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Mavericks Wanted

Researchers in both academia and industry used to be able to use the amount of funding they received as they pleased, developing such things as the transistor, biotechnology, and more, write some 30 scientists in a letter to the Guardian. The researchers include the University of Cambridge's William Amos, Pat Heslop-Harrison from the University of Leicester, John Mattick at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, and New England Biolab's Richard Roberts.

In the 1970s, the letter-writers add, the rise of peer review in the allocation of funding led to an emphasis on priorities and the best use of resources. This, they argue, has led to a loss of a "taste for the unpredictable."

"The 500 major discoveries, almost all initiated before about 1970, challenged mainstream science and would probably be vetoed today," the group adds.

The group calls for some changes to bring back scientific mavericks and support their work. "We must relearn how to support them, and provide new options for an unforeseeable future, both social and economic," the letter-writers say.