One reason research is evolutionary, not revolutionary

research lab by NIOSH – Nat Inst for Occupational Safety & Health
An Uneasy Balance in Biomedical Research:
[Via AAAS News – RSS Feed]

Scientists Frustrated by System that Often Funds Incremental Work over Risk- Taking, Historian Says

Research with medical applications is valuable, but an archive of interviews shows that many scientists yearn for work that takes more risks, historian David J. Caruso said at AAAS.


What is interesting here is that the scientists interviewed were recipients of Pew biomedical awards. Providing an unrestricted grant for up to $60,000 for four years to young researchers, these are the guys who want the most to change the system. Because their Pew grant gives them the opportunity to try something that would not get funded by the NIH.

Because of the way that NIH grants are provided (i.e. peer review by committee) coupled with a scoring system designed for another era, only grants that have a high likelihood of success will get funded.

Essentially, there are too many good grants chasing too little money. Many, many grants get a fundable score by the committees but do not get any money. The committees know this, so are likely to provide better scores for grants that come from well-established labs, which have demonstrated success before, or for projects that can easily succeed.

Committees that provide lots of money for projects that only provide negative data are viewed as ‘wasting’ the taxpayer’s money. Yet failure is a huge part of the scientific endeavor.

Why do you think they call it re-search?

Perhaps other granting agencies, such as Pew or Gates, which are not beholden to the yoke of the taxpayer, can provide what is needed to get more revolutionary science going. I hope so because we have some huge problems ahead of us and we will have many failures before we can hope for success.

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