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In support of basic research...

Two recent articles on the topic of basic research discuss the pressure of funding and how it is forcing scientists to make exaggerated and often misleading claims.

1. Basic research is often best appreciated in retrospect - by Henry I Miller Nature Biotechnology 32, 24–25 (2014). DOI:10.1038/nbt.2784.

First paragraph (from the article)
The federal government expends vast amounts of money on various kinds of research, which run the gamut from investigations of fundamental physical and biological processes to applied research on what are judged to be national needs. Public funding for scientific investigations should generally be limited to basic research or proof-of-principle experiments—which would reasonably be defined as public goods—rather than efforts to extend science into marketable technologies or products.

2. A Perverted View of “Impact” - by Marc Kirschner (Editorial comment) Science 14 June 2013, vol. 340 no. 6138 p. 1265.  DOI: 10.1126/science.1240456.

Abstract (from the article)
Scientists often face vexing professional decisions: whom to hire, what to fund, what to publish, and whom to promote. Because science is about the unknown and its greatest discoveries are often the least expected, scientists often have little to go by except intuition and experience. For this reason, a seductively simple template has recently been introduced: assessment based on “impact and significance.” Thus, the U.S. National Institutes of Health has elevated “significance” to an explicit criterion in funding decisions. It requires that grant reviewers write a paragraph on “impact,” which it defines as the likelihood that the proposed work will have a “sustained and powerful influence.”* Especially in fundamental research, which historically underlies the greatest innovation, the people doing the work often cannot themselves anticipate the ways in which it may bring human benefit. Thus, under the guise of an objective assessment of impact, such requirements invite exaggerated claims of the importance of the predictable outcomes—which are unlikely to be the most important ones. This is both misleading and dangerous.

basic_research.txt · Last modified: 2017/04/18 18:02 by Bhagwati Gupta