Pioneering Research: A Risk Worth Taking
"This is the central paradox of good basic research: Its pursuit is risky, insofar as it is not possible to forecast its outcome, this being the nature of research. But its purpose is to reduce the risk in whatever follows. Don Braben recognizes very clearly the need for risk taking in both the pursuit and the support of basic research. Creative researchers must be willing to break out of the intellectual shackles of orthodoxy and should be enquirers, questioners, even out-and-out dissenters. However, while the willingness to be identified as a dissenter from orthodoxy maybe a virtue in a good researcher, it is by no means a sufficient indicator of the total capability of that researcher to be creative and to be capable of exercising sound judgment of the significance of the problem which is to be addressed. This is where 'peer review' is inevitable. But in what form? The danger in the bureaucratic evaluation of research project proposals is that it can be dominated by orthodoxy, coupled with a desire to avoid failure. Understandable when funds are limited, but hardly a formula for creative SUCCESS. It has long been my view, reinforced by an opportunity to read Don Braben's work in draft, that the way to nurture worthwhile creative research involves two steps: 1. Identify creative committed researchers (Braben’s dissenters). 2. Judge whether their ideas, if pursued successfully, are likely to add significantly to humankind’s knowledge and understanding base. There can be no justification for wasting valuable resources in pursuit of novelty for its own sake. That is why intelligent peer review is necessary. Braben’s Venture Research initiative is one way of achieving this."