Anyway, I answered one this morning that made me think a lot, and I thought that I might share my thoughts here as well. The question was simple, fundamental, and ill-posed: "What is the distribution of payoffs in research?" Basically, the person is wondering whether every experiment is a roughly equivalent step forward, or whether some are much more valuable than others, and if so whether there's some sort of power-law relationship between topic, funding, and value of result.
This is ill-posed, because the whole notion of "payoff" is extremely vague and probably the wrong question to ask, but it really made me think. My response, which I'd like to share with you, was this: