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Science

Is There a Creativity Deficit In Science? 203

Posted by samzenpus
from the doing-things-differently dept.
nerdyalien writes with this story that explores the impact of reduced science funding on innovation in science. "There’s a current problem in biomedical research,” says American biochemist Robert Lefkowitz, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. “The emphasis is on doing things which are not risky. To have a grant proposal funded, you have to propose something and then present what is called preliminary data, which is basically evidence that you’ve already done what you’re proposing to do. If there’s any risk involved, then your proposal won’t be funded. So 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."...There is no more important time for science to leverage its most creative minds in attempting to solve our global challenges. Although there have been massive increases in funding over the last few decades, the ideas and researchers that have been rewarded by the current peer-review system have tended to be safer, incremental, and established. If we want science to be its most innovative, it's not about finding brilliant, passionate creative scientists; it's about supporting the ones we already have.
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Is There a Creativity Deficit In Science?

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  • affirmative (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 04, 2014 @11:36PM (#47832287)

    yes

    • by Z00L00K (682162)

      Just look at some of the more successful companies - many of them have had a "skunk works" department where they could do the research and innovations in a less restricted area.

      And a lot of creative people are also less socially competent, which means that they have a harder time to get funding.

    • Re:affirmative (Score:5, Informative)

      by serviscope_minor (664417) on Friday September 05, 2014 @06:57AM (#47833447) Journal

      It's not as bad as all that, but it's still not great.

      Basically the way it works is this:

      A young, energetic research employed on grant A burns themself out moonlighting on project B.

      They then present the complete B as a proposal which might get funded.

      B gets funded and they use the money for B to work on C.

      Risky stuff does get done, and using exactly the same money but the funding bodies are entering into the fiction that they're involved in the risk. Of course they are since the money has to come from somewhere. It also involves a shitty life for the early career researcher.

      So, the funding bodies are idiots, but pretending risky stuff doesn't get done does a great disservice to those who actually do it.

  • Well of course (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 04, 2014 @11:38PM (#47832293)

    We're well past the innovation of the late 20th century, and we're on our way to the navel-gazing imploding Roman Empire stage of our Western civilization.

    More bureaucracy, more government, more universities, more requirements for simple jobs, more and more employees "required" for simple jobs, endless regulations and committees and civil servants and laws and rules and regulations...

    If the Apollo program were announced today, in 9 years we'd still be arguing over the color of the rocket by PhDs in colorometry.

    • Re:Well of course (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Friday September 05, 2014 @02:10AM (#47832617)

      If the Apollo program were announced today, in 9 years we'd still be arguing over the color of the rocket by PhDs in colorometry.

      The Apollo program was successful because it had a clear goal (put a man on the moon, and return him safely to earth) and a hard deadline (before the decade is out). Modern scientists and engineers can do the same when given the same framework. The DARPA Grand Challenge [wikipedia.org] and the Ansari X Prize [wikipedia.org] are two examples where clear goals and hard deadlines in a competitive environment lead to rapid advances. Instead of doling out grants to people that write boring unambitious proposals, we should be setting bold and ambitious goals, and redirect the money to reward actual accomplishments. Pulling a string works a lot better than pushing it.

      • by jythie (914043)
        It was also, by comparison, a fairly simple project. Innovation tends to come in bursts, something new and critical comes into scope (steam, transistors, atomic physics) and then society takes time figuring out all the new ways that discovery can be used. Over time though the lower fruit gets plucked and we are left with more and more difficult tasks with more and more incremental rewards. That is kinda the phase we are in right now, research is focusing on increasingly more difficult problems and disco
      • by the gnat (153162)

        The Apollo program was successful because it had a clear goal. . . and a hard deadline

        And strategic significance (and potential dual-use technology) at a time when we were competing with another nuclear-armed superpower for global domination.

      • If the Apollo program were announced today, in 9 years we'd still be arguing over the color of the rocket by PhDs in colorometry.

        The Apollo program was successful because it had a clear goal (put a man on the moon, and return him safely to earth) and a hard deadline (before the decade is out).

        You left out two other key factors... It was founded on a body of engineering, research, and development that was already in progress at the time President Kennedy announced it. And President Kennedy died in Dallas,

        • by khallow (566160)

          but the X-Prize lead to an evolutionary dead end that's still grounded.

          SpaceShipTwo has been test flying since October, 2010.

    • by Sad Loser (625938) * on Friday September 05, 2014 @02:49AM (#47832723)

      I work in biomedical research and yes - a lot of money is diverted into research with incremental benefits - me-too drugs.

      remember that big pharma spend more on marketing than on research.

      The interesting stuff has effectively been outsourced to start-ups that find compounds, do some basic work and then sell to a pharma to commercialise. That way at least the people doing the creating get some benefit.

      What hasn't happened in its stead is any good research at delivering and applying a lot of the knowledge/ practice we do have, and this is where we could get a lot of bang for our buck and we could be a lot more creative - just by doing what we know works correctly.
      This is particularly true in fields where there is not currently much research (because there is no big drugs market)

      • by Rich0 (548339)

        I work in biomedical research and yes - a lot of money is diverted into research with incremental benefits - me-too drugs.

        I don't buy into this line of argument. What you say is obviously true, but the implied argument is that this money is wasted. Every antibiotic since pennicilian is in a sense a me-too drug, but I hear doctors always going on about how we don't invest enough in antibiotics because there isn't a big market for new ones (and it doesn't help that we squander the ones that we have).

        You never want just one drug to treat a particular condition. You don't even want one drug that has a particular mechanism to tr

    • by Alomex (148003)

      You left out the biggest factor: the end of the meritocracy.

      We are fast moving to a system where the person in charge, be it at a company or in government is no longer the most capable, but the one born in third base. Have a look at GW Bush, Mitt Romney, John McCain, Koch brothers, Donald Trump, etc.

      The repeal of the inheritance tax will only amplify this effect.

      • Fast moving to such a system where birth counts more than ability? That system has been in place throughout recorded history, and we're actually chipping away at it in modern times.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 04, 2014 @11:42PM (#47832305)

    because the school systems are grinding the future brilliant, passionate creative scientists into drones.

    • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Friday September 05, 2014 @01:12AM (#47832465)

      because the school systems are grinding the future brilliant, passionate creative scientists into drones.

      I have two kids in public school, and I have seen no evidence at all that the schools discourage creativity. In elementary school, my kids did an independent science fair project every year. They learned to do graphical programming in Scratch. The school had several teams that competed in robotic competitions. In high school, they have the full range of science classes, and students are encouraged to do original research or development as an independent study project with a mentor recruited from a research center or tech corporation. Last year, several students from my daughter's school competed in the Intel Science Talent Search [intel.com]. The public schools seem to be doing a much better job than they did when I was a kid.

      • In elementary school, my kids did an independent science fair project every year. They learned to do graphical programming in Scratch. The school had several teams that competed in robotic competitions.

        FYI that's not a normal public school.

        • by Rich0 (548339) on Friday September 05, 2014 @09:02AM (#47834113) Homepage

          In elementary school, my kids did an independent science fair project every year. They learned to do graphical programming in Scratch. The school had several teams that competed in robotic competitions.

          FYI that's not a normal public school.

          The problem with public education in the US is that it tends to be locally funded, so you get whatever your neighbors are willing to pay for. If you're into the "why should I have to pay money so that some poor kid in the local city can learn how to read" school of thought, you probably consider that a good thing. Likewise, if you live in the one progressive town in some red state then you probably appreciate not having to stock your science classroom with Bibles.

          On the whole, though, I think it hurts us.

          • In elementary school, my kids did an independent science fair project every year. They learned to do graphical programming in Scratch. The school had several teams that competed in robotic competitions.

            FYI that's not a normal public school.

            The problem with public education in the US is that it tends to be locally funded, so you get whatever your neighbors are willing to pay for.

            Capable of paying for. That is a more accurate statement.

        • In elementary school, my kids did an independent science fair project every year. They learned to do graphical programming in Scratch. The school had several teams that competed in robotic competitions.

          FYI that's not a normal public school.

          It is if you are middle class. And it is not just a public school issue. It is also an income issue. My girl will have a greater chance of success given that

          1. I can afford pouring her with educational activities,
          2. and that I can afford having one of us parents stay at home to help her with homework,
          3. and that I can afford keeping her busy with extra curricular activities,
          4. and that both of us are college educated

          compared to another kid of the same age and talent potential whose parents

          1. cannot afford po
          • but the system that funds public education which is a) highly local, and b) relies heavily on real state taxes.

            That's really state specific. If your state is broken, fix your state's funding system.

