it in there, and we're not, we're not gonna get all of it. 

I think it's also gonna be a challenge for it at the first, in the first place, because it's not going to be able to explain or make sense of everything. Only some things. But I think it'll make sense of some things very well. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. I mean, it seems to me there are some perspectives, especially from evolution biology, where people try and kind of. [00:14:00] Take that as kind of the backbone of a paradigm. I mean, there's the problem is I don't know these well enough to almost even say what they are. I think it's the It's a cultural inheritance theory or something like that. 

I can't remember what it was. Um, I'll be talking to someone about it at some point. So I'll have to read up a bit about that particular point. But are you, I mean, from, from what I, you strike me as someone who's like very much purely psychological, right? With very little biology or 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: neuroscience, biology also, but it's okay for those kinds of things. Uh, a new paradigm. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, yeah, I think there's a lot of things like this in psychology that look like, uh, that I think are better thought of as explanations rather than paradigms that like, whatever, whatever paradigm we have in psychology will have to make sense in the light of evolution. But it, we've had evolution for a long time, and it hasn't really given us, like, it hasn't helped us chart our course in psychology, right? 

Like, the things that we discover have to comport with it in some sense, which we mainly do by, like, [00:15:00] constructing stories about, like, why it would make sense evolutionarily for this thing to exist. But it doesn't seem like it's done a lot of work, uh, in terms of, like, telling us where to look next, or giving us some idea of how the mind might be structured. 

It's more of a constraint, I think, rather than a guide. I think there's some exceptions to this, right? That like, uh, like the Cosmidis and Tubi stuff about like, uh, it would make sense that we are very sensitive to detecting cheaters. And like, that can make some weird things make more sense. Like, that seems good, but if we had a hundred more of those, I would feel a little more confident. 

But I think like we, we have like a smattering of those. And then we have a lot of things that's like, well, this makes sense in light of evolution. So it doesn't seem like it's really fulfilled the role that we like hope that it will, even though it's obviously a constraint on whatever work that we do. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: But I wonder actually how, I mean, this is again, I don't know enough about things, especially evolutionary, like evolutionary biology or whatever, but it, it seems from someone who doesn't, let's say, actively work on that kind of area and doesn't read much about [00:16:00] it, it doesn't seem like it actually provides many constraints. I don't know. Maybe someone who more about that will say actually does provide lots of constraints, but I don't know. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, maybe. Yeah, it might be a pretty loose constraint, right? That like, ultimately the way the mind works has to make sense in terms of like, it has, it has to be able that it evolved in some way. It has to make sense as to why it would be that way in our ancestral environment, which is also constrained by like what we know of that ancestral environment to be. 

But yeah, it doesn't really say that, like, uh, you know, the mind has to be, like, very parallel versus very serial. Uh, like, I don't think it gives you a guide for that, uh, for that kind of thing. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: that's what I mean. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, maybe to go a little bit into the from the very big like paradigm of psychology to the maybe slightly more of how people actually do that as scientists or as maybe can we start with your article about the [00:17:00] secret society and the 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: you just handed out to anyone basically. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: and maybe why you don't particularly like the term citizen science. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. So, yeah, in this post, it was basically a blanket invitation to anyone to do science and post about it on the internet. Which, obviously, I'm not the emperor of science, right? I don't get to decide whether people get to do that or not, but sometimes people can use a little push. And sometimes people need to feel like they've been given permission to do something. 

And I think... I think it used to be much more common for people to feel like they had this permission. But when professional science exists, I think it sort of implies that unless you are part of the profession, you do not have permission. So the idea was, uh, if you're interested, you should do some science. 

You should post it on the internet. And I did a few things to try to help people do that. One was starting a Discord, which, which now has like 120 people in it or something of people who are trying to answer scientific questions, mainly outside of the traditional structures of academia. It's a really cool mix of people. 

I was a little bit worried that like, I was going to get a bunch of cranks [00:18:00] who were like, yeah, I've got my theory of everything that like, no one, uh, understands like I did hear from a few of those people, but, but it was remarkable how many people were like, like, Hey, I've been working on something a lot, just on my own. 

And I'm looking for other people to talk to. And there were a lot of people who are like, I'm, I have, I have a foot in academia, but I don't like the structures of it for whatever reason. And so I'm looking for ways of expressing myself outside of that. And I think this is really important because I think we need people taking a lot of different approaches to asking questions and communicating them. 

And that academia is optimized for like a certain way of doing that, uh, but you can't optimize for solving all problems. And so what you really want is people, many people optimizing for different ways of solving problems. And it might turn out that like some of those ways are pretty bad. In fact, most of those ways are probably pretty bad, but we don't know a priori most of the time, whether this question is going to be a good use of time or not. 

And so why not have many people doing many different things, because if one of them finds something useful, then we [00:19:00] all get to benefit from it. So this is really based on the, the, the strong link science idea, right? That, that we progress at the, at this pace that we make, uh, that we do our best work and like our bad work in the longterm really doesn't matter at all. 

And so I don't mind that there's a bunch of amateurs out there who might produce a PDF on the internet that like, isn't useful or true. Uh, because actually it turns out that most professional scientists are also doing that, uh, and it doesn't really matter because if one of them produces a PDF on the internet that is really important and that is true, then we all benefit from it. 

And that's something that would not have happened right inside the structures of traditional science. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Can you explain the strong link weak link a little bit more? And I think there are some, uh, yeah, maybe can you explain a bit and then 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, so I think you can usefully divide problems into two categories, uh, of strongly problems and weak link problems. So in a weak link problem. The, the problem is the worst things, or you care about, uh, the things that are the worst. So, most instances of like, safety are weak link problems. If you [00:20:00] go into the grocery store, you don't care how safe the safest product is. 

You care how safe the least safe product is, right? If something in the grocery store is going to kill you, you don't want to shop at that grocery store. And you don't care if they're like, We've made the, you know, the safest slice of pork in this, like now, instead of having a one in 1 trillion chance of killing you, it has a one in 2 trillion chance of killing you. 

Like that matters. I mean, first of all, it'd be like, well, why does that have any chance of killing me, but you really worry about the thing that has a one in 100 chance of killing you. And you really would like that to go from a one to 100 chance to a one in a trillion chance. So, so that's a weak link problem where you care about the, uh, the worst things, but not all problems are like that. 

Some are strong link problems where you care about, uh, how well you're doing at the best part. So you care about the strongest links. So if you are trying to, for instance, win your country, a gold medal, uh, in the Olympics, what you care about is how fast your fastest runner is. You don't care about making your slowest runner 10 percent faster. 

You care about making your fastest runner 10 percent faster. And so, uh, the, the point is being that science is a [00:21:00] strong link problem, but we often treat it like a weak link problem. So we progress at the rate that we do our best work. When we discover relativity, we all benefit from it. If we had a hundred other theories that were incorrect and that didn't make correct predictions, in the long run, it doesn't matter. 

In the short run, it seems to matter a lot, because we can be confused, or we can be misled, we can waste resources. But in the long run, these things tend to work themselves out, because the truth is more powerful than falsehood. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: that sounds like a bit of an assumption though, right? Rather than a conclusion, as you stated. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, I mean, I basically think that if you do science... I don't know how you can do it without this belief that the truth is stronger than falsehood, because if you don't believe that, then I don't know, what are you doing? Like, what are you discovering? Uh, like, is this all just a social construct where like, it just depends on who says something the loudest. 

Like, I think true things are more powerful because you can use them to do something. I think a good example of this is, uh, I mean, I use this in the piece, the like, uh, Isaac Newton was an alchemist. Uh, it spent a lot of time trying to find a [00:22:00] philosopher's stone, right? And wrote down a recipe for making, not exactly a philosopher's stone, a precursor to a philosopher's stone, even, right, even more arcane. 

Uh, and nobody, like virtually nobody knows about that. We obviously don't use it. Whereas we do remember the optics, the laws of motion. And like, why do we remember one but not the other? Well, it turned out that one was useful and the other wasn't. You can't make a philosopher's stone. Like, we can't do it. 

And, and I think you, you can test yourself as to whether you are a strong link or a weak link theorist by asking yourself, like, how many laws of motion would you give up to like get rid of the philosopher's stone recipe? And for me, the answer is zero. I would be happy. I'd be perfectly happy if Isaac Newton had had it to like do a thousand more philosopher's stone papers if it meant that we still get to have the laws of motion. 

