I Want to Believe the Sexy van Leeuwenhoek is Out There

Old friends and doctoral students in the sciences, MENO and SALVIATI, are discussing the state of science funding. 


Meno: There are lots of ways to have a good life. Research isn’t even an easy way.

Salviati: No, it’s a pretty shit way, and would be even if you were divinely gifted. There are interesting side-effects, but it’s not exactly the good life. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek had the right idea — first he became a rich merchant in the sale of cloth, then while fiddling with lenses in his spare time, was the first to discover microorganisms, and more or less invented the field of microbiology.

Meno: Yeah, what’s the modern day version of that?

Salviati: We know that Dr. H [a scholar of their mutual acquaintance, who became very wealthy from oil investments before pursuing graduate school — Ed.] could have done it, and you wouldn’t need to be nearly as wealthy as he was. I do wonder if the option used by Leibniz and Leonardo is still open, of finding a rich patron. It would be easier today than it was for them — you wouldn’t need to find a king or a duke, there are plenty of people today rich enough to support a scientist.

Meno: A science sugar daddy.

Salviati: Yes, but you can’t say that. Hm – Actually, I think you could probably do very well by finding the smartest and most capable camgirls, and doing some kind of OnlyFans science accelerator setup.

Meno: Once you’re doing sex work to fund your research, maybe just teach instead?

Salviati: Camgirls can make like $100,000 a month.

Meno: Really??

Salviati: It’s true, though only the most successful. More usual is around $40/hour, but even that’s quite a good wage. And camgirls, or successful sex workers more generally, might be expected to be especially gifted scientists.  Camgirls are not the only profession that this would work for, of course. Any job with good pay and flexibility could do the same. But camgirls are notable for the flexibility of their profession, and their abilities are especially likely to be underestimated by society at large. You’re selecting heavily for people who are open to doing something rather unorthodox, and this kind of free-thinking is essential to the scientist. Further, by going to the most successful camgirls, you’d be selecting people who have already demonstrated ability to set up what is essentially a very successful small business.

Meno: I gotta get into that.

Salviati: If you try, I wouldn’t hold it against you.

Meno: You first.

Salviati: Most of them, of course, do not make that much. But also most people do not win major international scholarships, as you have, my friend.

Meno: And only I shall do both.

Salviati: The noted camgirl / philosopher / hetaira known as Aella, a sort of latter-day Phryne or Aspasia, has collected much data that may be relevant. Here she finds that on OnlyFans, those with a college degree make more money than those without — and those with a master’s degree or higher do even better. Note that the bars are by percent ranking — as in, who is in the top 5% of people on the site? — and so a shorter bar means more success, and more money.

Salviati: Here she finds that while most people on OnlyFans do not make much money, the most successful take in several thousand dollars per month. She herself has made $100,000 in a month on at least one occasion. 

Salviati: She says “the big change is around 0.7-0.8%”, and with around a million people on OnlyFans, that is about seven or eight thousand camgirls making a small fortune every month. If only one in a thousand of these women also have the ability to be great scholars, then there are several of them; and I would wager, it is more than one in a thousand. 

 van Leeuwenhoek and Aella in exactly the same pose, and very nearly the same outfit. Ok, has anyone seen both of them at the same party?

Meno: I suppose the first step is to get hot, is it not?

Salviati: If you want to become a successful cammer, Meno, I can hardly stand in your way, but this is not what I had in mind. I was thinking you could recruit talented camgirls, bring them together, and offer them scientific training. They’re fully-funded, having no need of patronage — they have patronage already. 

Meno: In exchange for them funding your research?

Salviati: No, sort of as a science accelerator.

Meno: What do you mean?

Salviati: Well, would you say that society overvalues or undervalues the scientific ability of camgirls?

Meno: Society undervalues their scientific ability, certainly.