            • Sometimes it gets fixed. Then idiots who think all taxes are bad get some power and it's back to the local system relying on property taxes (and sometimes sales taxes).

              Now, assume Minnesota fixed it once and for all. That's not going to help a kid in Mississippi. There is no US educational system.

              • Now, assume Minnesota fixed it once and for all. That's not going to help a kid in Mississippi. There is no US educational system.

                That is by design.

  • Non-declarative headlines indicative of lack of factual basis to report objectively known or at least well defensible information. I would say that 352ml of creativity is enough. People haven't considered that as the creativity has moved North, it has contracted, but the methane gas release in the arctic might unleash the creativity stored in our Nation's permafrost. In other words, I'm pointing out that the argument can be made arbitrarily either way as far as science cares.

    I recall a significant amou
    • I recall a significant amount of people arguing for more verifiable studies, tighter acceptance criteria, and more peer-review. That says anything but "let's research more crazy things."

      I think the point is something like, "Go ahead and research FTL travel, but if you write a paper saying FTL travel is possible, it better be reproducible."

  • It's surprising how far you can get from your starting point by doing only incremental changes.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It might, however, take millions of years...

  • by Jack Malmostoso (899729) on Friday September 05, 2014 @12:23AM (#47832379)

    I have been working in research (chemistry) for 10 years, half in academia and half in industry. In my time in academia, it was all about putting together enough results to scrape a paper together, nevermind whether the "promising results" were benchmarked against shitty "state-of-the-art".

    In my current industry job, I have been asked to prepare a 5-year plan with high ambitions, and I am free to explore any path to the final goal without (reasonably at least) restrictions.

    Unfortunately until non-tenured researchers will need to publish as much as possible without actually delivering important results, this will not change.

    In my opinion the peer-review system is not perfect, but it's the best thing we have. I have found many reviewers whose comments have been genuinely beneficial to making my papers stronger. Others barely read the manuscript and rejected it because it encroached on their turf, or didn't cite them enough.

    In my opinion the peer-review should be changed to a double-blind system: the reviewer should not see name and affiliation of the authors, and judge the work as it would grade an undergrad paper (i.e. harshly). Like this I believe the signal-to-noise ratio in journals would increase, and only good papers would get published. At that point, I'd be willing to accept impact factor as a measure of worthiness of a publication. Until then, it's just friends judging friends, with nobody wanting to piss off anybody else. Minor revisions, congratulations, you're published.

    • by silfen (3720385)

      In my opinion the peer-review should be changed to a double-blind system:

      I think peer review should be scrapped entirely; it used to serve a purpose when there was limited space to publish stuff. These days, online citation statistics, comments, and ratings are a much better system.

      • That's very wrong. Online comments have no scientific merit whatsoever, ratings systems are abitrary and error prone (who computes the ratings? is it an algorithm, or some full time secretarial type? Does he/she even have a degree?), and citation statistics are gameable, in similar ways that Google rankings are gameable in fact.

        Proper scientific reviews by qualified scientists with higher degrees are non negotiable, if we want science to remain a high quality human endeavour.

        • by khallow (566160)

          Online comments have no scientific merit whatsoever, ratings systems are abitrary and error prone (who computes the ratings? is it an algorithm, or some full time secretarial type? Does he/she even have a degree?), and citation statistics are gameable, in similar ways that Google rankings are gameable in fact.

          The problem is that peer review has these same flaws. It has no more scientific merit than online comments; it is just as error prone and arbitrary as rating systems; and it's gameable just like citation statistics.

        • by Rich0 (548339)

          ratings systems are abitrary and error prone (who computes the ratings? is it an algorithm, or some full time secretarial type? Does he/she even have a degree?)

          Well, the whole point of ratings systems is that you can have as many of them as you want, each with their own method of operation, and people can choose which ratings they follow.

          I mean, who regulates who is allowed to write movie reviews? People tend to try to find the review sources that they believe most reflect what they're looking for, and use them.

          I think that the ability to replicate results is far more important than peer review in science, and that tends to be very difficult to do even if you are

        • by silfen (3720385)

          Proper scientific reviews by qualified scientists with higher degrees are non negotiable, if we want science to remain a high quality human endeavour.

