Research principles from the legendary Xerox PARC

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One of the most important enablers of world-changing research is to FUND it.

Part of the reason that Xerox and AT&T funded critical, world changing research in the 50's through 80's was because past high corporate tax rates favored investment in long-term projects and infrastructure. Once the corporate tax rates were reduced, much of the corporate funding for long-term investments and research disappeared.

Here are a couple interesting links on the historical corporate tax rates:

Note how the drop in the highest corporate tax rates in 1986 and 1987 parallels the end of the "Golden Era" of Xerox PARC.

Another oddly counter-intuitive enabler of fundamental research is a restrictive patent office. After all, you don’t need to fund an expensive division of research scientists and engineers if the patent on rounded corners gets the same legal respect as a patent on lasers. Instead, it is much more profitable to fund a small number of patent lawyers and crank out thousands of trivial and obvious patents.

Here is a few fun links on the rise of the patent society and it’s non-correlation with economic progress:

  • Raw patent growth statistics:
  • Lack of correlation with economic growth:
  • Dropping legal standards for valid patents:

A down side to real meritocracies like PARC is that a lot of domain-specific merit is enabled by an accident of birth. And until we really fix the educational system, there is no globally applicable remedy for that problem, because no amount of affirmative action can repair twenty years of missed educational and economic opportunities overnight.

I’m not convinced that it’s a problem of a meritocracy in the way that you suggest though; in fact you sort of address it in your own post. It’d be a problem that has to be solved before, fix the accident of birth part.

There’s always something to be said about different experiences even not counting that, although it’s hard to qualify that objectively.

Well, when I find someone who’s had the prerequisite environmental influences and lifetime of access to knowledge that’s required to integrate multiple academic disciplines without being stuck in a tedious orthodoxy, they’re usually from pretty similar backgrounds. For example they typically had extensive access to expensive libraries from a very early age.

Personally I treasure the exceptions​.

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"What made Xerox PARC special? Who else today is like them?"
Not the companies founded by the two guys who once “borrowed” a lot of PARC’s ideas.


Recruiter: Funding. That’s what makes your ships go up. I’ll tell you something, and you guys too: No bucks, no Buck Rodgers.

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