13 Jul 2009

Bureaucracy stifling academic innovation

Hardly a newsflash, is it? I just came across a recent article by Donald W. Miller Jr. entitled The Government Grant System: Inhibitor of Truth and Innovation? [pdf]. Essentially it details some core problems existent in the current American grant system that disfavours support for research that contradicts scientific orthodoxy.

This is nothing new, of course, and is a predictable outcome of many bureaucratic systems that take over the role of cultural accountant, dividing funds up to only those that it may deem "academically worthy". It's always hopeful that a bureaucracy is wise enough to make informed choices and to take appropriate actions towards the welfare of meritorious scholars and towards the benefit of society as a whole. However, this is too often not the case and, when bloated and mismanaged, bureaucracies can quickly turn into oppressive buddy systems.

An interesting thought I take out of this article is the concepts of "Apollonian" (pro-orthodox) and "Dionysian" (anti-orthodox) research. Miller proposes that a balanced system should be remodeled to explicitly allocate funds for both types. This is a commonsense solution to me but, being pessimistic, I somehow doubt this superior model will be implemented as long as human politics are involved.

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