          That train left the station long ago. Being a "qualified scientist with a higher degree" is not a prerequisite for being a peer reviewer. Peer reviews are frequently (probably usually) carried out by students without higher degrees. Even many people with higher degrees are not "qualified scientists". Citation statistics are frequently gamed (RTFA), and some pe

      • Peer review is supposed to suggest improvements to papers, and to serve as a filter to pass papers that might be interesting and don't have obvious big flaws. There is limited space to publish lots of stuff still, and there is certainly limited time to go through all sorts of papers where the abstract doesn't match the techniques or conclusion, there's glaring errors, that sort of thing.

    • What you mention is I believe symptom of other problems, not a problem by itself. To run down why science is currently being operated this way would be rather extensive so I'll cover the biggies.

      1) IP Laws have allowed certain entities to own ideas, and patent trolls to buy patents in bulk for no other purpose than to milk innovators if a product becomes successful. Remember that success can also include causing damage to a competing product, so the "success" is related to the patent owner and not societ

      • by gtall (79522)

        "3) Same massive government does not understand science to uses measures which are invalid and unrealistic to maintain science programs."

        I think this is a much bigger problem than you indicate. The reason: because bureaucrats do not understand science, they and their managers are being rewarded for successful science which they fund. They, being almost but not quite entirely stupid, have just enough on the ball to realize that if they narrow their funding targets to those they can be reasonably certain will

        • by Rich0 (548339)

          The fellow up above had it correct, do the research first so you can point to it, then ask for funding for it promising some incremental improvements which, if you are on the ball, you've already done but not published, and then use the money to work on your next line of research.

          I departed from the academic track back in the 90s, but even back then this was already recognized as the way to get stuff done. Nobody worked on the stuff that was the subject of the grant.

        • by the gnat (153162)

          The reason: because bureaucrats do not understand science, they and their managers are being rewarded for successful science which they fund.

          This isn't actually the way science funding works in the US. NIH has plenty of career bureaucrats, yes, but many of them came up the traditional scientific ladder, not the get-a-union-backed-government-job ladder. But in any case, the specific funding decisions that most academic scientists depend on are mostly up to peer review panels: professors (etc.) receiving NI

    • by Anonymous Coward

      In some areas, e.g. for SIGGRAPH, the review is double-blind; only the paper committee knows the identity of the authors so that they can assign reviews who do not have a conflict of interest. However, this only really works for areas that are being hotly pursued by many different research groups; diction (often researchers will have different terms for the same thing based on what research group they are in), writing style and illustrations will often give away at least one of the authors, if not the firs

    • by m00sh (2538182)

      In my opinion the peer-review should be changed to a double-blind system: the reviewer should not see name and affiliation of the authors, and judge the work as it would grade an undergrad paper (i.e. harshly). Like this I believe the signal-to-noise ratio in journals would increase, and only good papers would get published. At that point, I'd be willing to accept impact factor as a measure of worthiness of a publication. Until then, it's just friends judging friends, with nobody wanting to piss off anybody else. Minor revisions, congratulations, you're published.

      There are many many double blind review systems.

      The world of research on a specific topic is very small. If you write a paper, you can probably guess who will review it. Also, the reviewer can also guess who wrote it.

      If that doesn't happen, then it goes to the guy who drew the short straw and you get a pointless review criticizing pointless things from a person who knows nothing about the field but is in the review committee for whatever reasons.

    • by jmv (93421) on Friday September 05, 2014 @03:15AM (#47832789) Homepage

      In my opinion the peer-review should be changed to a double-blind system: the reviewer should not see name and affiliation of the authors, and judge the work as it would grade an undergrad paper (i.e. harshly). Like this I believe the signal-to-noise ratio in journals would increase, and only good papers would get published.

      Please no! The problem with this approach (and it's already happening) is that what will get published is boring papers that bring tiny improvements over the state of the art. They'll get accepted because the reviewers will find nothing wrong with the paper, not because there's much good in there. On the other hand, the really new and interesting stuff will inevitably be less rigorous and probably more controversial, so it's going to be rejected.

      Personally, I'd rather have 5% great papers among 95% of crap, than 100% papers that are neither great, nor crap, but just uninteresting. Reviews need to move towards positive rating (how many thing are interesting), away from negative ratings (how many issues you find in the paper). But it's not happening any time soon and it's one of the reasons I've mostly stopped reviewing (too often overruled by the associate editor to be worth my time).

    • by Pausanias (681077)

      Peer review is fine. The problem is that there isn't enough reviewer guidance, nor are there enough pots for money for "high risk, high reward" situations. Government agencies are too afraid of "wasting" their money. These things can easily be remedied by having changes at the administrative level such that money is set aside for risky projects. Peer review can then go on the same way with revised criteria.

