The Plastic Brain

Science XXXVIII

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As epitomised by the Rocky XXXVIII poster in Flying High II (or, as the rest of the world calls it, Airplane II), even a successful franchise can get a bit tired if you keep repeating the same old formula.

Reading that Bruce Charlton article, whose abstract I posted, has made me wonder how much of this phenomenon is happening in Science.

In particular the process of science has become a victim of economic rationalists, just like the film industry. Who is going to invest millions in a film with no known chance of success? Wouldn’t it be better to make a sequel, and cash in on a known audience? (an irony obviously not lost on the makers of Flying High II).

In the realm of science this translates into grants flowing to established researchers, with track records of studious output, researching “safe” and “hot” areas. All they need to do is write a hit early in their career, then they can keep on churning out incremental versions of the same work.

It’s happened in film, in the music industry, in restaurants, in art – and I reckon it’s happening in science.

While I certainly agree that they is a strong need for safe, incremental science in established areas of research, please let’s not miss out on the revolutionary, off-beat, dogma-challenging stuff that can fall between the cracks of the grant-based-funding system.

Research institutions needs to have a bit more soft money, discretionary funds that they can use to retain and support brilliant mavericks. Let’s not let economic rationalists suck the blood out of research too.

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Author: Rogan Tinsley

Biology, science and maths teacher with a PhD in Neuroscience and passion for education.

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