by Robin Hanson, August 2005

As I discussed as a guest on Marginal Revolution, in summer of 2005 I queried many associates for advice on my first big post-tenure project.

This was the email I sent out:

Now that I have tenure, I'm tempted to spend the next few years on a new
post-tenure project.  Since I should choose carefully, I solicit your
advice.  No rush; it will be a month or two until I finish my current tasks. 

My goal is to make great things happen; getting personal credit can enable
me to do more things later, but is otherwise not the main goal.  By
temperament I most like to think deep thoughts, I least like to manage 
other people, and explaining things is somewhere in the middle.

Here are the ten main choices as I see them now:

1. Disagreement Book - Expand "Are Disagreements Honest" and related papers
into a book, adding new material on data about who is right in real 
disagreements.  I've been telling people this is my plan.  This could
establish my reputation as a deep thinker on a big issue.  Fun, as there are
still things for me to learn on this topic.  No real competition on this 
topic (as least re the more technical angle), and it is nicely not aligned
with an ideology.  But not clear this will really change much in the world.

2. Medicine Book - Expand "Showing That You Care" into a book, making as 
clear as possible to a wide audience the point that medicine doesn't help
them on the usual margin.  Alas, this is not a message people want to hear,
and I may not learn much doing this.

3. Upload Futures Papers and Book - Return to and finish my papers analyzing 
the social implications of future technologies, particularly uploads.  Then
write a book summarizing this area.  I don't know of a more important policy
question, and no one else is doing this.  But it is not clear that making 
more people aware of these issues will produce better policy; future tech is
usually treated symbolically, and this often makes things worse.

4. Idea Futures book - present the grand vision of idea futures solving many 
problems.  Someone else is ahead of me with a similar book, and not sure a
popular book shouldn't wait until there is more real progress to report.  I
wouldn't learn much doing this.  But this is what I am now most famous for. 

5. No subject book - just start writing and see what the book turns out to
be about.

6. Demo Combo Betting - Write software to clearly demonstrate my vision of
combinatorial markets, then sell the tech or give it away.  If I don't do 
this it may be many years until others do it.  And this tech can dramatically
lower the cost of idea futures, allowing many more uses.  But this may not
be the limiting factor to wider use.  Software needs little money, and is 
fully under my control, but I left software long ago because I preferred to

7. Decision Markets Application - Solicit funds for and create a big set of
real money markets on an important policy area, to clearly demonstrate by 
example the value of decision markets.  Might be on health policy, global
warming, foreign aid, or other big public policy area.  Or might focus on
policies of big corporations.  Would require me to be more of a manager, 
which may not be my strong suit.  Others may well do this if I do not.

8. Media Controversy Track Records - Based on my PAM press paper.  Solicit
funds for and create a institute dedicated to collecting a track record on 
who turned out to be right in media controversies.  Use this to infer
indicators of who tends to be right, and then use those indicators to create
a press watch service predicting where future opinion will go in current 
controversies.  Can then solicit donations to support the inclusion of donor
topics of interest.  Good idea, but not clear I'm the right person to do it.

9. Mangled Worlds - Learn and apply enough physics theory to figure out if 
my mangled worlds concept really is the solution the deep mystery of quantum
mechanics that it seems to me.  Maybe a 25% chance I'm right, but if I am,
and I take the time to explain myself clearly, would establish a strong 
reputation as a deep thinker.  Should know one way or other in 3 years.
Would be fun, though not clear it has any practical implications.

10. Something New - Relax, read widely for a year or two, and then re-examine 
the question.

My first emails went out on June 9, and I received the last of 56 replies July 15. I coded each response as giving a rating for each option of a number between zero and one, and I then computed three different scores to rate the options. Score 1 is a simple unweighted average, score 2 gives different weights for each category of person (e.g., student, professor, family member, etc.). Score 3 weighs each person instead according to how that person's advice correlates with score 2, while score 4 weights each person with how their advice correlates with score 4.
Option Scores		 1	 2	 3	 4
Disagreement book	25.7	21.8	12.8	19.6	   
Idea Futures book	22.9	20.2	11.4	14.7	   
Dec. mkt appl.		17.1	14.4	7.6	10.5	   
Demo combo 		14.8	11.3	5.2	7.1	   
Upload futures 		11.5	9.1	2.3	3.5	   
Mangled Worlds		10.0	7.8	2.3	4.1	   
Medicine book		6.8	5.9	1.8	3.4	   
Track Records		6.7	5.5	2.9	4.7	   
Something new		6.5	5.9	2.4	3.8	   
No subject book		4.3	2.6	0.3	1.0