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In this paper [pdf] adapted from a lecture he gave at an astronomy conference, Harvard researcher Abraham Loeb warns young scientists that their tendency today to take on safe research projects is unwise. Moreover, he notes the increasing “herd mentality” due to “stronger social pressure”, “more competition in the job market,” and the “growing fraction of observational and theoretical projects . . . done in large groups with rigid research agendas and tight schedules.” Key quote:
It is always prudent to allocate some limited resources to innovative ideas beyond any dogmatic “mainstream,” because even if only one out of a million such ideas bears fruit, it could transform our view of reality and justify the entire effort. This lesson is surprisingly unpopular in the current culture of funding agencies like NSF or NASA, which promote research with predictable and safe goals.