Those were so important. There's no amount of his good work that I would delete in order to get rid of his bad work because time did that. It didn't happen immediately, right? Like at the time people looking at that work might've thought that both of those things are equally important. It wasn't until like maybe a hundred [00:23:00] years later that it became embarrassing to be trying to find a philosopher's stone, which is also why I think like the, the amount of gatekeeping that we do. 

It doesn't make sense for trying to solve a strong link problem. Like it only makes sense if you think that you can look hundreds of years into the future and know which things are going to be the strong links, it would make total sense to like, have someone adjudicating this if it were possible, right? 

If there were an omnipotent gatekeeper who would go like, this is true and important, and that's not true. And not, it would make sense as to like why we would want a lot of gatekeeping at the level of production of scientific ideas. But like, we can't do that, right? Like, Newton himself couldn't tell you the difference between the laws of motion and a philosopher's stone. 

And no one, obviously no one else at the time could. It's like, what would the benefit have been of treating this like a weak link problem, where we try to suppress the worst work? Because we can't actually tell the difference at that time scale between the best and the worst work. But that's not because there is no difference. 

Like, there will be a very big difference. It's just not a difference that we can perceive at that time scale.[00:24:00]  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, I mean, it's interesting. I've been thinking about some of the examples you used from other disciplines and, about like weak and strong link problems and, and then, I mean, to maybe provide us An example that I think is maybe slightly more suitable to science than the competition one because I mean a competition is a bit of an artificial scenario with the olympics but I was just thinking as you were talking about this about music because that's something I almost ended up doing professionally um especially like classical music and of interesting to think about it because yeah it doesn't really matter whether there were 100 people at home composing stuff that was terrible. Like that doesn't take away from the great works  

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: um And in the same way also what was kind of interesting is that in music you tend to have these, you know You always have trends of like even, you know, even 400 years ago Whatever people who were like super hyped at the time and now have kind of [00:25:00] fallen away quite a bit Especially if you look at baroque music Bach was not the most famous composer at the time. 

It was probably Telemann or whoever. And 

Adam Mastroianni: yeah, who 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: away for like a hundred years or something. And then he was like rediscovered in the 19th century. Almost. I mean, if we're like, wait a minute, this is really good stuff. I mean, part of me wonders whether, I mean, there's obviously some survivors advice here where someone wrote something down and people forgot about it and then his house burnt down and then that was it. In principle. Yeah. Think I do agree with you. I mean, I guess I just wonder to some extent, I mean, I guess you, you can still have like people who are super influential for one reason or another and it just detracts so much from the actually good stuff. I mean, is it, is it more that it just slows everything down a bit rather than how 

Adam Mastroianni: think so 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: kind of things where someone you know is super influential guy's? 

An entire department basically into nowhere. I mean, as maybe Newton did 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: um, yeah. 

Adam Mastroianni: No, I think that's the [00:26:00] right way to think about it, but like, you can slow this down, and I mean conceivably, right? Like, you could have killed Isaac Newton and burned all his papers, and like, we would have lost that work. But like, part of this assumes that you at least transmit the idea well enough that it can be sustained for as long as it takes for it to be discovered again. 

Much like, you know, we could have burned boxworks and never known. But like, uh, so long as the idea is still present and findable, uh, I think all you can do is slow it down. Like, like, I don't think you can stop the march of truth. I think if you, if you do think, like, if you do think that, I don't know, I think it's just a totally different model of how epistemology works, which I think requires something like believing like there is no such thing as reality and like, truth is not more powerful than falsehood and like somehow you can build just as good of a bridge using the wrong theory of how bridges work than you can with the right one. 

I just think that's false. Uh, that like, I think the, the correct theories tend to hold up the bridges better than the incorrect theories. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Is part of my slight skepticism towards this [00:27:00] then maybe because most of psychology isn't useful? 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: because I have the skepticism towards what you're 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: of it, right? And because, you know, you can think of someone, you tell them something that's really cool and they go like, Oh, whatever, because I don't get it. But yeah, maybe it's just because the example of how useful it is doesn't exist because it doesn't look useful. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. Yes. That like, uh, I think if, if what you're hoping to do is like justify most of the psychology that we have right now, I think this would be very difficult to swallow because most of that might go away, but also like most of the alchemy went away and there were many like perfectly good people who were learned at people at the time, like working assiduously at advancing the frontiers of alchemy. 

They discovered some useful things that, that stuck around and like everything else went away. And it is entirely possible that most of what we do now and most of what we have done so far might go away. I don't think all of it, but a lot of it. Um, which is a really, I think, different perspective at looking at what we do. 

Um, that if [00:28:00] you think that we are early in our history, I think you'll behave very differently than if you think we are late in our history. And I, and I think we're very, we're early in our history. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, it's, it's interesting, like, to me, thinking about these things and, uh, some of the other articles you wrote about this, it really makes me take this much longer kind of perspective because I feel like, especially if you're in academia, like, I have to get this paper finished so I can, like, get a postdoc position. 

So, you know, 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: for this grant, uh, you know, and there's this very, very small scale thinking rather than going like that. Let's see if this works. Thanks. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: And then like whether this idea is useful if I apply it to this or that. And yeah, I think it's very useful. I don't know. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. And I think it's unfortunate that I think academia optimizes for that, that theoretically it's supposed to like, give you a bunch of freedom to think long term about the most important problems. But have you met a lot of people who are doing that? Like I don't meet a lot of people who seem to be thinking long, enjoying all [00:29:00] their freedom and thinking long term about the most important problems. 

I find a lot of people who are like really trying to solve the immediate problem of publishing a paper. Even tenured professors. Like I was, I was having a discussion recently with a tenured professor who was like, ah, I'd really like to do this thing, but everybody expects me to do this other thing and like, it'd be really hard. 

It would be like socially costly to like change what I'm doing. And I'm like, if you, if you can't do this, if you, the person with the most, like, job security of anybody in the world, short of like a Supreme Court justice, right, uh, if you can't do this, then who can? And I think it's an illusion that, like, it'll get easier in the future, and I think that this is like a very pernicious illusion, that like, ah, I just gotta do, I gotta pay in now, and then I'll pay, I'll, like, draw out later, like, I don't, I just don't think so. 

I would believe it if it felt like, yeah, everywhere I see people who are like, well, paid my dues, but now I'm free and doing the work that's most important. If I saw a lot of that, I'd go like, Oh, maybe this is a good model for living one's life. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, I mean, I think the, I mean, the main problem is just that [00:30:00] no matter how, I mean, for example, there are some people, let's take a very small scale example here of people saying like, oh, Elsevier is taking too much profit. I'm not going to publish with Elsevier anymore. almost no, I mean, there's lots of people, it was a long list that went around a few years ago where people, you know, signed it publicly or whatever. But most of those people still publish with Elsevier because it's always like, well, it's my PhD student. I'm not going to 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: you know, actively harm their career by not allowing them to publish in this journal. So it's, it's always the case. I mean, it's, it seems to me, it's always the case where once you get tenure, well, now you're, responsibility for 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. Yeah. I think, I think 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: you're interacting with. Yeah. 

Adam Mastroianni: that's exactly the problem that like, what people don't think about, about this, like, suffer now, uh, enjoy later paradigm is like, as you suffer, you, you take on a bunch of commitments that like, make sense to you while you're in the suffering period, but that you don't just get to shed when you're in the enjoyment period. 

So yeah, you're going to have responsibilities to students. You're also going to have a bunch of like, collaborators who expect you to keep doing [00:31:00] what you're doing. You're gonna have colleagues who, like, are getting awards, uh, and now it kind of feels like you should keep doing that. You're gonna have a dean who, even though they can't fire you, might be like, Hey, you haven't published anything. 

Or colleagues who think that, like, you're not pulling your weight. This is also why I think a lot of young people have this, you know, temptation of like, Well, I could just do this thing and make a lot of money. Um, for a period of time and then I'll like do the thing that I really want to do. But while you're doing that, you are subjecting yourself to all the norms of the people who make money because they think it's a good longterm thing to do. 

