Leverage Research Quarterly Update, Q1 2022
 

Welcome to the Leverage Research update for Q1, 2022. 

The Leverage Research 2021 Annual Report details the work the organization has undertaken since our last annual report. It covers the institute's efforts to develop and expand our three main programs, provide accessible explanations of our past and present work, reach new audiences and develop and improve the organization. It also includes a message from our Executive Director, a discussion of the challenges and next steps for each of our main areas of work, and our plans for 2022.

In this newsletter, you will find:

 

  • October 2021 Inquiry Report: Findings from our inquiry into negative experiences former staff had with the research collaboration we led from 2011 to 2019.

  • 2021 Review: Sharing our 2021 Annual Report and thanking our supporters for a successful public fundraiser.

  • Program Updates: Letting our readers know key achievements from our three early stage science programs since the beginning of the year. 

As always, if you have any questions about this update or our work, please do reach out by replying to this email or emailing larissa@leverageresearch.org.

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October 2021 Inquiry Report

As described in our recent update we have shared a public report on the findings from the inquiry we launched in October 2021 into former staff’s experiences at Leverage 1.0. The report describes how, although the majority of those we interviewed had overall positive experiences, there were clearly very difficult aspects and a few individuals likely had very negative experiences. The inquiry report covers in detail the factors that led to these bad experiences and the mistakes we believe we made at the time which contributed to them.

2021 Review
 

2021 Annual Report

Those interested in reviewing our work over the last year can read our 2021 Annual Report. The document covers our goals and achievements for each of our programs, our engagement efforts, and our institute operations, development, and strategy. It also discusses the challenges and next steps in each area, along with plans for 2022.

Successful Public Fundraiser
 

A huge thank you to all of the supporters who helped us reach our Winter Fundraiser target in our first ever public fundraiser! Thanks to many generous individual donors, we successfully beat our $100,000 target raising $103,400 to support our work! 

The fundraiser provided us with an opportunity to reach out to our existing supporters and meet potential new ones. Having previously always fundraised from a small number of large donors with whom we engaged one on one, our new self-imposed donation restriction (maximum annual donations of $10,000 per individual) helped push us towards making sure that our work was accessible and our mission compelling to a broader audience than ever before.

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Q1 2022 Program Updates
 

History of Science

Over the last quarter, we published a new case study (with accompanying research highlights) on Franklinian theory making the case that the popularity of Franklin's fluid theory of electricity came from its relative simplicity, immediate applications, and his background and work with Enlightenment audiences, rather than the theories novelty and explanatory power. We then began research on Francis Hauksbee and the experimental characterization of electric light focusing on the material and technological developments that made his work possible. One of Hauksbee’s most enduring creations, the mechanical generator is pictured on the right.

Finally, we are excited to announce both that Evan Pence, who joined our team as a researcher in 2020, will be taking over as Program Manager for our History of Science program and that we have had two papers accepted for publication in history of science journals. The first paper transcribes and translates several previously unpublished letters from the jar’s creator, Ewald von Kleist, and will appear in Lias, a history journal aimed at introducing and situating novel source materials. The second article, which will be released by the flagship history of science journal Isis, makes use of these letters and a variety of other sources to develop an alternative account of the discovery.

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Exploratory Psychology

After an increase in public interest late last year, we endeavored to write a description of “intention research,” a subject we investigated especially during the last two years of Leverage 1.0. In a 37-page introduction to the subject, Kerry Vaughan (in his new role as Program Manager of our Exploratory Psychology program) describes a variety of surprising phenomena Leverage’s researchers encountered pertaining to subtle nonverbal communication. The essay includes a discussion of historical antecedents and considerations pertaining to future research, including a variety of important risks and challenges.

The intention research essay is supplemented by a brief piece entitled The Muscle-Readers, a Historical Sketch which covers in greater depth one of the antecedents to intention research we found in the history of psychology.

Over the next few months, we’re planning to release more of Leverage’s previous psychology research, including in a form suitable for others to experiment with. If you’d like to sign up to be part of our initial testing group which will help us vet and refine introspective methods prior to release, please contact Kerry Vaughan at kerry@leverageresearch.org.

Bottlenecks in Science and Technology

Our Bottlenecks in Science and Technology program was paused last year as we looked into the experiences people had at Leverage 1.0. Having now wrapped up our inquiry and published a report, we’re ready to resume efforts to identify and break bottlenecks in science and technology.

Earlier this year, people started reaching out about the next workshop, and so we are now planning Bottlenecks 2022, currently targeting late summer or early fall. Plans are still being worked out, but we expect a slightly larger workshop, new focus areas, and a discussion of both bottlenecks and roadmaps for continued scientific progress. Like last year’s workshop at Boom Supersonic, this year’s workshop should be both productive and fun.

Follow us on Twitter for further updates during the quarter. 

 

If you have any questions about our work or this update, feel free to contact us.

Contact →

Read updates on our latest research, hiring and other news from Leverage Research. To receive updates straight to your inbox, subscribe to our newsletter.



Inquiry Findings and Intention Research (Update from April 2022)

Understanding Experiences at Leverage 1.0
 

Over the last six months, we have been reflecting on and working to explain aspects of the research collaboration we ran from 2011 to 2019 (known as Leverage 1.0) after the account of a former colleague raised concerns about people’s experiences and generated a lot of interest (both positive and negative) in our past work. 

Through this email, we want to share with our supporters two important pieces to come out of those efforts. Firstly, a report detailing the findings of the inquiry we launched in October 2021 looking into people’s experiences. The report discusses the factors we believe led to negative experiences for some and the mistakes we made at the time. Secondly, research report introducing intention research—research we conducted towards the end of Leverage 1.0 that involved surprising phenomena related to non-verbal communication—which we believe contributed importantly to negative experiences, yet is hard to explain. Alongside these pieces, we have been working on an FAQ that provides more background on common questions about our past and present work which we will publish once it has been shared with all the relevant parties for feedback.

As always, if you have any questions about this update or our work, get in touch.

Contact →

Inquiry Report on Negative Experiences at Leverage 1.0

 

This report presents the findings of the inquiry we launched in October 2021 into the extent and causes of negative experiences during our previous research collaboration. 

The inquiry—which involved extensive interviews with a third of the forty-five people we reached out to—found that the majority had positive or strongly positive overall experiences at Leverage 1.0. However, we came to believe that a small number of former colleagues we didn’t speak to likely had very negative overall experiences. And even amongst those whose experiences were overall positive, there were clearly extremely challenging aspects. 

We, therefore, focused the rest of the inquiry on understanding these negative experiences. The report details the factors identified as most important in contributing to the worst experiences people had and the mistakes we believe we made that contributed to those factors and thus the bad experiences.

Many of the negative experiences at Leverage 1.0 arose from the challenges of being part of a complex, emotionally intense, and unusual project with difficult social elements, as well as the challenges inherent to psychological self-improvement. We had already identified some of the mistakes discussed by the time it came to re-structuring Leverage Research into its current form in 2019. However, the inquiry helped us understand errors we had previously identified in far more detail and recognize new ones. Thus, while this was a sad topic to investigate, we found the inquiry highly valuable. We expect to continue reflecting on its lessons, and we hope we will have more opportunities to speak with former collaborators about their experiences at Leverage 1.0—both good and bad—and to do more to help the public understand further aspects of the project in the future.

→ Read the full inquiry report.

Intention Research

Starting in 2017, some of Leverage’s former psychology researchers stumbled across unusual effects relating to the importance and power of subtle nonverbal communication which, over time, developed into a research area we call “intention research.” 

We have put together a research report that describes what intention research was, why researchers pursued it, what they discovered, and discusses the risks and challenges of further research. The report is supplemented by historical antecedents for similar discoveries, which came from The Muscle-Readers, a Historical Sketch, an initial exploration we conducted into muscle-reading, and other ideomotor phenomena uncovered in the history of science.

Intention research led many of Leverage’s psychology researchers to conclude that nonverbal communication is at least as expressive and psychologically central as verbal communication. We also believe it led to some adverse psychological and psychosomatic effects for many of our researchers. Intention research is discussed in both our inquiry report and public accounts of Leverage 1.0 as contributing to difficult experiences and sharp increases in social tension at Leverage before its dissolution in 2019 and as something from people’s experiences that is hard to talk about. We, therefore, felt an introduction to intention research and related phenomena might be of interest to our supporters and helpful for our former colleagues by creating more publicly available context for their experiences.
 


→ Read the full research report.

If you have any questions about our work or this update, feel free to contact us.

Contact →



Leverage Research Annual Report 2021

Leverage Research Annual Report 2021 First Page Thumbnail Image.png

The Leverage Research 2021 Annual Report details the work the organization has undertaken since our last annual report. It covers the institute's efforts to develop and expand our three main programs, provide accessible explanations of our past and present work, reach new audiences and develop and improve the organization. It also includes a message from our Executive Director, a discussion of the challenges and next steps for each of our main areas of work, and our plans for 2022.



Leverage Research Quarterly Update, Q4 2021
 

Welcome to the Leverage Research update for Q4, 2021. 

Throughout the last quarter of 2021, we worked on pieces that explain our history and past research, reached out to support former colleagues from our pre-2019 research collaboration, published a new case study on Franklin, and launched our first public fundraiser. In this newsletter, you will find:

  • Learning From and Sharing Our Past: New perspectives on being part of Leverage from former colleagues, a new webpage about our psychology program, requests for feedback, and an update on the inquiry we launched in October.

  • The Development and Spread of Franklinian Theory: a new case study discussing why Franklin’s theories rose to such acclaim given that many of the ideas were already in circulation. [webpage] [paper]

  • Winter Fundraiser: An update on our public fundraiser (at the time of writing, we have raised $93,150 towards our $100,000 target!) 

As always, if you have any questions about this update or our work, please do reach out by replying to this email or emailing larissa@leverageresearch.org.

Contact →

Learning From and Sharing Our Past

 

Following the post by a former colleague, Zoe, about her negative experiences discussed in our last newsletter, we spent the previous quarter reaching out to support former staff, reflecting on the organization’s history, and working on ways to share more information.

