Friday, June 14, 2013

The Vain Pursuit of ‘Significant’ Research

An excellent editorial in SCIENCE by Marc Kirschner describes how granting agencies and universities are placing undue emphasis on the projected ‘significance’ and ‘impact’ of biomedical research. This is usually interpreted as having the potential for rapid translation to the clinic. However, as Kirschner points out, many of the most important advances have come from basic research that did not seem ’significant’ at the time. Witness early work on restriction enzymes, initially of interest only to a few basic scientists, but now the basis of all molecular biology and genomics. The over-emphasis on ‘significance’ is another manifestation of the increasing ‘corporatization’ of research that leads universities to unduly focus on work that has short-term practical and commercial potential. This topic has been discussed previously on this blog: see  “Making academic research pay off- is that really the point?" 

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