And like, I just don't think that you can flip this on and off. Like you become the things that you choose to do. Certainly over the long period of time. And so like in the academic sense that, you know, if you commit from the first day of your PhD to the, to the first day of your tenure, that could easily be like 12 years, often much longer than that of living in one mode of life. 

And I don't know, I don't think it's easy to switch back to the other mode of life. I think you've kind of forgotten how to live like that. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. And you, I mean, [00:32:00] you start justifying things for why it's necessary after all. And you go, well, actually, if I did this, I would get more money to do the thing that you know, 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. Yeah. Just pay in a little more. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah, exactly. And, but okay. So if only there was someone who tried to break out of this, so, I mean, how are you dealing with this now with 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: or whatever, do you just only find people who go like, yeah, fuck it. 

I don't care. Or do you have a lot of convincing to do or. 

Adam Mastroianni: It's a mix so, um, so like, it is not something that happens right away. And I think that's also an illusion that people have that like, I choose one day to be brave and then I'm done. It's like, no, I actually have to choose it over and over and over again. And that's the hard part. Uh, so like, yeah, there are projects that I've begun and I'm, I'm not going to be like, Hey guys, I've made this big choice, like decision in my life. 

I'm not going to publish it in journals anymore. So like, I'm not going to help you finish this. Uh, that like, no, I will explain to them that it's not my priority anymore. And so like, I'm not going to push those projects, but I'm also not going to bail on them. So, so that's one way. And for new projects, like I'm making it clear to people, like it is not my [00:33:00] aspiration to, to turn this into a journal article. 

If you're open minded about it, I'm much more interested in like putting this up in a different form. And I can tell you like a story about how that went really well for me and hopefully convince you that maybe it's a good idea to do, but like they, they also have to be, uh, willing to take on some risk. 

So yeah, it's, it's not easy. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: But they are, but that's kind of part of the question. It is a risk for them also, 

Adam Mastroianni: Yes. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: or it's, it's not people who have tenure or people who, you know, the one person who has tenure and is willing to take risks. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Or, you know, I don't know people like, I mean, you know, as I said, people who have money through some other way, maybe because they like doing science on the weekends and work during the week, the people you interact with are still mainly academics or. 

Adam Mastroianni: Oh yeah. Um, yes. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: work, right? I 

Adam Mastroianni: Yes. Uh, yes, in large part, cause that's where I met most of the people, I think in the, in the, the discord. I've never really taken a census. It seems to be a mix of people who are academics or [00:34:00] former academics and then people who have never been. But, but yeah, most of the people that I talked to, I met through doing the academia because that's what I've done for most of my life. 

And most of the people who want to do science, like, end up there at least for part of their life, if not, uh, all of it. But there are many, many discontents who, like, like to do things in a different way, uh, but are, are sort of stuck in that structure. For a lot of reasons that make sense, but, um, but that also never get easier than, than they are today. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah, I mean, I'm definitely one of them. I 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: think I've definitely I, I should put it, say I'm not very skilled at dealing with things I think are stupid. a lot of the public, yeah, I mean just like some of the, we'll get to peer review later of it, but it's just taken so much completely unnecessary time um, just that alone, that frustration makes me, I mean that's also like one of the reasons why I wanted to talk to you again right, it's just because it's like there are very few people around it seems to me who are actually trying to do kind of [00:35:00] like actual proper science outside of academia because lots of people like around with stuff and that's fine right, as 

Adam Mastroianni: Heh 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: strongly and can all, 

Adam Mastroianni: heh heh. Heh heh heh heh heh. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: like to have some sort of, I mean, I guess it's kind of the dream scenario that everyone has, right? 

Like somehow you just, life's like finances are sorted. You don't need to worry about that. And now you can just do science, right? it's just very rare to see people actually, actually trying to find a different path rather than, as we said, pretending that they'll change once they've reached the end of the one they're on or whatever.  

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. 

Um, yeah, I mean, I think our, uh, like our status quo for this is a little strange that like we, um, if someone really wanted to be a musician, as it as it sounded, it sounded like, uh, you, you have also, I mean, kind of the way that we expect people to go about that is like, yeah, do other stuff until you can make a living on your music. 

We don't expect it to be the case that, that like you get your, like your PhD music job and like, then, then do it, which I also think like that it's obviously a tough life. But it also means you have to love it a lot because you have [00:36:00] to sacrifice a lot for it. And like, yeah, if you love this a lot, you would also sacrifice a lot for it. 

And I don't think it's for everybody. Um, we've built a world where like, you don't have to sacrifice as much for it if you are willing to make several other very important sacrifices. 


Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: you're willing to give me like 80 percent of your time, you 

Adam Mastroianni: yes. 

Yes, yes. And if you're willing to, uh, you know, go to the only place where you get, you get the job and like have everything else be subordinate to that. 

Yeah, then, except for all the things you have to sacrifice, you don't have to make any sacrifices. Uh, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: exactly. Yeah. Yeah. Uh, there's no. I'm not sure. I, I've, I've, I've lost an immediate next point. Uh, shall we maybe just move to your fleet of boats and your house? 

Adam Mastroianni: yeah, yeah, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Um, yeah, do you want to briefly, uh, introduce that article, uh, because that's an article that, uh, Particularly made me go like, yes, let's 

Adam Mastroianni: yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Um 

Adam Mastroianni: Uh, so this, this is, I think like, [00:37:00] uh, the, the third in a trilogy of, uh, of articles about this. The first one being science is a strong link problem, which I think is, is the framework necessary for this to make sense. Uh, the second is the Secret Society post, um, that it, that is about like, if we take seriously the idea that science is a strong link problem, we need many people doing things in many different ways. 

Um, so I encourage everyone to follow their heart and do that. And like, I'll try to build some structure for it. And this is the blueprint for like a more permanent kind of structure where rather than like you have to figure out how to support yourself while following your scientific dreams, like this would be infrastructure that, that would allow people to do that. 

So. The idea behind this post is a lot of our science reform efforts are trying to, like, turn this big ship of, like, what we all do. Like, you know, everyone should do more of this and less of that. And I think, again, like, we have an optimization problem, and there's no optimizing for every problem. And so when we turn the boat, like, slightly this way, we become better at going in that direction, but we are not going in the previous direction at all [00:38:00] anymore. 

And so rather than having one ship going in one direction, we should have many ships going in many different directions. And a lot of the effort, I think, that we put toward trying to turn that big ship, we should put toward, Trying to build and launch little ships. And the little ship that I would launch, um, is a house. 

Uh, I mean, it could be a house boat, but, uh, probably more landlocked than, uh, than a boat. The idea being that like, I think the way that you learn science requires a lot of like very deep and long conversations with someone who knows more than you and with other people who, who know about as much as you, but who want to know more as well. 

Like, this was how I became a scientist, right? Like, I steeped in a lab for a long time. I spent five years talking for multiple hours every week with my, my advisor. Uh, and like, that is what honed my intuitions. And, uh, and so I think we don't just n 

Yeah, yeah. Um, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: that's really interesting to me because I guess people don't have that Um, so i'm curious what that looked like and how it worked and yeah, I 

Adam Mastroianni: yeah.[00:39:00]  

Um... Um, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: with uh, dan gil Is it 

Adam Mastroianni: yes, Gilbert, Gilbert. Yeah. 

Uh, yeah, I, I ended up working at his, um, when I was an undergrad, I read his book, um, stumbling on happiness and I was like, this is really cool. And then I got an email that was forwarded by the psych department being like, Hey, Dan Gilbert's lab is looking for research assistance for the summer. 

I was like, wait, this guy's, this guy lives on earth. Like you can, you can talk to him. Like you can do, you can actually do work with him, like not just even just take a class from him. Right. Like you can help him produce knowledge. So I went there. For one summer, it was just really fun, uh, like the environment was so stimulating, people were always talking about interesting stuff, they all had like weird, interesting takes on things I'd never thought about before, uh, that's where I honed like many of my most basic scientific skills was like working as a research assistant. 

Like, how do you build a study? Like, how do you run it? How do you do like the basics of data analysis? I came back a second summer and I knew that's where I wanted to go for, uh, for my PhD. Like I wanted to spend a lot of time in that environment. And when I started, Dan began our first meeting by [00:40:00] saying like, like, Hey, someone asked me recently, like, what percent of my life goals have I achieved? 