In November, our ED wrote this letter expressing regret over Zoe’s experiences, offering reimbursements for therapy for former collaborators, and encouraging others to tell their stories. In December, two former colleagues, Jonathan and Cathleen shared their own perspectives.

We ran a second AMA event in December, and recently created a new webpage on our psychology research. We are working on FAQs which we have begun circulating for feedback, and a research report introducing our 2018-2019 intention research which we believe is important context for understanding why our previous research collaboration ended and for understanding the experiences of staff around that time.

Finally, this week we received the initial feedback from the inquiry we launched in October into the circumstances surrounding Zoe’s post. We are grateful to the many staff who shared negative experiences and frustrations they had with the organization and glad that the majority of those interviewed had strongly net positive experiences overall. We know there are many things we could have done better in the past and that we can learn from this inquiry. We will share the full findings, including mistakes and lessons, in a forthcoming update.

If you would be interested in giving feedback on our draft FAQs or have questions for us, please reach out to me at larissa@leverageresearch.org.

Case Study: The Development and Spread of Franklinian Theory

standard means of charging and discharging a jar (image courtesy of the Bibliothèque natio

The standard means of charging and discharging a jar (image courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France)

Benjamin Franklin’s fluid theory of electricity is widely seen as a pivotal development in the history of electricity. First articulated in 1747 and published in 1751, Franklin’s account offered what many see as the area’s first organizing system, setting in place concepts and terms still in use today. Within a few years of his work’s release, Franklin had gone from a virtual unknown to perhaps the most respected electrician in Europe, his theory becoming the most widely adopted framework to date. 

This rise is often attributed to the singular novelty and explanatory scope of his ideas. In reviewing the literature prior to his writing, however, one finds that most of Franklin’s central premises were already in circulation at the time of his writing, suggesting that conceptual novelty is at most a partial explanation for his impact and raising the question of what other factors were at play. The present study argues for the centrality of three features: the directness and relative simplicity of his theoretical exposition, the immediate applications of his framework to the recently discovered Leyden jar, and the peculiar potency of Franklin’s background and work with lightning for Enlightenment audiences.


→ Read the full case study.


Winter Fundraiser: $93,150 out of $100,000 raised!

 

On Giving Tuesday, we launched our first public fundraiser aiming to raise $100,000.

Our goal is to build a broad base of support by limiting the amount of money we accept per individual donor each year to at most $10,000. We reasoned that now that part of our mission is to understand, support, and communicate the value of early stage science as a means to aiding progress, it makes sense to tie the funding of the institute more closely to metrics we care about and keep the size of the institute in step with the public’s understanding of our work.

We’ve been overwhelmed by the response and we are so grateful to everyone who has supported this fundraiser so far, whether that be through donations, sharing our work, or messages of support. 

We’re now only $6,850 away from our target! So if you’re interested in our work and want to help us make it over the line, consider donating—in fiat or crypto!—today.

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Further Updates
 

  • Podcasts: Our Early Stage Science Program Manager, Kerry Vaughan was interviewed on the Futurati podcast about responsible research and narratives around science, and the AI Tomorrow podcast with our Executive Director, Geoff Anders was published, discussing technological breakthroughs and insights the history of science might provide for understanding research programs today.

  • Events and Talks: Geoff also gave a talk at Hereticon on high bandwidth non-verbal communication and hosted various discussions on his Twitch channel, including a discussion with a former researcher of ours and the role of fun in visions of the future.

 

Follow us on Twitter for information on new case studies, the bottlenecks initiative, new podcast interviews, and other updates during the quarter. 

 

If you have any questions about our work or this update, feel free to contact us.

Contact →



A Year in Review Message From Our Executive Director
2021, an exciting and tumultuous year

It’s with a feeling of relief that we put 2021 behind us. This year has been our most exciting and most tumultuous in some time.

We began the year publishing our first Annual Report. This was a milestone for the institute and a transformative experience for me personally. I had always been skeptical of official forms, but in this case, I saw how sticking to official forms made it easier to remember, communicate, and think.

Our researchers worked on case studies in the history of electricity. We published a study on the Leyden jar on our website, along with newly translated letters from the original discoverer, and now have a paper under review at a major history of science journal. We also published a study on Ørsted’s discovery of electromagnetism, and began one on Franklin’s theory of electricity.

Over the summer we ran a successful workshop on breaking bottlenecks in science and technology. We held it at the headquarters of Boom Supersonic where they were building a supersonic jet literally 50 feet away. Peter Thiel, Patrick Collison, and Tyler Cowen gave keynotes; it was great. We won an Emergent Ventures grant for our bottlenecks work, and submitted an application to the Survival and Flourishing Fund.

Then, a massive fight with the Rationalist community broke out. There was a nasty (and inaccurate) rumor post on Less Wrong, which a bunch of ex-Leveragers protested (see comments, top-voted one here).

This was followed by an ex-Leverager posting their account of negative experiences they had had on the Leverage project 2017-2019. We responded by apologizing, initiating an inquiry, and then publishing a letter from the Executive Director addressing many issues raised, and offering to pay ex-Leveragers’ therapy bills. It is important to us to support the researchers that work with us, improve our work, and learn more about the risks and dangers from psychological research.
 
