See this link below, I made it during either beta 3 or beta 4, I think three.
Sadly, I think there are actually less techs now, and less varied techs now, than there was when I made that post. The whole system of research is just bizarre and agreeably detached.
You need to change your mindset.
First, don't view everything as 'you' doing it. Let's use the exploration tree as an example of what I mean. Your beef is that the lairs should not just appear..they should always be there. Well, I think the intention is that your Tech Labs represent people(human resources) under you.. scholars and such that are researching, looking through old manuscripts, etc,. When you get breakthroughs that finally cause lairs to show up on the map it is because the people in your Tech Labs made a discovery. They now know where this lair is when they didnt before. It's appearance on the map is them reporting to you it's location and now you can go explore it.
Sure, you have a big sight radius and you can see far on the map, but keep in mind each square represents a really large area. And, though you may have been through that area before you really didnt have time to go over it with a fine tooth comb. You were probably just passing through on your way to some task you considered important at the time.
This tech tree is actually implementing that feel perfectly IF you are thinking about it in the right way, in the context of the game being a world where much that was known was forgotten and needs to be relearned. So as far as the context goes that lair always was right there, and will be forever in the scope of that ONE playthrough.
Always keep in mind the theme of this game or you may not like how it 'seems' to work.
Tech Tree works great imho.
A game should work whether or not you want to roleplay it. A game should be based at the level of a gamer and also cater for the roleplayer, not the other way around. Whilst your roleplaying ideal is great, and an even greater way to see unrealistic game mechanics as logical, it is very biased from your gaming standpoint.
Also, your scholars toiling away in your tech lab built on a city with a workshop and a farm, are in no way going to be capable of somehow unearthing gigantic ancient towers from the earth. I'm reasonably sure researching adventure is also superfluous and in no way roleplay friendly.
Anyway, back to my original point, the research is largely just silly, which is unfortunate.
Adventuring should be improved by adventuring, not by folk in a lab.
Diplomacy largely involves things that are just common sense. Bartering, should not need research, things such as treaties and pacts are more logical.
Combat is probably the one which makes sense, but it is inherently stupid that a place doesn't need an armory to produce advanced kit, or specialised buildings to produce advanced units. When a shoddy marketplace area starts spamming plate-clad knights, it's not very representative.
Magic research is just bleh, really really bland and no variation whatsoever. For one of the parts of the land that should be the most mysterious and difficult to master, I believe it has the weakest tech 'tree'.
Civ stuff is pretty bleh as well.
All in all, this game does not have a tech tree, and anyone who says otherwise should go and find any half decent 4x game (see civ for instance) and check out that tree. One of the things I hate is when an issue is raised where someone is saying there isn't enough of something, and the devs cut it. VARIATION is what is lacking from this game.
Great post by the OP, I completely agree ,