Published in socio.philica.com
Information about this Observation
Published on Wednesday 11th October, 2006 at 09:39:33.
Peer review added 11th October, 2006 at 11:48:04
This observation has the great merit of saying something which is obvious, but only after it has been pointed out. Stated in the terms of the author, it is clear that a professional researcher is balancing two contradicting personal requirements: the material need to make a living and the personal need to do interesting, substantial science. For those researchers lucky enough to be in universities, it is possible, to some degree, to avoid the problem, by doing science which is cheap, and using the salary from teaching and administration to pay the bills. This is a limited solution to the problem, however, because much research is inherently expensive.
Peer review added 11th October, 2006 at 17:13:24
This is a very interesting analysis. It is true that the system we work in strongly encourages conservatism and we do not progress as fast as we probably would in a situation of greater resources.
added 14th October, 2006 at 08:30:58
Each of the two reviewers has raised the very important issue of how to measure cost C_n (a variable that was not included in my simple model, but certainly could have been) or payoff P_n. How should we model (in the words of the first reviewer) “the personal need to do interesting, substantial science?” Or the cost of coming up to speed on a project that is (in the words of the second reviewer) “outside one’s own field?” In some cases, the majority of C_n is time. And the greatest payoff P_n of a successful project in the scientific community is prestige in the eyes of peers — “publish or perish,” as the saying goes — or in extreme cases, in the eyes of the public. The next Einstein will be guaranteed fame, but (probably) not fortune; certainly not in proportion to the economic value of the contributed knowledge.
Peer review added 15th October, 2006 at 07:59:53
I agree with the previous reviewers. The author is expressing views held my many of us, in a way that I’ve not seen before. Much of the problem is clearly that time spent at work is very regimented, a lack of ‘thinking time’ for want of a better phrase, means that moving research on and widening it is almost discouraged. The article expresses the ideas of limited possibilities, almost a straight jacket, very well.
Peer review added 19th October, 2006 at 13:48:21
“How could this situation be improved? Leave your comments below!”
Peer review added 11th November, 2006 at 06:15:19
The topic is a very important one. Case studies of previous discoveries can provide some clues about factors that can increase the probability that an important discovery will be made. Several case studies in the biosciences are available via the Breakthroughs in Bioscience webpage of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). For example, in the case study Helicobacter pylori and Ulcers: A Paradigm Revised, it’s clear that the creative insights of an independent investigator, chance, and persistence all played very important roles. According to the blurb for a forthcoming book by Morton Meters, Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs, “it takes intelligence, insight, and creativity to recognize a ‘Eureka! I found what I wasn’t look for!’ moment and know what to do next”. Perhaps one needs to focus attention on how to maximize the probability that a (very rare) “eureka moment” will be recognized?
Additional peer comment added 11th November, 2006 at 13:24:18
There’s a typo in my review. The author of “Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs” is Morton Meyers. Also, the set of case studies entitled “Breakthroughs in Bioscience” can be found at: http://opa.faseb.org/pages/Publications/breakthroughs.htm
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