“We are always looking for original ideas. As long as they are based on underlying material like a comic book or video game or novel.”
I thought of that attitude when I heard this interview with Craig Venter.
Governments are very risk-adverse in funding new programs. The genome is one of the best examples. ... The irony is people don’t want the government to take risks with their money because they can then consider it’s a bad investment. In fact they’re taking safe bets with the money and we’re not moving forward. So instead of being upset that some programs were funded that didn’t take us anywhere, they should be upset that most of the programs we’re funding have us crawling forward instead of leaping forward.
Many government funding agencies, particularly the National Science Foundation, make a big deal about wanting to fund “transformative” research. I can’t help but think that they want to fund transformative research in the same way Hollywood wants to make “original” movies.
People are risk averse. They don’t want to lose money. So they try to make safe bets by using some sort of proven material. For films, that means books or plays or games; for science, that means small incremental improvements that have gone through peer-review.
A lot of films are made outside Hollywood. There are lots of film festivals where people can show their stuff. In science, though, the number of options to get basic science done outside federal funding seem to be shrinking.
This is just one reason I’m so pleased to see BenchFly’s microgrants program off to a good start, with two projects funded in the first round.
Picture by jurvetson on Flickr, and used under a Creative Commons license.