In the meantime, the fight with the Rationalist community escalated, with a pile-on thread on LessWrong, a Medium account for collecting anonymous information about Leverage and, when that anonymous collection effort failed, the posting of $85,000 bounty for information about Leverage Research.

Finally, in the last few weeks of 2021, new information is coming out. Two new accounts of experiences at Leverage Research have been published, one shorterone longer. These accounts respectfully engage with the original ex-Leverager’s post while disputing many of the framings and conclusions.

Obviously, everyone’s time is scarce, but for people who would like the full story, I recommend reading all three; in order of publication, the accounts are by ZoeJonathan, and Cathleen. If you only have time for one (long) one, I recommend the third, as by far the most comprehensive and balanced account thus far. (None of these accounts received commentary or feedback from or were seen by any Leverage staff prior to posting.)

As all of that has been happening, we’ve been working to continue our history of science research, prepare for the distribution of some of our psychology tools, and plan new events as part of our Bottlenecks Initiative, following the success of the event this summer. We’ve also been running our first public fundraiser — nearing completion — to succeed at which, we need your help.

Over the past two years, we’ve transformed from an essentially underground research group into a public-facing institute with professional norms and practices. The challenges we’ve faced this year are forcing us to transform again, with our new form being worked out in real-time.

The next year will bring new challenges, which we’re excited to meet. Happy 2022, all.

Best,
Geoff Anders
Executive Director



Happy Holidays from Leverage Research!
A thank you to our donors and new first-hand accounts from those involved in our pre-2019 research.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In our holiday message, we share reasons to support our work, explain how we're building public accountability and support by limiting the donations we receive, and share two new first-hand accounts of people's experiences being part of our 2011-2019 research collaboration; short Facebook post and a much more detailed, longer account which we recommend to anyone interested in getting a better picture of our past work.

Since launching our 2021 Winter Fundraiser on Giving Tuesday, we’ve raised $51,000 from individual donors who support our mission and our work. We are now halfway to our $100,000 target! Thank you so much to everyone who has donated so far! We cannot express enough how much your support means to us.

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Giving Tuesday Update: Support Early Stage Science Today
Our first public fundraiser, an upcoming AMA, and more!

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Since 2019, we’ve focused on early stage science, an unexplored topic of great importance. Where do new fields come from? How are important early discoveries made? Through the study of the history of science, we’ve been working to understand the logic of discovery: in essence, how were the major advances in the history of science actually made? Through our studies we have learned more about the nature of scientific research, both how it works and when it doesn’t. This in turn has given us ideas both for how to disseminate our previous research in exploratory psychology and help researchers identify bottlenecks in science and technology.

It’s Giving Tuesday, and I’m writing to you to encourage you to support our work. We’ve changed how we approach fundraising, and in this message, I’d like to tell you more about what we need and how you can help...



Thanksgiving Message From Our Executive Director
Gratitude, sharing information, and ways to support us.

 

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As we approach Thanksgiving, the team at Leverage Research and I wanted to express our gratitude to everyone who has supported us and our work over the last decade. This includes people we have worked with over the years, our generous donors, and others who have contributed in countless different ways.

You can support us by asking questions to learn about our work, sharing information about us on social media, or supporting our 2021 Winter Fundraiser. To find out more, read the full thanksgiving message.

 



A letter from the Executive Director (November 2021)

Reports of Negative Past Experiences with Leverage Research: Sympathy, Transparency, and Support

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A letter from our Executive Director, Geoff Anders, discussing a recent Medium article by an individual describing their negative experiences during and after their participation in the last few years of that research collaboration (2017-2019) led by Leverage Research.

The report raises important issues pertaining to the workplace environment and the risks and dangers from psychological experimentation. This letter addresses a number of those issues, discussing support and restitution, learning about dangers from psychological research, efforts to manage the community conflict that has arisen in the wake of the post, and measures to help more people speak about their experiences.

The letter seeks to address these topics with the approach Leverage Research has sought to develop since its restructuring in 2019, namely one of transparency, public action, and engagement.

Read the letter →

 



Leverage Research Quarterly Update, Q3 2021
 

Previous Employee Account & Initial Inquiry

Earlier this month, an employee of an organization with which we previously collaborated closely wrote a Medium article about their experiences from 2017-2019. For readers unfamiliar with our history, the account is of the last few years of a research collaboration Leverage Research ran from 2011-2019. This collaboration permitted substantial researcher freedom and ultimately explored a range of areas including psychology, epistemology, and coordination. We ended this project in 2019 as intra-project coordination broke down and some individuals appeared to be under undue stress. We then restructured Leverage Research and selected a new research focus. 


We are surprised and deeply saddened by the experiences the author described. We take reports of negative psychological experiences (even ones that may seem unusual) and employee well-being very seriously, so we have begun an initial inquiry. A board-appointed representative has reached out to those involved in the research collaboration to better understand the circumstances, ascertain whether anyone else had a similar experience, and see if there are lessons the organization today should take away to improve our practices and policies.

We will issue a public statement explaining what we found and any actions we plan to take as a result once we have concluded all relevant information-gathering steps. In the meantime, we plan to do more to encourage others to share their accounts—positive, negative, or otherwise—and make more information available about our past work. 