And I told him 140%. I've done more than I ever thought that I would. And like, basically the rest is gravy to me. So like, let's just talk about interesting stuff. It's like, what ideas do you have? And we spent six months just talking about ideas. Like I'd come in once, sometimes twice a week with like three new ideas. 

And we go through each of them and I'd like pitch it to him and we talk about it. You're like, Oh, well, okay. What about this? We're like, uh, if, if that's true, then like this thing is true. And I can't really describe to you that the process of like what it is to like open up an idea and look inside it and see like, is there anything in there? 

90 something percent of those ideas went nowhere. Like they weren't interesting enough or we didn't think that they were true. I think in a smaller case, we are a smaller number of cases. We thought that they had been done before, so we didn't do them. And the few that like survived one conversation and survive the next conversation and survived like five conversations became the projects that we ultimately worked on. 

And I think that that is like how I develop my scientific faculties is sitting for a long time in a room with someone who had better faculties than me [00:41:00] and talking about ideas with them and seeing the way that he thought about ideas, uh, and talking to people in my lab and talking to people in my, my graduate cohort who entered in the same year. 

I think it's difficult to like speed that process up. It is like a process of almost acculturation, but I think it isn't just arbitrary, like a lot of elements of culture are, uh, because I think it is like actually trying to get you better at discovering things that are true and important. And so the idea behind a science has would be to try to like form a crucible where that is. 

The point of what we're doing, I mean, to your, to your point that not many people get that there's a huge failing of academia that like that is supposed to be what it's good at doing is like putting people in contact with mentors and with other people who are in, who are also trying to answer the same question and giving them a lot of freedom and allowing them to talk to one another a lot. 

The fact that that happens, like let the fact that that doesn't happen more often than not is I think like sort of like setting money on fire. Like that's the thing that it's supposed to do. It doesn't do that. So science house would be a place where, where like the point is doing that. And I guess I never really said what the plan is, but the plan [00:42:00] is like you get a house and students live in the house. 

The mentor, their mentor lives in a different house. Cause like when you're young and living together, you should, the mentor should live elsewhere. Like they should, they should have the, the, uh, I think the freedom to live in a house of young people. Uh, but. 

No, I didn't live with Dan. Uh, I think that was for the best. 

Um, that we each had our own space, uh, in our own lives, but we spent a lot of time together. And that would be the idea that like, you spend a lot of time with your colleagues, spend a lot of time with this mentor. And rather than producing journal articles, which is the point of being in a PhD program, like the point is to produce scientific projects that you then put on the internet written in words that anyone can understand. 

I think it all sounds very reasonable and I think people are maybe surprised to find that like that isn't what academia is even trying to do. Like if that happens, it's sort of a byproduct. Um, but yeah, that's the idea. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, it's always just briefly about the supervisor thing. It's always kind of so It's not quite the right word, but let's just use it anyway. So sad when you see people and you know, they get like, Oh, there's a problem with my supervisor. And you go like, well. You know, why don't [00:43:00] you talk to them about this and that like, yeah, that's not how it works. And it's just like there's 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: like you can't really talk to them 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: like it's you have to manage the relationship with the supervisor 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. 


Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: It's it probably depends like on where you are and that kind of stuff, but it's shocking how many people have that kind of Relationship with the 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: just, in some sense, I mean, some of it might actually be productive because you kind of have to really defend your ideas because they're not going to go with it unless it's like really obviously good, but it just, yeah, it also seems to me the, yeah, not the right way to, to do science. 

Adam Mastroianni: Um, I knew a guy in grad school who like He like, he got to send an email to his advisor or like sometimes like that's like every three weeks or something. His advisor would like reply to an email. Like his job was like to produce like a long document for his advisor to read and go like, no. Um, like keep thinking to be like, okay, I spent three months working on that. 

And yeah, it seemed to [00:44:00] me like, like such a waste. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, but anyway, uh, I mean, well, that's the sad thing. I mean, it's not like this is a huge podcast, but enough now that there will be some people in the audience. To whom exactly that applies, 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. 


Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: is always and maybe even a supervisor who's like that listening. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: but obviously not you thinking about this right now. you're the good supervisor. but obviously, obviously the bad supervisor not going to feel addressed by that. 

Adam Mastroianni: No, of course. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Um, maybe the, the, I'm slightly jumping over my questions, but I'm just really curious, like, are you. Is this something you're trying to do? 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: all a metaphor, but also is 

Adam Mastroianni: Yes. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: you're, have you surveyed land? 

Adam Mastroianni: Uh, no, I, I don't have the money to do this. Uh, I do know where I would put the house in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Um, both, both because like that is a place I'd like to live long term, but also I'd like it to be in a place where the students of science house could like talk to a lot of students in [00:45:00] traditional academic programs for the benefit of both. 

I think like if I was in a PhD and I met someone from science house, I'd be like. Wait, you can do that? Anyway, I think it would shatter a lot of my assumptions about, like, Oh, this is the way that things have to be done. And I think we could learn stuff, too, from the way that they do things. Um, that, that I think it would be good for, for both kinds of students to, to, to see one another. 


Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: but you realize you're not, students are not going to allow you to go to your house because they'll just be, they'll be like, leave my students alone. I'm 

Adam Mastroianni: Heh heh. Heh heh. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: these ideas. 

Adam Mastroianni: Uh, Yes, secretly that is what I hope. Um. That, that, uh, they, they would, they would, uh, get addicted to the secret truth of how science can really be done. Um, and then the, the spell of the bad supervisor would be broken, uh, because part of that spell works by people thinking that, that is, this is the way that we have to do it. 

But yeah, I've, I've talked to a few people who are interested in, in this idea. I mean, uh, if there's anyone listening who, who [00:46:00] like thinks that this should happen, I'm happy to talk to them. So I, so yes, this, I don't have the money it takes now. And I, so I don't have the house in mind, but this is something that, uh, that like is a project that I, that I hope to accomplish before I die anyway. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: That's really cool. Yeah, I mean, as a, as I said, like this, this whole idea sounds super cool to me. I mean, in some sense, again, it does seem a bit, I think part of the reason why it's so appealing because it's kind of a suggestion to say like, hey, do you want all the upside without any of the downside? You know, that's kind of what this whole, 

Adam Mastroianni: Yes. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: thought experiment is. 

And, um, but I, I liked your kind of, You're like hypothetical, like how much would this cost? Because I think what do you say like it would be like maybe do you have the numbers? Otherwise, I'll 

Adam Mastroianni: It would, uh, as a rough estimate, it would cost 15 million to endow this forever, right? You could run it on the interest income from 15 million minus what it would cost to buy the house in the first place. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah, and I think then that was about half a million dollars of [00:47:00] annual salary expenses, 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. Something like that. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Which I guess it's a house. So boarding is provided 

Adam Mastroianni: Yes. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: What's interesting to me is that I have no idea what it's like in the U. S., but in Europe, some of the big grants, um, if you have like an, what's it called, like an ERC consolidated grant, or welcome trust, whatever grant, I think they can often be like, Unless, I think the biggest ones are usually like 3 million euros or something like that. from maybe some like, exceptionally big ones. But usually it's like, I think like the big ones are, you get it for like 4 years. You spend like 1 and a half million, or you get 1 and a half million or whatever. and it's kind of crazy to me to think like, it would take about, let's say, 5 to 10 of those. To just have the house. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That runs itself. And, and like, I mean, look, I've never, you know, launched a nonprofit or even bought a house before it could be that like, no, actually it turns out there's so much more that you [00:48:00] need to do to make, to make this work. I mean, I've thought through like, okay, yes, you need to pay like legal expenses to like make this happen. 

You need to pay, uh, to keep the house up. But yeah, I mean, a lot of the reason why things are so expensive in academia is because like. The institutions are so big, you have to support an army of bureaucrats that, that like keep the, uh, the money coming in. And like you end up in a world where, I mean, the comparison I use in the piece is like, Harvard spends $15 million a year on phones. 

Phone or postage? Sorry. Postage. Uh uh, yeah, I think phones are actually, uh, about that amount again. So like, 

uh, I mean there's just like landlines, which like most people aren't even using anymore, but postage alone at Harvard is nearly $15 million a year. And so like, look, I think Harvard does a lot of good stuff. 