      Also remember, for every story like the miracle cancer medicine that couldn't get funded for years but

    • by darthsteve (1795384) on Friday September 05, 2014 @04:06AM (#47832905)
      but the whole system is geared to "publish or perish". Already thousands of scientists leave the field every year because they haven't produced sufficient publication churn to carry on working. Pubmed is a cesspit of junk, growing by tens of thousands of publications a day. In this hyper-competitive numbers game you have got to publish therefore you can't afford to do anything (anything at all) that could risk not being able to, which means safe, guaranteed data generation. Scientific discovery is secondary. Until there's a change from the all consuming obsession with numbers of publications being the single most important thing for a scientists career then things will remain just as they are, if not worsen.
    • by mdsolar (1045926)
      The reviewer will still know who the authors are by the work described. Most of the work will already have been presented at conferences and the peer may well have reviewed the original grant proposal as well. Hiding who the authors are is impracticable if the reviewer is indeed a peer.
  • When you believe I need to get a grant and I need to publish this or that to make a major breakthrough you are just being a lemming.
    Now take the teenager who had the desire to create a Pancreatic Cancer Test and didn't have all those rule drubbed into him, he just did it.
    Those formally trained in research do splendid formal research, those with desire and no rules make amazing breakthrough.... Maybe :-)
  • There's a current problem in biomedical research," says American biochemist Robert Lefkowitz, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. "The emphasis is on doing things which are not risky."

    Risky to who, exactly?

    I discovered as an adult that I had received radiation "treatments" as a kid and test subject in one of the AEC's more adventurous and ethically questionable clinical experiments.

    For decades now, I have had to pay very close attention to any changes in my thyroid.

    • Risky to who, exactly?

      The research bearing fruit. No one is suggesting removing protections from actual subjects. The article is about funders wanting to fund "successful" (that is, hypothesis affirming) and "publishable" (that is, less contraversial) experiments.

      His goal is to somehow shift the funder's incentives so high sucessful completion risk/high reward (either in basic knowledge or specific benefit) stuff gets made.

      And I agree. The shit that gets funded at any real level is often piecemeal and un

  • Gov'ment said so. Nuff said.
  • It seems that quite a few researches are very creative in inventing results to "prove" their hypotheses.

  • by Truth_Quark (219407) on Friday September 05, 2014 @01:41AM (#47832535) Journal
    ... is the more salient question.

    Hollywood has turned against scientists again, and the anti-science hacks of antivax and climate change denial and creationism/intelligent design and alt-med are getting more and more air time.

    Uneducated intuition and magical thinking seem to be the respected characteristics in pop fiction, and well respected heroes like Sagan and David Attenborough have given way to more niche respected heroes like Hawkings, Cox and Tyson.
    • by dbIII (701233)

      Hollywood has turned against scientists again

      It's been going on for so long that the kids given the lessons about evil scientists grew up, got their MBA or experience in horse judging, then their political contacts got them into positions of responsibility where they could do their bit in making China and India look like places where science can progress more easily that the USA.

    • Hollywood has turned against scientists again

      It irks me that so often science is make out the be the monster maker. I get that a movie called 'Another boring day in a genetic engineering lab where noting unusual happens' isn't going to be a big hit so they need to get their Frankenstein's monster somehow, but still, I don't like it.

      I really hate when there's some smug asshole in the movie who spends the first half of the film whining about playing God and 'toying with things you don't understand' and whatnot, and then gets vindicated when the monster

      • by the gnat (153162)

        I really hate when there's some smug asshole in the movie who spends the first half of the film whining about playing God and 'toying with things you don't understand' and whatnot, and then gets vindicated when the monster inevitably attacks

        I forget where I read this, but one writer pointed out that "Jurassic Park" was especially obnoxious in this regard. In the book, Ian Malcolm (the Jeff Goldblum character) keeps trying to explain that they've built a system that is far too complex and has far too many f

  • by udippel (562132) on Friday September 05, 2014 @01:51AM (#47832569)

    This may sound strange, but it is a lack of trust.
    In the old days, which were not always good, a brilliant scientist/academician/professor would be granted tax payers' monies to pursue her dreams in science, at least as far as basic funding was concerned; that is not including expensive apparatuses.
    But then we, in the academic world, allowed the bean counters to take over. And they started to ask for ROI, at least in the number of patents, marketability, etc. Additionally, short funding terms made it into our world. 2 years, 3 years. Where I work, the latter is already the exemption. Therefore, as written by Lefkowitz, yes, we have to have results before we can ask for funding. Not only because the sponsors want to be on the safe side (of getting a return), but also not to embarrass ourselves by not being able to come up with what was envisaged. In the place were I used to be, the latter would give you a blacklisting.