Responsible Research: Risks and Dangers

In our opinion, the dangers and risks from psychological experimentation are often underappreciated. Our hope is that the recent account might spark a wider conversation about the potential risks involved in such experimentation. 

While we no longer conduct psychological research directly, our current Exploratory Psychology Program is aimed at distributing some of the tools we developed so external researchers can conduct complementary research, ideally leading to the confirmation or disconfirmation of hypotheses we developed. In planning for this release, we want to be especially cautious and mindful of potential risks to individuals. We have been working for some time to catalog the dangers and risks we are currently aware of so that this can be shared alongside the materials we release. The recent Medium post suggests there may be further risks from psychological experimentation that we were unaware of and need to better understand.

Understanding our Past Work

In the past, Leverage Research did not prioritize public engagement or publishing research and many perceive our past to be shrouded in mystery as a result. After our reorganization in 2019, Leverage Research prioritized better communication. While our current research can be found on our website, interest in our past research still significantly outstrips our team’s capacity to write it up alongside our present-day commitments.

A few online communities have, at various times, engaged in speculation about our history, typically without reaching out to learn more about it directly. Although we appreciate interest in our past work, we believe that the most reliable accounts come from people with direct experience in the relevant projects.

Our Executive Director will soon publish a letter encouraging everyone who was a part of the Leverage research collaboration to share their experiences. We believe that as more such accounts are shared our past work will, over time, become easier to understand.

Welcome to the Leverage Research update for Q3, 2021. In this newsletter, we share updates from our work in Q3, including:

 

Plus, other updates from Leverage Research such as podcast interviews, our AMA event, and our ED’s new Twitch channel. 

However, before we get to our usual update, we want to take the opportunity to discuss a recent social media post describing someone’s negative experiences with our research programs from 2017-2019. Below we discuss the steps Leverage Research is taking, touch on the importance of risks associated with psychological experimentation and encourage more people involved in our past research to share their experiences. We expect to expand on these issues and more in a forthcoming letter from our Executive Director, Geoff Anders.

We apologize that this quarter’s newsletter is late but we felt it was important to touch on recent events in our update. As always, if you have any questions about anything,
feel free to contact us.

Contact →



Leverage Research Updates from Q3, 2021

History of Science Research: Ørsted and the Discovery of Electromagnetism Case Study


Our most recent case study in the history of electricity is an in-depth investigation of the discovery of electromagnetism in 1820.

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Image of a horizontal voltaic pile.

This paper demonstrates that electromagnetism was discoverable by 1802 if natural philosophers had looked for magnetism in the current-carrying wire, and investigates why the discovery was overlooked. It also discusses the central role of philosophy in Ørsted’s discovery, especially the metaphysical ideas of Kant and Schelling, which influenced the theory that led Ørsted to test the current-carrying wire for magnetism. Finally, the case examines mathematical and experimentalist approaches of the time and why these approaches failed to discover electromagnetism.

 

Past Research Reports: Consensus Research and Intelligence Amplification

Alongside our current research programs, our Executive Director has been writing up reports summarizing areas of our past research, including sharing previously unpublished notes and research documents. He currently has four such reports on his website—three on consensus research and one on intelligence amplification—which we intend to move to our website later. Below we share the two most recent of these reports.
 

 → Enhanced Discourse Norms: Intellectual Processes describes an approach to consensus Leverage Research investigated where participants identify the intellectual processes and practices they employ in reaching their views, and then attempt to use that knowledge to more effectively reach agreement.
 

 → Intelligence Amplification Map contains a literature review of methods of human cognitive enhancement and intelligence amplification conducted in 2011.

Further Updates
 

  • Emergent Ventures Grant: We were honored to be part of the sixteenth cohort of Emergent Ventures grantees with $50,000 granted to fund our work on breaking bottlenecks in science and technology.

  • Leverage Research AMA: At the beginning of October, we opened up our virtual office to visitors for an AMA, office tour, and social. We’re considering hosting an event like this once a quarter. If this is something you might be interested in, let us know.

  • Podcasts: Our Early Stage Science Program Manager, Kerry Vaughan, spoke on The Knowledge Archive podcast about what we can learn about scientific discovery from the history of electricity and the importance of responsible science. Our ED, Geoff Anders, appeared on the Futurati podcast about building solid foundations for knowledge, what we can learn from the history of science, and brighter visions of the future.

  • Twitch: Geoff is also experimenting with a weekly Twitch channel which, alongside sharing his personal love of philosophy, covers topics related to Leverage Research such as the organization’s history, envisioning a bright future, and our coordination research.

 

Follow us on Twitter for information on new case studies, the bottlenecks initiative, new podcast interviews, and other updates during the quarter. 

 

If you have any questions about our work or this update, feel free to contact us.

Contact →

 



Leverage Research Quarterly Update, Q2 2021
 

Welcome to the Leverage Research update for Q2, 2021. The last quarter was particularly productive as, alongside our research for two historical case studies, Leverage Research:
 

  • Submitted two articles for publication, contributing to the literature on the discovery of the Leyden jar and making available several unpublished letters from one of its discoverers, Ewald von Kleist,

  • Co-organized a workshop bringing together researchers, funders, and institution designers to discuss bottlenecks to responsible scientific and technological progress.