Obviously it's a big institution. Like it, it supports many people who are doing important work, but how do we get to the point where it makes sense to spend 15 million on postage? I think like part of that is, is the like insanity that comes from scale. Like, supposedly you get [00:49:00] efficiency from scale and obviously you can in some ways, but I think when you're talking about bureaucracy, I think you often get insanity from scale. 


Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, yeah. But do you, one, you know, one I think fairly. immediate and obvious criticism of this is to say like, well, how do you think universities started out? Right? Like someone had a bunch of money, gave it to people to do some, to kind of think outside of the box and have some cool thoughts. And, you know, time they all end up becoming these big bureaucracies. And, uh, I mean, to, to maybe, I don't know if this analogy is going to help at all, but there's a really cool episode of the Behind the Bastards podcast, where they talk about people who see them, what's it called? Like the very, like politically completely independent government should not exist kind of thing. anyway, they sometimes buy boats because in international seas, there's no laws. And then they all end up kind of reinventing kind of a state, right? They kind of always kind of like, ah, no, someone hit someone or killed someone. Now we need someone to enforce like that people don't hit other[00:50:00]  

Adam Mastroianni: Yep, yep, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: recreate government basically. So like, I'm wondering, like, how are you not going to do that? Is it just because it's smaller? It's not supposed to grow or like, 

Adam Mastroianni: yeah, uh, that's part of it. I mean, first, I think that like a lot of the downsides that like the things that we dislike the most about academia, I think are of somewhat recent vintage. They worked very differently, I think several generations ago. Uh, I mean, basically before they got really big and pretty fat off of government funding. 

So they have the advantage now that, like, they're much bigger and can do much more things. But the disadvantage is all the bureaucracy that came from that. So yeah, so if you get a run of 300 years, where things are really good before things start going south, I also think that's pretty good. Uh, if you got that for 15 million, uh, and the other thing it's like, I think this actually really comes down to, to like the quality and values of the people that you put in charge of these places, you cannot optimize, or you can't guarantee, right. 

That they will never fall into the wrong hands. Uh, but I do think they really depend on the right person running them. And I think they really depend on having this value of like, the point is [00:51:00] not to acquire additional houses. Uh, like I'm happy to help set up other houses that do this independently. Uh, but for me, the ethos is like, the point is the house, one house. 

If there's any more houses, other people are doing them independently. Like the maximum that I want us to like interact with one another is like, can we pull our resources in terms of like the accounting costs and like how much it costs to like have a barbecue together. Uh, but in terms of administration, like no, each of these should be unto their own because the idea is that we're trying to take many different, uh, approaches, not in the sense of like many different departments in a university where we're all kind of doing the same thing, but I do it for chemistry and you do it for physics. 

Like, no. We, we're literally trying to do different things, and so our approaches should be very idiosyncratic. They should not be centrally controlled, which also means that, like, they could go in weird directions. Uh, and I think part of believing this idea is also, like, I think having the guts to be like, Yeah, some of these might fail, but, like, you can't have the upside without, without the exposure to the gut. 

Yeah, yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: but okay. I mean, it's just funny because as I said, I really, I really liked reading the article and it really. [00:52:00] It stirred some revolutionary thoughts inside me.  

Adam Mastroianni: Uh,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: and now I feel I, I, I'm observing myself bringing up a bunch of criticisms or 

Adam Mastroianni: uh, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: problems with it, which is kind of interesting. 

But I guess it's more to kind of explore the idea rather than to, to say why it wouldn't work. But then, okay, who gets to decide who lives in the house? you? then it becomes a cult. 

Adam Mastroianni: uh, yeah, uh, I mean, a lot of labs actually turn out to be cults, so if I was running the house, yeah, it'd be me. I also, I think that like part of, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: What's the kind of, do you have like three people who have tenure indefinitely? Is it kind of, what's the structure of, is it, you know, like a PhD people come in for four years, leave again? 

Adam Mastroianni: yeah, 

that, that would be the, the, uh, the idea for the students would be you come for a fixed term, I think probably four years in which you are trained and then you're done. And. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: oh, sorry, you wrote that in. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, yeah. Um, yeah, I also think, uh, or at least I built into the budget enough for, for there to be, [00:53:00] uh, at least one visiting scholar at any point. 

So like, so I wouldn't be the only older person who's there. Cause like, I also don't want to be the sole like mentor to four people. Like you should have a diversity in mentorship as well. And so I'd always want there to be someone else that you can learn from who like has a different perspective on, uh, on like how to develop as a scientist. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, and I think, yeah, if I remember correctly, you, you, the, kind of the argument was people don't stay in academia anyway. So why 

Adam Mastroianni: Yes, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Pretending, why are we training them specifically to do this? Why not just spend four years of your, instead of doing a PhD, you spend four years doing cool stuff and learning how to think. 

That was kind of also part of the argument, right? 

Adam Mastroianni: yes, 

yeah, that like, uh, yeah, when I, when I talk to like other, uh, friends in academia that are like, well, but they couldn't get an academic job afterward. And I'm like, you're not going to get an academic job afterward. So, so like, why, why worry about it? In fact, I think it's much more freeing to be like, well, obviously I'm not going to do that class of jobs. 

What class of jobs, like, could I do? I think the answer is like, well, a lot of them, because if you are developing your skills in like solving scientific problems, writing about them in accessible [00:54:00] language. Like those are things, like those are useful people who could go in a lot of different directions. I also think they're also, they're going to be pretty weird people to begin with who are willing to take a risk on this, who I think are going to be less interested in the most conventional types of jobs anyway. 

So I wouldn't feel bad about like, you know, like, yeah, you're not going to be, I'm not going to make you more competitive for doing a conventional academic job. But if you're coming here, that's not what you want anyway. What you want to do is something weird. And like, I will help you get much better at doing something weird. 


Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Oh, that would be amazing. Just like, it's not even productive. Just society just gets weird in some undefinable way through your 

Adam Mastroianni: yeah, uh, I think they'd be great. 


Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: else's house necessarily, there 

Adam Mastroianni: yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: really, you know, straightforward kind of do signs in the proper way. And then 

Adam Mastroianni: Sure, I mean, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: mad house that's yours. 

Adam Mastroianni: yeah. I mean, I think all these would be, would sort of be a little inherently weird because if you weren't, like, why wouldn't you just go to where the structures are set up, uh, the [00:55:00] way that you like them already? So, uh, I, so I think you'd be a little bit wasted if that's what you wanted to do. 

Um, and, uh, yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, yeah, that's fair enough. Yeah. funny. What's you, what's we're talking about, like, um, the, the skills you would build there. I was reminded of the, of Herman Hassler's Zadata, where he said basically like, He's trying to be a monk and does all of that, of the Buddhism, he does  

Adam Mastroianni: Mm hmm. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: and then realize he doesn't want to do it goes to a businessman and says, like, I want to work for you. 

And he's like, Well, what can you do? He says, Well, I can think, and I can fast. And I can wait. like, that's all that's like, yeah, that's about it. But like, what do you think of as like can't do those three things. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I'm like, if I could do those three things, that would be pretty well off. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: if you can, if you can teach how to think through things, probably more than, well, probably more than I've learned in my PhD. 

Adam Mastroianni: And even just to produce something [00:56:00] that, that is like readable and interesting. That, I mean, a lot of people who get hired, for instance, into industry out of PhD programs, like it's not that the people hiring you like read your papers and, and are like, Oh, this paper is so good. They like the fact that they know you can like deal with complex stuff. 

You probably have data analysis skills. You maybe have some content knowledge if you're like getting hired as a biologist to like do biology VC stuff, but it's not, I think that they really like value the particular academic work that you've done because they probably can't assess it unless they're also an expert. 

What if they could assess it? And what if they could see like, Hey, we're this article that I understood and that taught me something. And that answered a problem that I thought was interesting. I would want to hire a person like that. Whereas someone who's like, guess what? I know how to play the game of academia and like publish a paper. 

I'd be like. Like yeah, you can play that game, but we're playing a different game over here. It's like I don't care that you're really good at Scrabble, like we're playing soccer. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it's also like, especially when you think about like, oh, I, let's say I published in science, right? vaguely made [00:57:00] up. It's like, well, you published science in science. Like, you know, if you're not in academia, then it probably doesn't really make sense. Like, that doesn't sound like it's a real thing, 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, I performed at concert hall. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, 

Adam Mastroianni: Like, okay, sure. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, good for you. Uh, okay, so what's the, who's allowed into the house? Uh, is there, I'm assuming, than 18, do they have to have some degree? 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, yes. 