Salviati: I could hardly agree more. Society clearly undervalues their ability. When society misses ability in this way, it means there is unappreciated value waiting to be created. There’s value just lying around. The greatest amount of untapped value belongs to the camgirls, of course, and it would be their place to gain from it. But when something is undervalued, it also means that there is a space for those who, unlike the rest of society, recognize skill and virtue when they see it, and invest in it when no one else will. You and I have little money, but we do have the benefit of our skills, experience, and scientific training that is unavailable to many. We could — for example — go to top camgirls who also seem gifted and capable, especially those with science backgrounds. We could offer to connect them to camgirls of similar interest and abilities, and for a modest fee, offer them whatever scientific training we can give, and begin collaborations with them. The camgirls could do it themselves, naturally, but someone would need to coordinate this and it could equally well be us, since we could also offer them some training (especially statistics training). Together you could get a house or two in a remote area with good internet. They can keep camming to make money — van Leeuwenhoek didn’t quit his job as a cloth merchant! — and then you all collaborate to cure cancer or something.

Meno: This sounds like more work and less payoff than getting an academic job.

Salviati: Look, you’re the one who called patrons “science sugar daddies.” I’m just agreeing with you.

Meno: Hahaha – I appreciate the idea. It’s important to ideate on ways to reach the goal, which is sufficient money and freedom to pursue science.

Salviati: Yes

Meno: There’s no guarantee that an academic job provides the best tradeoffs, but it does seem to provide a reasonable standard to beat.

Salviati: I just wonder if the kind of guy who would pay a woman $20/month to look at her nudes wouldn’t pay her $100/month to look at her nudes AND support her research. There will be some people who will pay to see nudes, and some people will pay to support their favorite scientist or artist. There will also be people who do both, and I wonder if they won’t put up even more money than they would in either case alone. To put in stupid stats terms, I look at Patreon and OnlyFans and wonder if there might be a significant interaction.

Meno: I think you may be optimistic about the scientific skill of camgirls. I’m sure they’re better scientists than people might expect, but good scientists are rare.

Salviati: All that needs to happen is for it to be undervalued, I think, and for there to be a lot of them, which there are. I guess I’m a big believer in the effect of what can be called “scenes”. If there are many untapped geniuses, and we bring them together, what they produce together will be much greater than what they could ever produce apart. Paul Graham at one point wrote about what he calls the case of the Milanese Leonardo. He says, “Practically every fifteenth century Italian painter you’ve heard of was from Florence, even though Milan was just as big. People in Florence weren’t genetically different, so you have to assume there was someone born in Milan with as much natural ability as Leonardo. What happened to him?” Or we can consider “The Martians”, the nickname for a group of scientists from Hungary. They all grew up in the same parts of Budapest, went to the same high schools, and eventually went to America where among other things they led the Manhattan Project.

Meno: I’m not sure I see why they only have to be undervalued in science, rather than good at science.

Salviati: That might be the weak link. It depends on how seriously we take the “Milanese Leonardo” argument. Now, you and I agree that the two of us have at least some chance to make a great discovery. Where does that promise come from in us? Are you and I in the top .01% in terms of natural ability? Or in the top 5% plus our connections, the scenes we are a part of?

Meno: Regardless, being near the top is what matters, right? If I think someone’s IQ is 70 but it’s actually 80, I’ve undervalued them but they’re not going to produce good science.

Salviati: You’re right that it’s not strictly about undervaluation. But there are thousands of sex workers, in fact hundreds of thousands. Not everyone has it in them to be a great scientist, but a great scientist can come from anywhere. If we believe that camgirls are undervalued for their scientific skills — a safe assumption — then there are likely camgirls with the potential to be great scientists, and who society has missed. Another PhD student I know recently told me (though I omit their name in case they are hesitant), “sex workers know more about the human condition than any psychologist, change my mind” … Oh yeah that was after I said “Time to start my own journal, with blackjack and hookers”

Meno: I think I’m going to do the postdoc I was recently offered, rather than try to turn thousands of sex workers into scientists, but I see the appeal.

[Crowd boos]

Salviati: This seems more like a good opportunity for sex workers who want to be van Leeuwenhoek than it does for us. But I would be happy to consult for sexy van Leeuwenhoek, so maybe there is some profit to be made on our side.

Meno: The real key… is to become the sexy van Leeuwenhoek.

Salviati: Sadly I am not sexy enough. But I want to believe the sexy van Leeuwenhoek is out there.

FIN