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NeoAcademia Episode 10: The Paper Belt on Fire w/Michael Gibson
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NeoAcademia Episode 10: The Paper Belt on Fire w/Michael Gibson

How the road from DC to Cambridge is burning

NeoAcademia is a biweekly exploration of the shifting walls of the ivory tower. 


I’ve been really excited about this episode since I first heard about Michael’s book, The Paper Belt on Fire, like the day it came out.  Shout out to

(~@ 50:00). from episode 4 who tweeted about another organization that looked interesting, and I scrolled for a second and saw an interview with Michael. I immediately downloaded the book and was captured by his storytelling.

The projects that Michael funds are clear examples of how changing the way we view innovation, credentialling, and academia might push things towards solutions. We mention one of the companies he’s supported, Luminar, and the story of their founder is a great one Michael tells in the book. Austin is a non-traditional physicist who invented a technology that moves the needle forward in driverless cars and other arenas. Basically, the kid was a surf bro who liked to play with lasers. Now, he’s got a tech company with a billion+ valuation.

The book is great, and our conversation was great. I Love Michael’s work through and through - don’t hold it against him that he’s a Thiel baby.

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Show Notes

2:30 Getting the burning paper belt published

5:23 Michael, the writer

8:18 The Paper Belt is on Fire, but it’s an underground fire

10:53 The Paper Belt is more than just Academia, why it’s on fire, and why decentralization is the best bet for replacing it

14:15 How creative funding can rise all ships

15:39 The alternative college signals for everyone except Vitalik Buterin

18:50 What if we inverted undergrad and grad school with a focus on problem-based education?

20:09 Cultivating intellectual arenas of ambition

23:31 How our low-trust society leads to intellectual burnout and incrementalism 

25:40 The Invisible College

27:05 Experiments > theory

28:47 How 1517 fund supports action from unorthodox scientists

30:12 How the perverse system of incentives in academia perpetuates conformity

32:53  Academic identity crises

34:31 What’s worth saving from academia?

35:57 Apprenticeships and the clumping of creative thinkers 

37:15 The candle problem and other lame creativity experiments

40:02 Creative parturition from The Beatles, Diddy and TSwift 

44:39 Capturing moments of inspiration in academia

45:33 The balance of physical proximity, isolation, and intellectual bonding  

50:24 A lack of incentives toward action: a million knives at a gunfight

52:28 The unity of doers/dreamers and insider/outsiders 

56:36 How VC is under and overrated

58:21 How universities can slow the commercialization of research

1:02:05 Breaking out of the cult

1:04:15 Conflict of the over-produced elites

1:05:07 The biggest hurdle for early startups

1:08:09 The rare combo of Big 5 traits for creative success 

1:10:23 Software Tech Bros vs entrepreneurial scientists

1:13:01 Women in tech as the lonely coder and the importance of early identity

1:16:33 The pregnancy wage gap and solving problems post infant terrorism

For more resources from this episode, check out the collection Michael and I created for you. Use the password “neoacademia” for access.

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