Yeah, I think so. I think that this, uh, would be like sensible for the kind of person who might've otherwise gone to a PhD program. So they, they're probably done with undergrad. Maybe they've done some stuff in between and which is also like a. Fairly wide range of ages, but not infinitely wide, which is also like what I'm particularly interested in, uh, working with like that, uh, group of people, I can see a different science house. 

That's like, no, we're all about people who are in the middle of their careers and want to do something else. It's weird. And who we assume like have really great skills from whatever they were doing. And now we're going to repurpose them to do different stuff. Like that would be cool too. It's just not the thing that, uh, that I see myself [00:58:00] doing. 

It's like, I really like talking to that particular group of people. Yeah. That's so that's what I would do. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I guess we're doing kind of two things at the same time here. One is the bigger point of... 

Adam Mastroianni: Yes. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: your little boats 

Adam Mastroianni: Yes. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: the, the, the houses and specifically, we're talking through what you would do in yours if 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I mean, you'd have to have quite a few subscribers on Substack million, 

Adam Mastroianni: Yes. 


Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: um, I don't think you're quite there. 

I don't know. I don't know how 

Adam Mastroianni: No, I am not there. 

I'm not there. I hope to be one day. I mean, I'd love to see octogenarian house, right? That like is a science house just an 80 year olds. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I mean, that's, they'll probably have a lot more, many more interesting questions than a bunch of like 22 year olds, 

Adam Mastroianni: Sure. 

Certainly different questions. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah, 

Adam Mastroianni: but I mean just to think about the fact that like there doesn't exist a place for it for them Like no, no one would even think about doing such a thing I mean some people would argue like that is what academia is. It's octogenarian house 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah, that's what, that, that [00:59:00] is what tenure is, you know, you know, 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: um, Yeah, I mean, I'm, I'm looking forward to the house. I don't know whether I already have a PhD. I don't know whether I can apply. Um, but the funny thing is like, to me, it's, I mean, again, part of the appeal is like that you kind of, you know, get a lot of the upsides without a lot of the downsides that, you know, that's part of the appeal. I still find it interesting, like just how. Excited I get 

Adam Mastroianni: Yes 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: you know, read your articles about it when I go like, yeah, that would be amazing if I didn't have to do stupid peer review or like, you know, not peer review, but like respond to like some stupid comments that I got that are completely pointless. 

Now I have to spend half an hour explaining why it's silly rather than just ignoring it, which I could if a friend wrote it, right? so, and yeah, sorry, even though, so this is already exciting me, but I don't even. I wouldn't even, I'm not even interested in the same topic as what you're doing, but I still want to be like, ah, maybe I should do it anyway. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, yeah. Like, even if, uh, I mean, if someone came to me and [01:00:00] was like, I'm going to set this up, but like, I'm a wizard and I will only do it at the cost of like you never being able to run one. I'd be like, okay, I just really actually want this to exist. It's part of my dream because I would really, I think it'd be good at doing it. 

And it's something I'd really like to do. But if you were like, I'm going to give it to someone else, I think it'd be a good job, do a good job doing it. I'd be like, well, I just want it to be out there. Like I want people to see that this is possible and I want to see what people do when they're put in this environment where they can do that kind of thing. 

That and I know like from the outside it does have Have this like vibe of like what if all the upsides and none of the downsides there were like there would obviously be downsides right there like the people in science that's i'm sure would complain about things like We also we have to think about running the house too, right? 

We uh, we're like totally lost of what we work on all the time like I just think it's actually really worthwhile for there to be different upsides and different downsides And I think like we actually can do better overall at uh In terms of our mix of upsides and downsides than we do right now in a phd program where it seems to me Like, the, the median of the distribution is mediocre. 

Like, some people have a pretty good time, [01:01:00] many people have a terrible time, and like, the middle person, I think, has like an okay time. Which is crazy, because supposedly everything's taken care of. Like, you have enough money to live on, not, probably could use more, uh, but like, supposedly you have a lot of freedom, like, you're around other people who are supposed to be smart and interesting, you're supposed to have the guidance of an advisor. 

And for some reason, these things just like, kind of don't work out most of the time. Which is why I think it wouldn't be that hard to do better. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: One thing that just occurred to me is that, do you wonder whether, you know, not having restrictions can often be harder than having restrictions, because number one, if you have restrictions, you've got something to work against, uh, you have something to work with and that kind of stuff, um, it just, I mean, we want to take a scenic review, basically what you're saying, like, what I would really like is if someone gave me and my friends money 

Adam Mastroianni: Mm hmm. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: hang out,  

Adam Mastroianni: Mm hmm. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I could very easily see how, uh, nothing happens for four years, it's like it starts off excited and then just like, yeah, I [01:02:00] don't know, I want to like play video games today. 

And just the whole thing just falls apart. do you think, I mean, how, how, I mean, to provide it, I mean, maybe why I'm thinking about this is because right now I have basically nothing to do. I just handed in my PhD. I've got like three weeks of just nothing. and I, I've wasted at least the first week of that. And, um, part of that is reaction to what came before, but in general, you know, constraints are usually good. So are there any? Or what would you do maybe? I guess every house does it differently, but 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. I think, I think in terms of the danger of like, Oh, do people just hang out and do nothing? I think like, uh, I think you should trust what people were doing before you started looking at them. Which is also how I would think about selecting people for the house. That like, I think if you look back at what I, what I've done, like. 

I was doing this stuff before anybody was looking and before I made any money on it. Like, just because I liked doing it, which I think is a pretty good signal of like, I do actually want to do this. And that's what I would be looking for in the kind of people that I would want to select for Science House. 

That [01:03:00] like, I would not want a traditional application where it's like, lie to me in the form of a personal statement about why you want to be here. Like, no, I want to look at what you're doing right now and see that before you even knew this was possible, you were doing this. Uh, the, like I have put out there, right. 

The call to like, put science on the internet. And I understand that, like, some people don't have time or the ability to do it, but I'd be happy to see even people doing a bad job at this, but who really want it. That's the kind of person that I would want, because I would trust that when they get there, what I'm giving them is like. 

The support to live their life, some structure and some guidance. And I expect that they would, they would, I would unlock the thing that they always wanted to do because they were willing to do it, even when it was costly and gave them no benefit at all. And in, in the science house that I would run, like, I don't quite think it would be like it was with Dan when I showed up that I'm just like. 

Let's just do whatever. Hopefully at that time, it's like, we have an idea for a paradigm in psychology. And so we do actually think there are some questions that are really important to answer. There are many questions within there that might be worth working on. And so it's not going to be like, [01:04:00] hey, now you have this thing to do. 

But I think it would make sense to have something more focused. At the same time, like, if we get to talking about something and it's like, actually, that's really interesting. We can work on it. We have the freedom to do that. But I agree with you, like, it is hard, especially if you don't have that much experience to come in and just be like, here's my really interesting idea. 

Uh, yeah, I think that is part of what we're training people to get. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I mean, I guess it's also in the sense that you do have at least one more experienced person, i. e. you, to kind of provide some guidance. Um, maybe briefly you wrote uh, about, or a CK post, uh, about, I think this was you about, um, how, you know, applications and that kinda stuff are silly. Um, especially Oh, yes, of course. 

It was you, yeah. The, the whole roads thing and. How would you, I mean, it seems like you might spend a lot of time with the people, uh, but how do you, let's say, you know, it's five years, you've got an inkling of a paradigm, how are you going to find the right people? [01:05:00] Assuming, you know, one question is how do you even attract the right people? 

That's maybe the first place to start, because if you post it on nature jobs, you're going to get a certain kind of person. And if you post it on your sub stack, different kinds of person. So, yeah. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. I mean, one way is by like putting the things out there that I think are important and see who responds to them, right? Like who joins the discord? What do they do? That I think is a source of the kind of people that I'm looking for. A friend of mine teaches at like a weird hippie college in the woods, which I think attracts, uh, often the right kind of person who's like kind of weird, but very ambitious. 

I think that that is another source it's, it's difficult to ever be comprehensive. Right. So I would still want there to be some way of like, I have no idea who you are and we have no connection to one another through our social network, but like, you can tell me that you were interested in doing this and really I want that to be like, maybe one, like two lines, which is your name and like your, like the thing that you want me to see on the internet, which is ideally like work that you've done already, that shows me that you're actually interested in doing it. 

Because if you've never [01:06:00] done anything like this before, and you're like, but I really want to, it seems unclear. Like, it kind of seems like maybe you don't want to, and that's what I'm trying to do with these posts is like to lower the bar for people doing that, that like, even if it's a bad PDF on a dumb idea that like you didn't run correctly, like just do it, just put it on the internet. 

I get a lot of emails from people who are like, I'm thinking about this project. And I, and I usually say, just do it, write it up. Like it does not matter if it is bad, especially because the only way you'll get better is, is by doing it the first time. And so the kind of person who does that is the kind of person that I would want to keep working with. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Yeah. It's fair. Yeah. I want to do it, but I never have. It's like, well, yeah, do you really, or you, you actually want to, but you, you think, yeah, you, you're like so entrenched in the of like, you need the qualifications, you need 

Adam Mastroianni: Yes. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: whatever to do it. That's also not going to be useful for 

Adam Mastroianni: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Um, yeah. So I wanted to talk briefly about peer review, which is one of the. One of my main frustrations, let's say, [01:07:00] which probably also, it doesn't reflect too well on me that I'm so frustrated with it, but, um, Um, what I wanted to ask is like, I guess the, some of the objections to peer review are, I mean, you've written about it, other people have talked about it, we don't need to go Over all of them right now, maybe one question I kind of have is like, how do you in a, in a system where you, so basically how do you cultivate good feedback? Um, because I think one, one actually really useful thing about peer review is that it kind of forces people to actually read your thing and comment on it. Not everything that comes back is necessarily sensible, but I mean, from my experience, maybe this is just the people I know, but they're not super reliable in sending you feedback when you want it to, whereas 

Adam Mastroianni: Yep. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: does tend to happen within the expected timeframe, more or less. So I'm curious, like, how are you, how do you want to ensure that you get good outside perspective on what you're doing? And it's not just, you know, five people in a house just thinking they're amazing. 

Adam Mastroianni: Uh, I think part of it is making a thing that people [01:08:00] want to read in the first place. I think being ignored is often a piece of feedback, like maybe good or maybe bad. Right. That like. If Bach was ignored for 150 years, like he seems still good. Well, that's fine. But I mean, when I posted that things would be better on the internet, like I did not expect many people to like notice or care or comment. 

Uh, and a lot of people did. And, uh, and like, that wasn't because they were like guilted into doing it. Like I still get reviews from people who like respond because they were interested. Uh, and I think those are actually the reviews that you want the review from the person who is guilted into reviewing your paper probably isn't going to give you as good a feedback or the person who's doing it because they are acting as a gatekeeper, what they are doing is trying to figure out, like, should I lift the gate for your piece, which isn't actually the question that I want answered. 

I want to know, like, how do I answer the question that I was trying to answer? And one of those answers might be, I don't think this was a good question to ask in the first place. So yeah, I think, uh, one way is doing the kind of work that, that attracts people in the, in the first place and putting it in, in, uh, like communicating it in a way that allows people to communicate back to you.[01:09:00]  

The other way I think is by training people to give the kind of feedback that you want to give. And part of the way of doing this is like to give that kind of feedback. I was working with my, that same friend who teaches at that hippie college. Uh, he was, we were talking about like, what should his final project assignment be for this class that he was teaching. 

And we came up with this idea of like, why don't you like, try to like, write a helpful review to someone whose work that you read that, like the point here, isn't like trying to decide whether it should be published or not, but to be like, Hey, I see what you're doing. I'm interested in it. This is my way of trying to help you, which might mean like here, I noticed that like, something's wrong in your code or like, I have an idea. 

I wonder if you've thought about this. Which is the way that I would like to be interacted with as a scientist, right? Like, I'm happy when people write to me and they're actually interested in the thing that I'm trying to do, rather than, like, I've come to them as a supplicant. So I think that, that is how. 

Uh, I mean, people say that, like, if you, if you want to learn something, just post the wrong answer on the internet and people will correct you immediately. Uh, and I do think that is, like, kind of broadly true. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. By the way, how's [01:10:00] the feedback for things could be better? Has that been useful? 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, yeah. I've edited the paper in response to it. Like most concretely, one person was like, I think actually the, the grass would be better if you like flip the X and Y axes. And, uh, cause I think it actually shows more clearly the thing that you are trying to show. It's like, actually, that's a good point. 

And I just like flipped the axes, like uploaded a new version. I heard from, uh, so some of the people that we cited in it, like the person who was optimism bias work that we, we said it wrote to us and was like, I actually got into studying optimism biases. In part, cause like I was sort of, and trying to answer a similar question to you and like, here's a case where I think it might turn off. 

So yeah, we got a ton of good feedback, like useful feedback and, and, uh, uh, more so than when I've submitted to journals. Uh, because like a lot of the feedback is like hostile. Uh, like they didn't, they didn't actually care. They're not trying to help me. Like if anything, they're, they're trying to like, I don't know, help. 

Like the journal in a weird way. And so, yeah, [01:11:00] I also tried to, to, to model this with other people that like the, I try to give the kind of feedback that I would want to receive like both freely and openly. So, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. I mean, to some extent it seems to me that your model, so to speak, if it's already a working model, requires some sort of. Not fame exactly, but you have to, I mean, as I said, like no one's saying anything is some sort of feedback to you, but it's not exactly a high grained feedback. Like, you don't know 

Adam Mastroianni: yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: like, why it's not working. I don't know. Does that just limit who can do it that you have to, I mean, for example, one of the reasons you're. You have probably got so much weaker. It's because you're very good at writing in a funny way and it's entertaining, right? And many people don't have that, right? It's just like me, me included, right? 

Like I'm not judging other people. Like for me, humorous writing is, I mean, it's not something I've ever really tried to do, right? So yeah, does that limit? Yeah, I mean, do you have to be an entertaining writer for this to work or? 

Adam Mastroianni: No, I don't think so. I think, uh, in part because the, the way that people originally found this paper wasn't because I posted it on my [01:12:00] blog, uh, which at the time even had many fewer subscribers than now, like people found it because I uploaded and there's a SciArchive Twitter bot and people found it through that. 

And like, they originally clicked on it, literally based on the title. They kept reading it because of what it said. And like, yeah, I'm proud of that paper. I think it's well written. I think it's funny. But I think part of the reason it's funny isn't because, like, We tried to write a bunch of jokes into it. 

It was like, we just described what was happening in like language that we would use. And I think that like, uh, I think most people, if they wrote honestly about the things that they did, like their papers would be a lot funnier than they are now. It wouldn't transform everyone into a great writer. I think, but I think it would transform most people into better writers. 

Because if you want to talk about like what makes things more accessible, like certainly it cannot be that you have to express yourself in like this. Sort of fake academic language that, uh, it has to be easier for people to use the words that they would use normally. So, like, yeah, no, I don't think this is, this is restricted to people who are just good at writing or just have an online following. 

In fact, I [01:13:00] think it is less restricted than the version of this where, like, you have to know all these norms and speak in this language in order to get your piece out there. Which again is not even a guarantee that anyone but the reviewers will read it. And the reviewers might not even really read it. 

So, uh, so I think it's actually more accessible. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, Um, do you have anything else to add? Otherwise I'd go to the recurring questions. 

Adam Mastroianni: Let's do it. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. Question number one. I don't know why I number them. Anyway, question number one. Uh, a book or paper, or in your case, I will allow a blog post. 

Adam Mastroianni: All right. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: That more people should read this can be a hidden gem that you found a paper from the 40s that no one's read It could be super famous, but people should read again comes to mind 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. Uh, I'm glad you allow blog posts because, uh, mine would be the scientific virtues by the pseudonymous bloggers called Slime Mold Time Mold. It is the thing that I, like my first recommendation to anyone. Beginning to be a scientist. I mean, really to [01:14:00] anybody, but, but it's a great starting point. It is a blog post about like how the practice of science is actually the cultivation of certain virtues and the virtues are all the opposites of the things that you think that they would be. 

