Why Do Universities Ignore Good Ideas?

Article by Jeffrey Funk: “Here is a recent assessment of 2023 Nobel Prize Winner Katalin Kariko:

“Eight current and former colleagues of Karikó told The Daily Pennsylvanian that — over the course of three decades — the university repeatedly shunned Karikó and her research, despite its groundbreaking potential.”

Another article claims that this occurred because she could not get the financial support to continue her research.

Why couldn’t she get financial support? “You’re more likely to get grants if you’re a tenured faculty member, but you’re more likely to get promoted to tenure if you get grants,” said Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist at the New England Complex Systems Institute and a former faculty member and researcher at Harvard Medical School. “There is a vicious cycle,” he says.

Interesting. So, the idea doesn’t matter. What matters to funding agencies is that you have previously obtained funding or are a tenured professor. Really? Are funding agencies this narrow-minded?

Mr. Feigl-Ding also said, “Universities also tend to look at how much a researcher publishes, or how widely covered by the media their work is, as opposed to how innovative the research is.” But why couldn’t Karikó get published?

Science magazine tells the story of her main paper with Drew Weismann in 2005. After being rejected by Nature within 24 hours: “It was similarly rejected by Science and by Cell, and the word incremental kept cropping up in the editorial staff comments.”

Incremental? There are more than two million papers published each year, and this research, for which Karikó and Weismann won a Nobel Prize, was deemed incremental? If it had been rejected for methods or for the contents being impossible to believe, I think most people could understand the rejection. But incremental?

Obviously, most of the two million papers published each year are really incremental. Yet one of the few papers that we can all agree was not incremental, gets rejected because it was deemed incremental.

Furthermore, this is happening in a system of science in which even Nature admits “disruptive science has declined,” few science-based technologies are being successfully commercialized, and Nature admits that it doesn’t understand why…(More)”.