 

In this newsletter, we cover these topics in more depth, share a new report summarizing some of our past research in consensus, and provide brief updates on our ongoing research and latest podcast interviews.

Contributing to the Literature on the Discovery of the Leyden Jar
 

Based on Evan Pence's work on The Discovery and Impact of the Leyden Jar, Leverage Research has submitted two articles for publication. 

The first is a transcription, translation, and discussion of several previously overlooked letters from Ewald von Kleist, who was the first to discover the Leyden Jar in 1745. These letters—which constitute more than half of Kleist's surviving writing on the topic—include the earliest surviving descriptions of the device and key details about the circumstances surrounding its discovery, something histories of science often discuss. As part of our case study research, we had the letters transcribed from Kurrent script and then translated them from German into English, making the works easier to consult. In seeking to publish this work, we hope to make Kleist's writings more widely available to academics and scholars.

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Image of an Excerpt of Kleist's Letters
Ewald von Kleist. Kleist to Swietlicki, 1745. in Acta Societatis Physicae Experimentalis, 3 (1745): 426. [Link]

The second paper uses these letters to address a long-standing mystery concerning the jar's early replication failures and the recently debated question of whether its discovery hinged on experimenter error. We argue that contrary to the predominant narratives, Kleist was not an unpracticed or uninformed experimenter. His discovery resulted from careful experimentation, and he did not violate any pre-existing conception of electricity to make his discovery.

A pre-submission version of the translations and our entire case study on The Discovery and Impact of the Leyden Jar are available on our website
here.

Bottlenecks in Science and Technology Initiative and Workshop
 

In June, Leverage Research co-organized the 2021 Bottlenecks in Science and Technology Workshop, which brought together 33 researchers, funders, and institution designers to discuss bottlenecks to responsible scientific and technological progress and how to break them.

The workshop was part of a larger initiative begun in late 2020 by Leverage Research, José Luis Ricón, and Adam Marblestone. The initiative aims to test whether it is possible to produce analyses of the bottlenecks across a wide variety of disciplines with sufficient quality, depth, and concrete detail to convey the current state of the field and productively direct future efforts.

José Luis Ricón—an Emergent Ventures Fellow and independent researcher currently working on science funding mechanisms and geroscience—and Adam Marblestone—a Schmidt Futures Innovation Fellow, affiliated with the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) working to establish novel
organizational and funding models—came to the project with existing research, networks, and interests in scientific roadmapping and technological progress. Leverage Research supports scientific advance, particularly in nascent and struggling fields, and contributed insights on bottlenecks in psychology from our research over the past decade and knowledge of the dynamics of scientific development from past and present research.

2021 Bottlenecks Workshop Opening Slide .png

Slide from the opening talk given by our Executive Director, Geoff Anders.

Set within the head office of supersonic aviation startup Boom Supersonic, with nearby engineers working on their XB-1 demonstrator, researchers presented their initial findings from bottleneck analyses across ten fields as diverse as energy production, metagenomic sequencing, psychology, and functional institutions. The event was held under Chatham House Rules to ensure that participants could speak candidly about the state of progress, and sometimes lack thereof, in their respective fields. Peter Thiel, Patrick Collison, and Tyler Cowen gave keynotes throughout the workshop, and attendees gave lightning talks covering topics such as building R&D in carbon capture, the success of Bell Labs, and program design as a discipline. 

For the next stage of the initiative, Leverage Research is working with our co-organizers and workshop attendees to determine how best to produce complete bottlenecks analyses across various fields and the next steps on some of the specific bottlenecks already identified. We plan to write an update for our supporters on the workshop and our plans in this area, and there may be an external piece published about bottlenecks and the workshop in the coming month. Currently, we expect some number of completed bottleneck analyses to be shared publicly in the first half of 2022 and for there to be future events on related topics.

Further Updates
 

  • Case Studies: Leverage Research has made significant progress on a new case study examining Benjamin Franklin’s contributions to the field of electricity. We are also close to completing our case study on Ørsted’s discovery of electromagnetism. The Ørsted piece discusses why no one discovered that a current of electricity could produce magnetic effects until 18 years after it became technologically feasible. The paper also analyzes how changes in the nature of scientific inquiry made the discovery of electromagnetism less likely and how the philosophical ideas of Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling were critical to Ørsted’s discovery. 

  • Research Reports: Our Executive Director Geoff Anders has written a report on Intellectual Practice Examination, which summarizes past investigations by Leverage Research on whether having individuals examine their intellectual practices can help a group more effectively reach consensus. This report, along with one on Argument Mapping, can be found on his website.

  • Podcasts: Early in Q2, Geoff spoke to Will Jarvis on the Narratives Podcast about bottlenecks in science, knowledge acquisition and decay, and our work at Leverage Research. He also recently appeared on the Futurati Podcast; we expect that interview to be shared next month.

 

Follow us on Twitter for information on new case studies, the bottlenecks initiative, new podcast interviews, and other updates during the quarter. 

 

If you have any questions about our work or this update, feel free to contact us.

