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The Business of Basic Research

The New York Times' Nicholas Wade likens NIH's funding of basic research to the management of a stock index fund — "they buy everything in the market, and the few spectacular winners make up for all the disasters." In fact, basic research is so risky, he adds, that only the government is interested in paying for it. "It is a venture that produces far fewer hits than misses," Wade says. Scientists spend their lives fighting nature for a piece of the puzzle, he suggests, and scientific victories are "hard won," when there are any victories at all.

But at Science 2.0, Michael White calls Wade's characterization of basic research "overly simplistic." The point isn't to think of research as a bunch of hits and misses, but as a series of "incremental" changes to what we know, he says. Most of the time, when something goes wrong, it's not a disaster, but a small change to what we know about a given subject. In fact, most NIH-funded work ends in success because NIH is "very unwilling to take risks in search of the spectacular winner," White says. Most individual scientists fail on a day-to-day basis, but they eventually figure it out and succeed, he adds.

The Scan

Not as High as Hoped

The Associated Press says initial results from a trial of CureVac's SARS-CoV-2 vaccine suggests low effectiveness in preventing COVID-19.

Finding Freshwater DNA

A new research project plans to use eDNA sampling to analyze freshwater rivers across the world, the Guardian reports.

Rise in Payments

Kaiser Health News investigates the rise of payments made by medical device companies to surgeons that could be in violation of anti-kickback laws.

Nature Papers Present Ginkgo Biloba Genome Assembly, Collection of Polygenic Indexes, More

In Nature this week: a nearly complete Ginkgo biloba genome assembly, polygenic indexes for dozens of phenotypes, and more.