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December 4, 2023

IRIS is part of project to identify science funding models that will encourage innovation and disruption

A recent article in Nature found that scientific papers and patents are becoming less innovative and disruptive to existing knowledge. To help understand why that may be, researchers at the Institute for Research on Science and Innovation (IRIS) at the University of Michigan have partnered with collaborators at the University of Minnesota, Northwestern University and Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires (INSEAD) to help understand which funding models might spur more innovation, with support from the Wellcome Leap Foundation.

IRIS Executive Director Jason Owen-Smith will lead the project; the co-PIs are Russell Funk of the University of Minnesota and Michael Park of INSEAD, who were co-authors of the Nature article on declining scientific disruption, and Dashun Wang of Northwestern University.

The research team will examine the scientific funding model pioneered by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) meant to encourage research that is both innovative and immediately applicable to societal problems – the area of discovery known as “Pasteur’s Quadrant.” Former DARPA director Regina Dugan is CEO of Wellcome Leap.

“Some features of the U.S. model of funding academic research encourage pursuit of safe projects and incremental findings,” Owen-Smith said. “We study how different ways of supporting research can yield more radical outcomes so that we can find the right mix of approaches to ensure we have the vibrant research system our future requires.”

The project will analyze published papers and patents funded by DARPA to evaluate the effects of the agency’s support on scientific disruptiveness; identify common characteristics of research projects that fall into Pasteur’s Quadrant of innovation and immediate application; and examine those projects’ impact on the wider research ecosystem. Possible areas of expansion for this work include using the IRIS-UMETRICS dataset to better understand the impacts on individual researchers of the different funding mechanisms that have been studied.

The 15-month project is funded under the Wellcome Leap Foundation’s Seedling Program.