That is good to see that you don't protect everything with this "reality" slogan. We agree that this is a game...
Your idea about the research points are really sympatic for me. In theory, lets play with it - how to solve the issues what you raised:
No limit to research spending based on population size or economy size
- Tie the number of the buildable research facilities to the population size (modified by literacy).
- Economy problem: if you have small economy, you don't have money. Or maybe you have for one or two projects (because you got it from someone) but it will run out fast. And don't forget: you have to build the research facilities first....
- Regarding the Estonia issue: if you want to be realistic, you may imagine how many well trained scientists can be hired from foreign countries to help you out. If I know well, that is how the arabian science worked and the americans did something similar in the past. If you have money, you can buy the necessary human resource.
No 'bell curve' of efficiency of focussing on less projects, or penalties for doing too many;
- actually with this hypotethic method you run only one project in any time: that is what you will buy when you accumulate the research points.
While this seems to be a limit it is not a big change to the current SR2010 situation: even if we have the possibility to run more projects in parallel, it doesn't worth it -> the players will run max 1 or 2 projects. Same result, but in the hypothetic model we understand how it work. In the current situation, nobody knows it exactly.
- No consideration for literacy, research efficiency, regional economic and social conditions, etc
- Literacy: modify the number of buildable research facilities by this. See above.
- Efficiency: every point cost a little bit more money. Simple and understandable and you can indicate clearly to the player. Even you can modify the number of the accumulated points with several factors (efficiency, literacy, gdp, social stuff etc) in the background, but you can write the following info to the players: "you invest X million dollars and you accumulate Y points per day". Everyone will know, how much time he needs to get the next tech - woww, you dont have to deal with the misleading estimations
- social conditions: I think, it should not affect directly the research. The social conditions have effect on the economy, thus have effect on the money what you have thus have effect how much money can you invest.