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May 23, 1977

Research: Solo or Symphony?

JAMA. 1977;237(21):2327. doi:10.1001/jama.1977.03270480067028

Until recently, science owed its major advances to gifted individuals working in the solitude of their studies or improvised ramshackle laboratories. With modern technological advances and with governmental support of various "crash" programs, the solo worker is now being replaced by organized institutional teams pursuing planned projects initiated by special committees. Attuned to public demand for quick, practical results, the grantors of grants are apt to favor applied research to the neglect of deeper probes into the nature of the unknown.

Did this trend away from the spontaneous to the organized, from the fundamental to the applied, prove successful? Did it lead to great discoveries?

Maintaining that it did not, that planned, organized, "contract" research is rarely followed by major advances, Burch1 makes a plea for fostering "venture" research by creative individuals in the search of knowledge for the sake of knowledge. These individuals should be sought out, given