It is like stupidness, stupidness and stupid or stupidity, whichever it doesn't matter because I'm cultivating the virtue of whatever that dumb thing is, laziness, stupidity, arrogance. And they, they include a lot of quotes from famous scientists who, who clearly embody these virtues. And the point being that like. 

People think that what you learn to do when you learn to be a scientist is like, Oh, you learn how to like put stuff in a Petri dish and you learn how to analyze data and you learn how to read a paper. And like, those are things that you might learn in the process of doing whatever you're doing. But like, you are actually becoming a certain kind of person and the kind of person that you should become is a person who embodies these virtues. 

Um, so I really recommend, uh, people reading. I come back to it very often. So yeah, that's, that's my piece. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay, yeah, I'll find that and put that in the description Uh, just briefly, um, because I, last time I think we talked, you also mentioned, uh, Slime Mode, Time Mode, [01:15:00] uh, and I haven't checked, I always thought it was one person, but it's multiple people, right? Um, can you maybe provide a bit of background because it seems like you've, you, you like them a lot. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I'm good friends with them. Um, and they were actually instrumental in me starting a blog in the first place. Uh, basically they wouldn't leave me alone until I did, and it was partly seeing them be successful. I mean, having the silliest name in the world, um, like clearly not writing to like impress anybody, not writing to be taken seriously. 

And they had a lot of success on their blog and they were able to do some cool stuff, like run internet trials where people ate nothing but potatoes for a month. And it really changed what I thought was possible to do. And, uh, yeah, so they've been very influential on me. So that's part of why I, uh, I talk about them a lot and try to encourage people to read them. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: And they, what, they, they are scientists or used to be, or what's 

Adam Mastroianni: Um, they're, they're slime molds. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. Okay. 

Adam Mastroianni: Uh, I think that if you look at them and you ask the question of what are their credentials, I think you, uh, you had not, you have [01:16:00] not learned what they have to teach you. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. What's sort of my credentials? It's more like, I'm just curious like what, whether they are people who, know, roughly followed your path or went to a completely different path or, I don't know. I 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, I think. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: alter ego. Um, 

Adam Mastroianni: Uh, people have thought that before and then disappointed. So yeah, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Okay. Well, I, I'll, I'll, I'll, I'll read it and then. I'll see. Um, something you wish you'd learned sooner? And this can be from private work, whatever you want. Um, and maybe if you have already learned it, how, how did you deal with it? Or what was the consequence of, of your learning? 

Adam Mastroianni: yeah. Um, this is a hard one to answer. Cause I don't necessarily like wish my life would have taken some kind of different course. And so if I could go back in time and say anything to myself, I might, I just might not do it. The, I mean, the paradox is maybe, maybe, uh, too big, but. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Or maybe it's just something important you 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, yeah. Something that I think is time sensitive is like this idea of living in [01:17:00] accordance with your values. 

Like it only gets more difficult. And the best time to do it is now, especially when you are young, people feed you this idea. Like we talked about this before, before that, like you just need to live in a different way for a while. And then you can do the things that you want to do. And I've now been around long enough to see that like people will sell you that scam at every point. 

That like, they will tell you that you always need to have a little bit more than you have before you have enough to the point where like, when I was at Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship, the warden of Rhodes house, like the person in charge of it, once like tried to convince a bunch of us that like, what you guys really need to do after this is like, go work for McKinsey, a consulting company, uh, which he had worked for. 

He's like, you need to go there, like build some skills. And I'm like, well, what are we doing here? Like, I thought this was the time when we were building skills. And like, after this, we can do whatever. And so if, if at that point, if after like winning this prestigious scholarship and getting a master's degree from a prestigious university, if at that point people are like, no, you're not keep going, like nobody is ever going to tell you that the time is right to be brave. 

So, so I guess I will, but the time is right now. It is not a single decision. Like you have to keep choosing it [01:18:00] over and over again. And I think the only things that really help are close contact with other people who are also trying to do the same thing. I think you can't do it alone or it's really hard to do it alone. 

It's very lonely. And that's why people end up not doing it because they put themselves in places where other people are not trying to do this or they've given up on this. Um, they're like, well, but. But I, you know, I do need to build my skills at McKinsey before I can do the thing that I think is actually good for the world. 

And it's like, well, by the time you've spent the five years building concentration camps in China, like then , you're then, do you think you're really gonna come back and do, do the opposite, like, uh, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. 

Adam Mastroianni: Um, yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. Yeah, I think I'll actually just go on to the next question because I feel like it might be similar. Your answer might be similar, which is, uh, so I just handed in my PhD. I'll start a postdoc at some point, in the next few months. And I'm actually, you know, I mean, all, all criticism academia aside, I'm, I'm really looking forward to doing that. But as I mentioned, like, I don't know whether I want to spend my, you know, large portions of my life grading essays or applying for fellowships or I don't know what. Um, [01:19:00] any advice? 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. Um, apparently there was someone at like Bell Labs or something that used to walk around and ask people like, Uh, what's the most important problem in your field? And then people would tell him and he'd go, are you, are you working on that? And people would invariably tell him no. And he'd go, why? Uh, so something like that. 

I don't even know what Bell has, whatever. Uh, but I think the question is a good one. And I think, especially when you're starting something new, I think it's worth asking yourself that like. What do you think is most important to work on? And like, what good reason do you have for not working on it? 

Because I don't think that there's a good reason. You will think of many reasons, um, but I don't think there is ultimately a good reason. If it's the most important thing to do, I think it is how you should spend your time. And I think... It may be scary to do that because it feels like, uh, we should opt into this idea of like, I'll do that later when I have enough stored up. 

Uh, and I don't think you'll do it later. I think it is easy. It'll only get harder to do it in the future. Uh, so you should do it now. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: okay. I'll apply to McKinsey tomorrow. 

Adam Mastroianni: [01:20:00] Somebody has got to build the concentration camps. They're not going to build themselves. Uh, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: So is that something they're doing at all? 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, this is, I mean, I'm, I'm speaking somewhat facetiously, but, but yeah, like, you know, every couple of years, a whistleblower comes out of McKinsey being like, Oh, we, we helped this dictator. Uh, and so I think, I think one of them is actually building, uh, obviously the Chinese government would not call them, uh, concentration camps for, uh, the Uyghur Muslim minority. 

Yes, exactly. Um, but, uh, but yeah, they've been involved in projects like that, uh, at least as my understanding, I don't want to get sued for defamation by, by McKinsey. This is what I have heard. Um, I have no in I have no first hand knowledge that this is the case. It just seems likely to me. And so that, if that is going on, which again, I have no idea if it is or not. 

People seem to be saying that it is. I just don't think people should be doing that. Uh, even if you are well remunerated for doing it. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. Yeah, I mean, I guess if you Yeah, I mean, I don't know anything about consulting, so I'm not going to add anything to that. It was the kind of career that seemed very cool when I was about [01:21:00] 16, and then very quickly not anymore. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. Uh... 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: um, well, this took a very positive end. 

Adam Mastroianni: Heh heh heh heh. I mean, I think so. I think like, uh, uh, chasing after the thingy... 


well, definitely, definitely don't do that. And then I think like, like people say so cynically follow your dreams. I think they, they know that they're cynical and they say it. Cause they're like, ah, but no one, no one actually can do that. 

I think you can, I just think you can. I think it is actually really hard and it's hard, not in the ways that you imagine that it is. Like it is hard to continue to choose to do it every day. Cause we think that like, where you can make the choice once and it feels really good and that's what keeps you going. 

And like, yes, it does keep you going, but you have to keep choosing it. And you have to keep like still looking kind of ridiculous for doing it. But if you're optimizing for not looking ridiculous, like I think you're gonna have a, uh, I think you're gonna find yourself in a local minimum. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, yeah, that's true. Okay, well, thank you very much. 

Adam Mastroianni: Thank you.

Adam's Substack is now his main thing
Paradigms in psychology
Who's allowed to do science? Science as a strong-link problem
A fleet of ships, The Psychology House, and Dan Gilbert's supervsion
How to cultivate good feedback
A book, paper, or blog post more people should read
Something Adam wishes he'd learnt sooner
Any advice for PhD students or postdocs?