Given today’s Nobel announcement, it seems worth reupping an article I published in STAT last year. It’s also worth reupping a newsletter piece urging NIH (and other science funders, for that matter) to do a serious study investigating all the times in the past when they missed an opportunity to fund great research. Past failures will turn into future failures if no one tries to learn from the past.
In my less charitable moments, I think about a different policy: any program manager or grant reviewer who rejects Nobel Prize-winning research gets fired and barred from making any further such decisions. This would have a tiny impact overall, of course, but would still be very satisfying.
Excellent statement of the problem. The challenge is that (1) the most important ideas to fund, look like bad ideas, but (2) most ideas that look like bad ideas, are in fact bad ideas. I don't think that “fund more ideas, even ones that look bad” is quite right.
Elements of a solution, I suspect, include: (A) have a more diverse range of *funders*, not a centralized agency, and (B) have a decision-making process that puts more authority in the hands of individuals (not committees) who are allowed to operate on their judgment and don't have to produce highly legible justifications for “accountability.”
That’s the silicon valley model: Venture capitalists fund 100 startups expecting the vast majority to fail, because a single success is enough to make it worthwhile.