In a comment to my previous post, Alison Chaikin tries to put the Steorn business in perspective, pointing out that many grant proposals contain an awful lot of highly improbable exaggeration of potential, too. This is going to sound self-righteous, but I'll say it anyway: I really wonder sometimes if I hamper my own academic impact (defined, say, by funding levels, citations, publications in glossy journals) because of my low tolerance for bullshit. For example, our single-molecule transistor work is really nice science, with a good mix of physics and chemistry. However, when I give talks, I try to point out that, at least as implemented now, these devices are very unlikely to be good for high speed, high performance computers. There are some reasons to be optimistic, and there remains a large amount of great basic science as well as engineering to do before we can really assess whether these gadgets will, in something like their present form, be technologically useful.
Statements like that, while realistic, are much less likely to inspire DARPA to hand me $250K/yr for three years than if I said "Within three years we [always use the royal "we" :-) ] will roll out commercial devices using single-molecule switches that operate at room temperature and GHz frequencies." The fact that this is an unrealistic goal is often irrelevant - it shows self-confidence, aggressiveness, and a vision to change the world. I'm reminded of footage of GWB debating Anne Richards for TX governor back in '94. When asked about possibly legalizing gambling in Texas in some form, Gov. Richards gave a very carefully worded, two paragraph response, explaining that this was worth considering provided it was handled correctly and that some of the taxes went to fund education and children's health programs, etc. George Bush's response was "I'm against it. I think it's a bad idea." The short, definitive, ambitious statement often beats nuance and realism - even in science.
There are some in academia (I've been told this explicitly) who view this grantsmanship stuff as an interplay between Big Picture Visionaries, and "Detail People". The Visionaries want to change the world, and often feel hectored by the Detail People, who they perceive as narrow and uncreative. Of course, the Visionaries need Detail People, since they're the ones who actually make things work. What do you all think about this? I think Vision in this context can be dangerously close to hucksterism.