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Shadow of Big Science

Big science projects with lofty goals are pulling resources away from smaller projects, says the Guardian, with no guarantee of results.

"Is [big science] worth the opportunity cost of failing to fund other scientific ideas that will never be explored as a result?" the Guardian's Louise Tickle asks. "And how can big science researchers really prove that their work is worthwhile when the cost is so high, the timescales so long, and the outcomes so uncertain?"

The 100,000 Genomes Project is expected to cost £300 million ($495 million), while the project that led to the discovery of Higgs Boson is estimated to have cost as much as £8 billion, she notes.

Bill Amos from Cambridge University tells her that many of the projects haven't been worth their cost. "Take the 100,000 Genome Project. It's a fabulous waste of money because it is hypothesis free — they're not testing something," he says.

It's also, Amos adds, making the pot of research funds smaller for other investigators to share. "The smaller the total pot, the more desperate people get so the more they ask for, raising the average size of grants and resulting in fewer grants and more desperation," he says. 

Bangor University's Jo Rycroft-Malone also wonders whether the wrong people are determining what projects are funded. "[P]erhaps it's time to open up the debate to the public about what scientific agendas we should be pursuing and how they should be resourced," she says. "This could help move away from a trend where our governments are buying into 'vanity projects', and would have the potential to hold them more to account."