Science, Heal Thyself

The scientific enterprise is under threat, as political forces, inadequate funding, and a perverse incentive structure undermine its credibility and hinder its progress. Applying the scientific method to these challenges could be science's best hope for reinvigorating the quest for transformative discoveries.

NEW YORK – Science may be humankind’s greatest success as a species. Thanks to the scientific revolution that began in the seventeenth century, humans today enjoy instant communication, rapid transportation, a rich and diverse diet, and effective prevention and treatment for once-fatal illnesses. Moreover, science is humanity’s best hope for addressing such existential threats as climate change, emerging pathogens, extra-terrestrial bolides, and a burgeoning population.

But the scientific enterprise is under threat from both external and internal forces. Now the scientific community must use its capacity for self-correction – based on new information, discoveries, experiences, and ideas (the stuff of scientific progress for centuries) – to address these threats.

A major hindrance to scientific progress is the increasing scarcity of research funding – a trend that has been exacerbated by the global economic crisis. Uncertain funding prospects not only discourage scientists from pursuing risky or undirected lines of research that could lead to crucial discoveries; they also make it more difficult to recruit the best and brightest for scientific careers, especially given the extensive training and specialization that such careers require.

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