In science, we are constantly asked to resolve a truly tricky trade-off. On the one hand, we are supposed to innovate and jump head first into the unknown to make discoveries. On the other hand, we are supposed to establish the truth, which at least in theory will require an infinite number of control experiments and replications. How do we resolve the conflict between these two opposing concepts?
Guidance comes mostly from peer reviews, for both papers submitted to scientific journals and grant applications sent to funding agencies such as the NIH. It is my observation (and I would suspect many would agree with me) that the implicit message from peer-review is often that the less-innovative and thus "safer" studies and results are (strongly?) preferred. The system is mostly designed to favor established ideas and established researchers, which often results in the lack of new conceptual progress, it seems. I note that funding agencies are actively addressing this issue, yet much more needs to be done. In fact, a frequent scenario is that new ideas are labeled as "too early", "not well supported by preliminary data", "not supported by previous work of others", etc. The same idea leads to paper rejections and requests for bizarre amounts of control experiments that contribute little value to the story. Some journals such as elife are actively countering that trend, which I applaud.
But ultimately, we are the reviewers of others' work and perhaps the most important step is that we start to reflect on how we react to novelty and innovation. I suspect we all fear novelty at some subtle, subconscious level... Any truly novel work will have some "gaps" in the story but as long as they are appropriately discussed I would suggest we as a community should start to react more positively to innovation and novelty. An obvious objection to this approach is that science should not move too fast since otherwise what appears to be scientific facts will have to get revised at a later stage and thus hindering the overall progress and hurting the public perception of science. Ultimately, this is a trade-off that society will have to weigh in. My guess would be that the public who pays for our research will be leaning towards more innovation and is more than willing to accept that not everything will ultimately work out the way the initial results looked like.
Personally, I hoping to get many exciting and novel ideas and stories to review this year. I will focus my attention on the innovation in the overall assessment of the work. How about you? Please share your perspective in the comment section below.