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Sunday, July 10, 2016

How scientific culture discourages new ideas

Scientific progress—and scientific careers—depends on novel ideas. One might therefore expect the scientific community to welcome intellectual innovations as boons to advancement. Two recent studies, however, show just the opposite. One examines how the presence of a prominent, established leader in a research field discourages new people from entering it and presenting ideas considered unconventional. The other reveals a “bias against novelty” that often keeps innovative research from gaining the attention and recognition it deserves, at least initially. 
Together, these results imply career risks for scientists who put forward new theories or interpretations—even though, in the right circumstances, doing so can also make for big advances and big professional successes. In deciding what type of research to pursue, the authors of both studies suggest, scientists must therefore weigh the relative costs and benefits of doing risky but potentially more scientifically significant work against taking a safer and more conventional path that can appear likelier to lead to funding and advancement.  Today’s extremely competitive funding environment can make the safe course appear by far the wiser one, at least from a career standpoint. But, the articles’ authors also note, changing certain policies could make science more receptive to the novelty it needs to move forward.


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