There are probably a dozen, maybe a hundred even, people on Earth who have an idea that could really change things for the better. An example would be Robert Bussard, who's Polywell fusion reactor could potentially provide clean, cheap, endless energy for humanity. Or it might not. In any case, they have basically no funding, so it doesn't really matter.
Federal research funding, it appears to me, is broken. In the first place, it is too broadly applied. While I am sure many important advancements in science have occurred in the last few decades, the fact is, it is extremely hard to get anything accomplished with 1 year and $50K. There are a zillion well-qualified researchers out there, who upon receiving Federal funding, immediately go about working on the next round of funding. This is a waste of their talent, constantly having to search for money to fund their research.
The second problem is that the Universities that host these researchers take an inordinate amount of their money. 35% or higher is actually pretty typical of the amount of skim the university immediately takes as soon as the researcher gets their check. Some schools take more than 50%.
Look, I could go all over this topic, and there are so many problems with The System now, which has basically become a means by which taxpayers augment the salaries of PhDs, but this has been covered, and by better writers than I.
Instead I'd like to propose an impossible, practical solution: massive funding for few people. Let us pretend, for a moment, that the NIH had 3.5 billion dollars in money to dole out to quality research each year. Spread in $100k allotments, that figures to basically 35,000 researchers, nationwide, per year. How bout instead we give 350 researchers a year a grant worth ten million a piece. Those researchers would then be ineligible for other grant funding for 20 years. Certainly, the shakedown would be immense. First, only one in a hundred researchers would have funding that are currently being funded, so there'd be incredible competition. Second, all the researchers who didn't win would be forced to...I dunno...work for the winners? The schools could still skim their cream, the PhDs would still get paid...
But there would be this intense condensation of plausible ideas into funded ideas. Suddenly a researchers idea to tweak a tiny mouse protein and "see what happens" would get flagged as too inconsequential; the bold researcher who plans to genetically engineer mice capable of carrying human host organs gets funded, the protein tweaker goes and works for him/her.
The way I see it, instead of a zillion researchers on their little, poorly funded islands, each harboring a pet project or idea, you'd instead conglomerate the system, and by funding genuinely promising, game-changing ideas you'd end up with not only less bad ideas funded...but more researchers working on the good ideas.
Proceed to poke holes.
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