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Special Millennium Article
January 2000

Making Room for High-Risk Ideas

Arch Dermatol. 2000;136(1):67. doi:10.1001/archderm.136.1.67

In this time of very tight funding for basic and clinical research, there is one issue that, although largely subliminal and unarticulated in our collective consciousness, ought to be addressed. It is the question of support for novel but potentially important ideas that reach beyond the boundaries of currently fashionable theory and challenge, or at least radically stretch, existing paradigms.

There has always been the obvious justification to give highest priority to emerging areas of current scientific interest and to exploit all the well-established technologies of the day. Furthermore, there are an increasing number of talented and well-trained scientists who are eager to contribute and to "fill in the details." A good example is the current explosion of information on the molecular abnormalities underlying an increasing number of cutaneous genetic disorders. Yet we should remember that virtually all of this proliferation of data rests on the earlier imaginative development of genetic linkage analysis and such DNA technologies as polymerase chain reaction. Other highly original investigator-initiated "ideas" that have made possible a vast amount of subsequent (and continuing) study have included such "breakthroughs" as immunofluorescence microscopy and new tissue culture and hybridoma technologies. In today's extremely competitive funding environment, would proposals to "explore" analogous unproven "ideas" experimentally be funded, at least without sufficient preliminary data to guarantee that the project would "succeed" (ie, when the work has already been largely completed prior to submission of the proposal)?

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