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Leverage Research Quarterly Update, Q1 2021

Welcome to the Leverage Research update for Q1, 2021. Over this last quarter we have published:
 


In this newsletter, we share more about this latest research and other updates from the institute.

Case Study: The Discovery and Impact of the Leyden Jar

The 1745 invention of the Leyden jar is widely recognized as among the most important discoveries in the history of electricity. By simply electrifying a glass of water, experimenters found that they could produce surprisingly potent shocks. The discovery began an unprecedented period of growth in the study of electricity. Since Kuhn's Structure, the finding has often been used to illustrate the notion of a revolutionary anomaly, a discovery so challenging as to trigger a field-wide reorganization.

Leyden_jar_engraving.png

Figure 1. Drawing of a Leyden jar.
Robert Alexander Houstoun, Elements of Physics (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1919), 176. [Link]

In line with the revolutionary narrative, accounts of the jar's early history typically present a mix of luck and crisis. The discovery itself is depicted as resulting from mistakes by amateur experimenters, while accounts of its reception have classically focused on the difficulties it posed for received theories. However, examining the matter more closely, a different picture emerges.

In 
this paper, we provide evidence that while Andreas Cunaeus' discovery of the Leyden jar may have resulted from a mistake, Kleist's finding came as the result of extended, deliberate experimentation. The paper also argues that most mid-eighteenth-century electricians had only moderate interest in theory and thus the jar's immediate theoretical impact was limited. Instead, at the time, efforts were more commonly directed toward exploration and technical improvement, with the jar's main interest being its practical uses and entertainment value.

Read the Case Study.

Translations of Unpublished Letters from Kleist

In line with the revolutionary narrative, accounts of the jar's early history typically present a mix of luck and crisis. The discovery itself is depicted as resulting from mistakes by amateur experimenters, while accounts of its reception have classically focused on the difficulties it posed for received theories. However, examining the matter more closely, a different picture emerges.

In 
this paper, we provide evidence that while Andreas Cunaeus' discovery of the Leyden jar may have resulted from a mistake, Kleist's finding came as the result of extended, deliberate experimentation. The paper also argues that most mid-eighteenth-century electricians had only moderate interest in theory and thus the jar's immediate theoretical impact was limited. Instead, at the time, efforts were more commonly directed toward exploration and technical improvement, with the jar's main interest being its practical uses and entertainment value.

Read the Case Study.

Research Highlights: Gilbert’s ‘Electricks’

Alongside research highlights summarizing the new Leyden jar case study, we have also written research highlights for one of our earlier papers: William Gilbert and the Discovery of 'Electricks.’ 

All of the case studies we have produced now have a corresponding summary. These highlights include an overview of the paper, technical or other background aimed at helping a lay audience understand aspects of the case, and a summary of the principal arguments or conclusions from the research with relevant references. We hope that this will help ensure our research is accessible to scholars in other fields interested in understanding scientific advance. 

The research highlights on Gilbert's 'electricks' provide technical background on what would have been required to isolate electricks and the main takeaways from the case. Highlights include discussion of the role played by Gilbert's theory of the Earth as a giant magnet, his hopes of displacing Aristotle’s cosmology, and whether Gilbert used the versorium in his experimentation or primarily as a way to distribute his findings.

Read the Research Highlights.

 

 

Further Updates

  • Hiring: For anyone with a background in history or philosophy of science interested in contributing to our investigation of scientific discovery, we are always looking for researchers to join our team. Find out more on our website. 

  • Scientific Bottlenecks Analysis: We have begun exploring a collaborative effort to identify the bottlenecks in the different fields and subfields in science and technology. This would help make it easier to direct researchers and funding to work tackling the fundamental problems. An example of such an analysis is Physical Principles for Scalable Neural Recording by Marblestone et al. If you are interested in contributing to the identification of bottlenecks in your field, please get in touch

  • Support Us: Leverage Research is seeking funding for our primary research programs and to expand our early stage science program. If you would like to support our research, consider donating. Find out more about our work in our Annual Report

 

If you have any questions about our work or this update, feel free to contact us.

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Our Annual Report 2019 - 2020

The Leverage Research 2019 - 2020 Annual Report details the work the organization has undertaken over the last year and a half, following a 2019 strategic review, to transition to a new organizational approach and to focus the institute on early stage science.

 

The report covers our efforts to establish new research programs, increase our external engagement, and improve the organization. It includes a message from our Executive Director, descriptions of our work and the challenges involved, and our future plans.



Leverage Research Quarterly Update, Q4 2020

Planned Case Studies

Since our last update, Leverage Research has two new case studies underway and has produced its first annual report

Below we discuss our ongoing and expected future case studies on the history of electricity, the 2019 - 2020 Annual Report, and other updates from Leverage Research.

Our researchers are currently working on two new case studies on the history of electricity. The first investigates the discovery of the Leyden jar and the nature of exploratory science. The second covers Hans Christian Ørested and the factors that led to his discovery of electromagnetism.

Below is an outline of the case studies we expect to produce in the early history of electricity.

History of electricity roadmap v3.png

Our long-term goal is to produce enough case studies from a range of fields to be able to conduct a wider analysis of the factors that contribute to successful early stage science. You can find the case studies we have written so far on our website.

