Funding Favors the Established Status Quo

Source: Arstechnica, Sep 2014

the hundreds of billions of dollars of government funding that supports the world’s academic research ecosystem is distributed based almost exclusively on the opinions of senior experts (or ‘peers’). These experts review proposals and seek to find ideas impervious to criticism. Unfortunately, a research idea that is immune to criticism during peer review will, by its very nature, be cautious and take minimal risks.

Yet relying only on peer-review misses something about the nature of scientific innovation: some of the biggest discoveries are deemed crazy or impossible by experts at the time.

there is a hidden trick that betters your chances of funding. “Everyone familiar with NIH operations knows that it is extremely difficult to obtain funding for groundbreaking, high-risk research,” writes Professor Andrew Marks, director of the Center for Molecular Cardiology at Columbia University Medical Center. “Indeed, the unwritten rule, often said tongue-in-cheek, is that when applying for NIH funding, one should only propose experiments that one has already done and for which one can show convincing preliminary data.”

Instead of proposing risky, creative ideas when looking for research funds, scientists now tend to pitch ideas that are safer and already proven.

the entire system tends to encourage not particularly creative research, relatively descriptive and incremental changes which are incremental advances which you are certain to make but not change things very much.”

John Ioannidis, head of the Stanford Prevention Research Centre in California. Ioannidis and others published a recent analysis called “Conform and be Funded” where they show that safer, established ideas have a much better chance of being funded at the NIH than novel, creative ones.

“A truly innovative idea cannot be judged by peers: if it is truly innovative, no peer has any clue about it; if peers already know about it, it is not innovative


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