    Or, the other way round, if the public is not willing to trust us, but wants us to produce off-the-shelf academic results (numbers of publications included; publications that might take away from our genuine research time), that's what the public gets.

    I only wished that the public was cognizant of this interdependence.
     

    • by Beck_Neard (3612467) on Friday September 05, 2014 @04:57AM (#47833047)

      It's amazing how far removed scientific publishing has become from its original purpose. The original purpose of publishing a paper was to disseminate your results to the world. It was basically an open letter to other scientists (that's why so many journals have 'Letters' in the journal name). In the age of the internet, this has become redundant; you can just as easily (actually, much much more easily) communicate your results by writing them up in your blog. Once you have built up enough reputation on your blog, you might get requests from other scientists to feature their work on your blog. Voila - peer review and reputation.

      But now, publications are just indicators of penis size. The process of writing and peer review takes away valuable time from actual work. In the past 1-2 years I haven't done any more than a week or two of actual work; I've just been writing papers and talking to reviewers. I'm sure many other scientists are in the same boat. This is not the way it's supposed to be.

      • by udippel (562132)

        Second this! - When I started in academia, 1980, there were exactly 2 journals in our/my field worth reading. And, yes, they were worth reading; because the articles contained would often summarize the work of complete teams, mostly achieved over years of work. And nobody would be admonished for 'insufficient' publications. On the other hand, had someone at the age of 35 in those days told us, that she'd been 'doing some 135 peer-reviewed journal articles', we would have her failed the job interview. We wou

    • by khallow (566160)

      In the old days, which were not always good, a brilliant scientist/academician/professor would be granted tax payers' monies to pursue her dreams in science, at least as far as basic funding was concerned; that is not including expensive apparatuses.

      I think a large part of the problem are convenient myths that never were true. I don't believe these "old days" ever happened. And lots and lots of scientists are granted tax payers' monies now with remarkably little oversight (and behavior that demonstrates t

  • by DrJimbo (594231) on Friday September 05, 2014 @02:33AM (#47832669)

    Lee Smolin's brilliant book The Trouble with Physics [leesmolin.com] discussed this issue eight years ago. The book also includes the best introduction to string theory for a scientifically oriented non-physicist I have ever seen.

    Smolin concluded the "trouble with physics" is the problem discussed in the article: the current system rewards small incremental steps over creative leaps. He discusses the risk to payoff ratios. He says the current system drums out most truly creative people.

    • by Animats (122034)

      Smolin is worth reading, even if you don't agree with him. One of his comments is "Smart people should not program". He wants physicists to push the programming work down to lower-level people.

      His big problem with physics is mostly with string theory. String theory is an elegant mathematical description of how physics might work. It doesn't make any predictions that are experimentally testable, at least not without orders of magnitude more accelerator power than currently available. String theory may be

      • by Boronx (228853)

        Does the book go into detail on why string theory ate Physics?

        • by khallow (566160)
          I gather the reason is that it turned out to be a rather fertile field, mathematically. There are a variety of symmetries including a complete characterization of all string theory models in terms of each other (and a higher order M theory model which has each of them as a special case), connections to other models and mathematical concepts, and a huge realm in which a budding PhD can stake a claim.

          So when it came to a choice between this field and a bunch of rather stagnant and/or even more complex and
    • Lee Smolin is one of the tiny minority of physicists who are genuinely thinking about the major problems of the field. I would also recommend Three Roads To Quantum Gravity [leesmolin.com].

