On Incentives for Innovation

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Science  27 Nov 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5957, pp. 1163
DOI: 10.1126/science.1184848

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For science to thrive, it is crucial that the scientific community encourage the bold ambitions and innovative spirit of young researchers. In my own area of science, the United States could do much more to support this important goal. U.S. biomedical science is a large and important research enterprise that currently includes over 100,000 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Of these, only a select few will go on to become independent research scientists in academia. Assuming that the system supporting this career path works well, these will be the individuals with the most talent and interest in such an endeavor: young people well positioned to make the scientific breakthroughs that societies need to survive and thrive. But the current system squanders the creativity and energy of these exceptionally gifted young people through a funding process that forces them to avoid risk-taking and innovation.