How researchers get heard
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When Science Communications Doesn’t Work Anymore

Most experts would kill for a chance to talk with Marc Andreessen, one of Silicon Valley’s most successful and outspoken venture capitalists. (Andreessen Horowitz, the firm where he’s general partner, managed $18.8 billion in assets as of last August.)

But Marc Andreessen, it seems, would rather be killed than talk to most experts. Andreessen tells Wall Street Journal columnist Andy Kessler that a friend “in the scientific research world” told him 90% of research is bad to begin with. When Kessler says “studies show” are the two most dangerous words in the English language, Andreessen sees and raises him: “The corollary is ‘experts say,’” he says.

So what does Andreessen believe in? Sturgeon’s law, named after the 20th century science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon, who was apparently rather touchy about sci-fi’s mediocre reputation among the masses. Of course 90% of sci fi is crap, said Sturgeon — because “90% of everything is crap.” (That’s the law.)

Andreessen says he applies Sturgeon’s law to everything, from music to entrepreneurship to university-based research and expertise, which he tells Kessler has become “a self-accredited cartel with no market pressure.” In Andreessen’s narrative, the “super-talented” flee academia (as well as large corporations) because they’re “swimming in an ocean of mediocrity.” Where do they end up? Silicon Valley, of course, where “venture capital got to meet the very best, those in the 10%.”

Is Andreessen here just exemplifying the Valley’s usual self-justifying exceptionalism, its hall of flattering mirrors endlessly reflecting back to founders and funders the genius of their instincts, the refinement of their taste and the world-historical nature of their mission to creatively destroy everything?

Of course. But he — and anyone who thinks of themselves as he does — doesn’t care what you think of them. And that’s your problem, not his.

And that’s why science communication increasingly doesn’t work anymore. Because the Marc Andreessens of the world — and they are everywhere, not just in VC — don’t trust your new piece of research. They think the replication crisis has exposed 90% of new research as…well, you know. They’d rather trust their 10% gut and 10% friends.

Does all of this mean Andreessen doesn’t listen to experts? Of course not. He listens to them when he has a specific problem for which experts have insights to a solution.

Solutions to problems. User-inspired and user-driven. It’s not what science or science communications generally does under a fill-gaps-in-the-literature approach. But it’s what the “public” part of “public expert” increasingly requires. Because the Marc Andreessens now see “science” and “expert” as just another couple of grifts.