Leverage Research Annual Report 2019 - 2020

In 2019, Leverage Research undertook a significant strategic review, ultimately dissolving its previous research collaboration which had been investigating various topics in the social sciences since 2011.

It is at that point that Leverage Research began to focus on our current research into early stage science—research conducted during the earliest stages of discovery—on the view that understanding this stage in the scientific process can contribute to more effective research.

Our 2019 - 2020 Annual Report covers this change in focus and approach for the institute and the work we have been doing over the last year and a half to meet our new goals and standards. It details our progress across three main areas:

  1. Research: Establishing new research programs in Early Stage Science, Exploratory Psychology, and our Research Fellows Program

  2. Engagement: Improving our accountability and external outreach by sharing past and current research, increasing communication about our work, and engaging with external researchers.

  3. Organization: Building an organization capable of successfully pursuing our new mission by implementing new structures and procedures and hiring new staff.

 

The report also features a message from our Executive Director and Founder, Geoff Anders, and our plans for 2021. 

Read the full 
Annual Report.

Further Updates

  • Hiring: In November 2020 we hired Evan Pence as an Early Stage Science Researcher. Evan holds a Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Pittsburgh and has published research in the history and philosophy of neuroscience and psychology. Find out more about our staff on our team page.

  • Website: We updated the design and content of our website to provide a clearer explanation of our mission, programs, and current work.

  • Podcasts: Geoff's discussion with Spencer Greenberg about scientific progress on the Clearer Thinking podcast was released. Future podcast appearances are expected in the coming months.

 

If you have any questions about our work or this update, feel free to contact us.

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Welcome Evan Pence
 

We are pleased to announce that Evan Pence is joining our Early Stage Science research team. 

 

Evan holds a PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Pittsburgh and is an alumnus of Pitt and Carnegie Mellon’s Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition. Before joining Leverage, he conducted research in the history and philosophy of neuroscience and psychology, with an emphasis on issues in perception and animal cognition.

 

Evan will be working alongside our Early Stage Science Program Manager Kerry Vaughan to compile case studies in the history of successful scientifc fields with the aim of understanding the factors that influence scientific progress in its early stages. Evan's first case study will cover the discovery of the Leyden Jar, with the aim of understanding the motives and methods that lead to early breakthroughs both in related electrical theory and in instruments.

 

Please join us in welcoming Evan to Leverage Research!


We are always on the lookout for exceptional researchers to join our team. If you’re interested in contributing to our early stage science research check out our Hiring page for our latest vacancies or contact us at contact@leverageresearch.org to find out more.



Leverage Research Quarterly Update, Q3 2020

Welcome to the first of what we expect to be quarterly updates. Our main update from last quarter is the completion of our first two case studies:

  • The Reception of Volta’s Electrophorus Among Eighteenth-Century Electricians [Full paper] [Highlights]

  • William Gilbert and the Discovery of ‘Electricks’ [Full paper]

 

Below we also cover the wider context for our research and highlights from these case studies, as well as a few other updates from Leverage Research.

Understanding Science through its History

Our case studies in the history of science are part of a long-term project to learn about scientific progress by studying the history of successful scientific fields. You can read more background on our mission and research on our website.

Of all of the available topics, we chose to start with research into the history of electricity. Electricity is an excellent candidate for study, as it is undoubtedly a successful field, there are relatively clear phenomena involved (attraction, repulsion, sparks), and our review of the literature revealed a limited amount of previous systematic inquiry into how many of the relevant discoveries occurred.

The aim of all of these case studies will be to eventually build up a body of work that contributes to society’s understanding of the scientific enterprise.

Two Case Studies in the History of Electricity

The latest versions of both of our case studies can be found on our research page. PDFs for each are linked below.

 

We are currently circulating the papers for feedback and will revise them once this process is complete. Thank you to everyone who has provided feedback so far.

The Reception of Volta’s Electrophorus Among Eighteenth-Century Electricians

This case study uses historical accounts, original texts, and recreations of experiments of the time to seek to understand how Volta’s invention of the electrophorus (1775) advanced scientific consensus on attraction, repulsion, and electricity’s location in a charged body. This question is of particular interest as the phenomenon displayed by the electrophorus had already been shown by two of the best-known electricians of the era, Johan Carl Wilcke (1762) and Giambatista Beccaria (1772), and yet scientific consensus did not shift until the introduction of the electrophorus.

Read the full case study.

For those interested in an overview of some of the key points arising from this research you can read the research highlights. This document includes references to the relevant pages of the case study, other suggested reading, and a brief background on the Leyden Jar that some might find useful before reading the full case study.

William Gilbert and the Discovery of Electricks

Our second case study traces the early development of the study of electricity and magnetism from antiquity through the Middle Ages and to the Renaissance, culminating in William Gilbert’s discovery of static electric attraction (1600). This discovery-centric history shows how developments in multiple fields, especially magnetism and astronomy, led a grand theorist and experimentalist to isolate static electric attractors as part of a larger research effort to unify magnetism and cosmology. It is an excellent example of early stage science, including theory, experiment, and an attempt to unify multiple fields of study.

Read the full case study.

Further Updates

If you have any questions about our work or this update, feel free to contact us.