      Another I quite respect is Frank Close. I found Nothing: A Very Short Introduction [amazon.com] to be quite thought provoking. And that is the point, by the way. Good physics, and in general good science writing, should be above all thought provoking.
  • by v(*_*)vvvv (233078) on Friday September 05, 2014 @02:49AM (#47832725)
    You cannot predict what you do not know, and to measure how long something takes, it turns out you need to know it pretty darn well. So if anyone claiming to be a scientist claims they need x dollars to get you something amazing in y days, they are talking straight out of their ass. All they have is their curiosity and a hunch. The journey is unknown, and so are the results. To know you will succeed, you have had to have succeeded already. This isn't to be confused with engineering. Engineering is different because you already know the technology and have the tools. You can simulate what you're building before you build it. But the science that gives way to technology no one can predict. If anyone should admit to this, it should be the scientists. The only reason they can't is for political and financial reasons.
    • by khallow (566160)
      Speaking of convenient myths [slashdot.org], this is a huge one. Science is "unpredictable and unprofitable" therefore you just have to give us a lot of money and stop asking questions about why we're not doing anything useful with what you are giving us.

      All they have is their curiosity and a hunch.

      That hunch can be quite good.

      Have you ever bothered to test your assertions using the scientific method, or have you merely assumed this myth is true?

  • The creativity distribution obeys a very strong version of the power law [*1]. What it means almost all the brilliant scientific breakthrough comes from very few scientists. Creating incentives for creativity will make the scientists use all that creativity in getting the incentives, innovative proposals, truly genius grant applications etc. Take for example, the true innovation in understanding the "evolution of cooperation". On the face of it "survival of the fittest" and "nature red in tooth and claw" would seem to discourage cooperation between individuals. But many species including our own are highly cooperative. How come? The ground work was done by one guy (Maynard Smith?) in "Evolutionarily Stable Strategies". One guy conducted a tournament of strategies in 1980s in U Mich (Axelrod?). One guy won it, (Anatol?) tit-fot-tat. I think Richard Dawkins played a catalyst by bringing together a biologist and an economist. They were both working on the same cooperation problem but were unaware of each other's work because they used different terminologies. Then a whole bevy of scientists refine the understanding of Iterative Prisoners Dilemma problem to the present level where we can explain how cooperation evolved.

    All I am saying is this emphasis on leadership and creativity is a little too much. Leads to "All Chiefs and no Indians" problem. Good, strong, independent thinking followers are as important to science as leaders. And we need an order of magnitude more followers. If anything we should reduce the incentives for creativity so that only truly creative people shine through.

    [*1] Power Law: aka 80-20 law. 80% income by top 20% of earners, 80% of crime by 20% of criminals etc.

  • by Beck_Neard (3612467) on Friday September 05, 2014 @04:50AM (#47833029)

    It's not that hard to see what you have to do. Provide a funding system that reflects how science actually works. Provide longer-term grants that are accepting of minor failures or changes in research direction. Cut down on the bureaucracy and the committees. Realize that not all research falls into the domain of 'big name' journals and instead focus on more realistic metrics of progress. Some funding agencies are already starting to move in this direction.

    Non-risky science is a big problem, but there's an even bigger problem. You know how news outlets have a focus on churning out news that is sensationalist and overhyped to whore for views and attention? Well, sadly, it's starting to look like that in science. Nowadays the most 'successful' labs are the ones that hype their output the most and shout loudest over the din of everyone else. This is aided and encouraged by both grant agencies and 'big name' journals like Nature.

    As a result, we now have an entire self-sustaining system for producing bullshit, where bullshit goes through the cycle of hype and publication, leading to grant money, leading to even more bullshit. Some of these big labs become black holes for funding, consuming millions upon millions and then ten years later everyone wonders why their miraculous cancer cure turned out to be a dud.

    I don't know when it got this way, or if it's always been this way. Hell, I'm just a newcomer. But I have a hard time imagining that this system would produce people like Einstein or Crick. People like Fleischmann and Pons, more likely.

  • Fusion research seems to get all the Gov't $$$ it needs, & uses all the energy it needs, even when it comes from fossil fuel powered energy plants...

    While USA's Energy from Thorium, Molten Salt Reactors & Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors - which could produce 100% green energy - for Fusion & lots more users across the planet.

    Much basic & applied work supporting MSR & LFTR work was done in the 1950's, so perhaps it's not to be "sexy" enough to draw funding today.

    It may be unethical to run

  • by mdsolar (1045926) on Friday September 05, 2014 @05:47AM (#47833191) Homepage Journal
    NASA, for example, does not allow grant funding to be used to write grants. So, this preliminary data thing sounds like a different model. Where did the money come from to obtain the preliminary data? With regard to NASA, grants can cover administrative overhead. And, most institutions have support for new grant writing efforts. Doubtless, some NASA grant money that goes to overhead ends up providing support for that kind of effort so new grants do get written. It is just murky.

