Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The two business models of science?

EcologyThe two business models of science?

Jim Barksdale famously quipped that there are only two ways to make money: bundling and unbundling. You can make money by bundling together a bunch of goods and/or services people want and selling them for one price. As when a restaurant offers a three course prix fixe menu. Or, you can make money by unbundling a bunch of goods and/or services that people used to buy together for one price, allowing them to pay only for the specific goods and services they want. As when a restaurant offers an a la carte menu.

I like this quip, because it sounds trivial but isn’t. The quip prompts you to think about two questions. First, how can it be that you can make money either by bundling or unbundling? Those are opposites! If one makes money, shouldn’t the other lose money? Second, are those really the only two possibilities? Can every business model really be described as either “bundling” or “unbundling”?

Which got me thinking: what’s the scientific equivalent of this quip? If there really are only two business models, bundling and unbundling, what are the two ‘scientific research models’?

Opening bid: there are only two kinds of scientific research: synthesis and disaggregation. But perhaps that’s a bit too close to bundling vs. unbundling to be really novel and interesting.

I was also trying to come up with some ecology-specific versions of the quip. Such as: there are only two ways to build a high-functioning ecosystem: high biodiversity, and low biodiversity. I kind of like this one. It suffers from the drawback of being false. But it’s not totally false. It has a point.

Another ecology-specific version: there are only two ways for competing species to coexist: niche differences, and lack of niche differences. This one also is false, but not totally false.

Can you do better? Looking forward to reading your scientific versions of Jim Barksdale’s quip.

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About Jeremy Fox

I’m an ecologist at the University of Calgary. I study population and community dynamics, using mathematical models and experiments.

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