Sunday, December 8, 2013

Research Priorities … or Research Bubbles?

Research Bar
Research Bar (Photo: Rice-Aron Library)
by Sociological Imagination:

Ever been baffled by what research gets funded and what doesn’t? Ever suspect that the whole process is fundamentally irrational?

There’s a summary here of an interesting paper which argues that the increasingly dominant incentive structures of research funding are prone to producing research bubbles:

“In finance, the first condition for a bubble occurs when too much liquidity is concentrated on too few assets. The second is the presence of speculators".

"In science, similarly, if too much research funding is focused on too few research topics, and all researchers speculate in the same fashionable scientific templates to attract funding, a potential science bubble may be forming,” professor of Formal Philosophy Vincent F. Hendricks from University of Copenhagen explains.

Number of papers published annually in the neurosciences 1958-2008. Source: Web of Science
In the article “Science Bubbles” just published in Philosophy and Technology, professor Vincent F. Hendricks and postdoc David Budtz Pedersen trace the mechanisms that can result in science bubbles.

They point to the past decade’s massive investments in cognitive neuroscience as a potential bubble - culminating with President Obama’s recent endorsement of the one billion dollar Brain Activity Map Project and the European Commission’s 500 million euro Human Brain Project.

“These investments have been preceded by a dramatic rise in fields that attach ‘neuro’ to some human behaviour or trait with promises that the techniques of neuroscience will explain it - and into game-changing explanations of the human mind,” Budtz Pedersen says and adds that studies have shown that peer reviewers and lay citizens are more likely to find explanations of e.g. psychological phenomena more convincing when they contain neuroscientific information, even when it is not relevant to the explanation:

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