There is an interesting blog posting at Advanced Nanotechnology on The struggle over high risk, high payoff research, which pours scorn on the current low-risk approach to research funding. I have extracted some of the more interesting snippets below.
The blog posting itself makes the following comments:
...the United States science and technology research community has seen a return to a culture which is less likely to pursue high risk/high payoff technology research.
There is a struggle between those who want more High risk, high payoff scientific and technological research and development and those who want only timid, incremental goals who also ridicule even the description of a high payoff technological possibility.
Farber [who] sits on a computer science advisory board at the NSF [says]:
... he has been urging the agency to "take a much more aggressive role in high-risk research." He explains, "Right now, the mechanisms guarantee that low-risk research gets funded. It's always, 'How do you know you can do that when you haven't done it?' A program manager is going to tell you, 'Look, a year from now, I have to write a report that says what this contributed to the country. I can't take a chance that it's not going to contribute to the country.'"The old head of ARPA Charles Herzfeld says (see here):
...the people that you have to persuade are too busy, don't know enough about the subject and are highly risk-averse ... If the system does not fund thinking about big problems, you think about small problems.
It's all pretty damning stuff. Only slightly tongue-in-cheek, I blame it all on the rise of the use of the spreadsheet as a management and accountancy tool, which makes it far too easy for unimaginative people to become so engrossed with the numbers in their spreadsheets that they overlook the big picture.