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Team Science Is Tied to Growth in Grants With Multiple Recipients

Report: “Together We Stand”

Authors: Alexander M. Petersen, of the IMT Institute for Advanced Studies, in Lucca, Italy, and Ioannis Pavlidis and Ioanna Semendeferi, both of the University of Houston

Publication: Nature Physics

Summary: The authors identify a continuing rise of “team science” in university research, judge it to be a desirable long-term shift, and consider the policies and habits at funding agencies and academic institutions that may be unnecessarily hindering it.

A central suggestion is that the agencies reconsider the dominant practice of granting awards in the name of a single principal investigator, and instead spread official responsibility among the members of a scientific team, such as those responsible for conceiving, designing, carrying out, and analyzing the results of a trial or experiment.

The authors draw an analogy to the Oscars, which are awarded to various contributors to a movie, including actors, film editors, and makeup crews, rather than just honor the best director. The authors contend that such a change could provide a greater incentive to all contributors to the research enterprise, rather than foster a perpetual career chase for a PI position that’s needlessly frustrating and professionally unproductive in many instances.

Bottom Line: The leading provider of federal research money, the National Institutes of Health, gives about a fifth of its external awards to projects with multiple PIs, and the Nature Physics analysis suggests it’s a trend that could and perhaps should grow at the NIH and other funding agencies in the coming years.

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