Is science funding encouraging conformity? – News – Boston.com
If you want to hear a scientist groan, ask about the grant applications he or she is writing. You’re likely to hear a rant about the tight federal science budget or the belief that government grants more often fund incremental research than bold ideas. Dr. John Ioannidis of Stanford University decided to apply scientific analysis to examine how science is funded, and discover what trends lie beneath anecdotal experience.
In an analysis and commentary published Wednesday in the journal Nature, Ioannidis and Joshua M. Nicholson of Virginia Tech found that the majority of researchers who led the most influential studies—papers from the past decade that received more than 1,000 citations by other scientists—did not have current funding from the National Institutes of Health, the predominant funder of biomedical research in the United States. In fact, three out of every five authors were not currently supported by NIH money.
That could be for a variety of reasons: Some scientists may have been graduate students when they did the influential work and may be setting up their laboratories, for example. Scientists may have left the field or moved to a company. The authors didn’t look at whether they had NIH funding when they did the pivotal work. But the finding that so many leading-edge scientists aren’t funded by the NIH raises the question, Ioannidis argues, whether the NIH encourages conformity, or even mediocrity.
Ioannidis isn’t afraid to be provocative. Over the years, he has examined bias in research and found that many results ultimately fail to hold up. In an interview, Ioannidis said that the situation may lead researchers to hold back their best ideas because they know they won’t get funded.