In a 2012 Nature article, provocatively titled ‘Conform and be funded’, Joshua Nicholson and John Ioannidis showed that few of the most highly cited US biomedical scientists received funding from the country’s National Institutes of Heath. They attributed this to a reluctance at the agency to support potentially groundbreaking work. Since then, the sense that research funding is risk-averse and biased against novel work has become increasingly widespread within the scientific community.
The possible causes for this include: increasing competition for funding, making funders reluctant to gamble on unusual, high-risk studies; a growing focus among policymakers and agencies on more applied problems with obvious societal relevance over speculative blue-skies work; and the biases of expert reviewers who prefer ideas in the mainstream of their disciplines to more left-field ideas.
What has been missing, however, is concrete evidence of the existence and size of potential biases in the funding system against researchers pursuing novel ideas. In a recent study, we provide this evidence, showing that, in a prestigious Swiss funding programme, researchers with a history of publishing novel research are less likely to win grants.
Continue reading the full article, published 22 July 2021, on Research Professional News.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
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