    In any case, all that work to find out if an idea is technically feasible enough to make a good grant proposal gets paid for somehow to persuade peers that a proposal is viable. So, really, the originality of new grant proposals has something to do with how well faculty are supported in exploring new ideas. That would seem to be the place to ensure that peer reviews get to see exciting and not just competent proposals. Are the institutions hiring the most creative postdocs, for example? Are junior faculty getting good seed money? Is there time set aside for use of laboratories for pursuit of hunches? So, if granting institutions want to see more creative proposals, they'll have to look at the institutional culture grant overhead supports.
  • Everyone follows a program like little computers making it impossible for people to make leaps of intuition and follow them to their conclusion.

    • That made my day. Somebody else sees it permeating society too!

      I often wonder if our authoritarian society fosters these kinds of mental coasting, a mental laziness which is habitual because of the nature of the society to allow one to run on autopilot for so many aspects of like. Technology being a big factor as well; however, more chaotic natural settings makes one routinely have to think about little things all the time which also do not fit a clear repetitive pattern. (The nature of modern jobs has to

  • by Drethon (1445051) on Friday September 05, 2014 @06:41AM (#47833375)
    Creativity tends to go a different direction with mainstream. When peer-review is important do you really want to contradict or say something different from your peers?
  • I worked for 10 years as a researcher in quantum computation. Looking back, i would say that i see a mixed bag. On the negative side i have to say that many groups try to jump on whichever direction the most recent five papers in the field had been in, very often with little or no result at all. (if the Nature paper is out, the other group already followed the new path for five years).

    On the positive side, we come to the other groups/leaders, which follow a direction which adresses aa problem until it's sol

  • Kickstarter for scientists. Just put your project there, and see if it gets funded.

  • To get proposals funded you need to point to something already existing for the most part and say how yours is very similar to that/likely to succeed. So yeah the funding and financial steering is towards things that are not very innovative. However there are a few a compensating factors. 1) Doing something similar both verifies theories/that we actually understand what we thing we do and has the chance of something different happening which either invalidates the theory or adds nuance. 2) Most people aren'

  • by GuB-42 (2483988) on Friday September 05, 2014 @09:06AM (#47834129)

    It may look like scientists nowadays are less creative. I don't think it's the case, they just communicate more.
    Research is always made in small steps. The thing is that now, with sites like arXiv and search engines, we see all these small steps instead of just the end result. It is probably why it looks more incremental.
    Another factor is that we have pretty much nailed down most of the human scale phenomena. Science now needs to address high level of accuracy or work at the nano or cosmic scales. Our brains are not made to deal with this, as a result, a lot of rigor is required and most wonderfully creative ideas end up flat out wrong when compared to the actual data. Because of this, when someone comes up with a creative idea, we need to make sure that he is ready to deal with high precision observations.

    • I know some people in academic research; retired and current.
      The system is fucked up; to use the expression of the youngest one.

      In pursuit of "perfection" we have so much worrying about oversight to prevent waste and corruption that was already lower than everywhere else that we continually clamp down and harm the system more every "reform." This extends into the publishing system which also has a "gold stars" approach where it's all about quantity and not quality. A big earth shattering research paper is

  • by thrig (36791) on Friday September 05, 2014 @10:24AM (#47834769)

    Nary a word about Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in particular the distinction between the puzzle solving of normal science and the different conditions of revolutions in thinking? Oh, the revolutionary thinkers face an uphill battle (like they always have)? I am shocked, shocked, at this sorry state of not learning from the history of science.

  • Keep cutting back on all that basic science, most of which is done by universities and the government. "Oh,", the Libertarians reply, "But companies will do the basic research, because it will lead to new things to monetize!"

    Let's ignore that most companies are forward-looking... to *maybe* the next quarter. Let's ignore the fact that basic research may not pay off for years, or decades, or may not directly ever pay off in something that you can sell, the Sacred Free Market will take care of it all, and if

  • by LongearedBat (1665481) on Friday September 05, 2014 @12:26PM (#47835911)

    If we don't know what we don't know, then we don't know if there's value in knowing whatever it is that we don't yet know. That's when we should fund research, to find out if the funding was worth the price of knowing whatever it is we don't know... and if there is something to know, whether it is worth knowing.

    But if we research what we already know, then because we already know most of what we want to know about, we will know only a little more about what we know much about rather than know much more about what we know little about.

    Isn't that pretty clear?

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