Democratizing Science

In the nineteenth century, Charles Darwin was just one of the many independent researchers who, not reliant on grants or constrained by the conservative pressures of anonymous peer review, did stunningly original work. That kind of freedom and independence has become almost non-existent. These days, the kinds of research that can happen are determined by science funding committees, not by the human imagination.

What is more, the power in those committees is increasingly concentrated in the hands of politically adept older scientists, government officials and representatives of big business. Young graduates on short-term contracts constitute a growing scientific underclass. In the US, the proportion of biomedical grants awarded to investigators under thirty-five plummeted from twenty-three per cent in 1980 to just four per cent today.

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