The three questions of the committee’s charge are all retrospective to some degree, asking the committee to examine past events and practices in the geographical sciences. Accordingly, Chapter 2 focused largely on the past, addressing the questions of the charge directly and building on the discussions, inputs, and evidence presented to the committee at its workshop. Everett Rogers’s Diffusion of Innovation model provided a useful framework for a discussion of the various stages of transformation and for efforts that could be made at each of those stages to foster the dissemination and adoption of novel concepts and approaches. Five examples of transformation in the geographical sciences were discussed and a number of themes emerged: the importance of individuals both in the creation of the transformative idea and in its dissemination; the importance of technology and infrastructure in stimulating and enabling transformation; the importance of open communication and sharing, both within the geographical sciences and across existing or perceived disciplinary boundaries; and the importance of funding across a range of scales. Chapter 2 concluded that transformation had long been characteristic of the geographical sciences, and provided many suggestions for how that tradition might be continued and potentially enhanced.
By contrast, Chapter 3 reviewed the current state of higher education in the United States, and its research arm, as an essential ingredient to any discussion of how to foster transformative research. The committee identified four distinct challenges, all of which threaten to shrink the role that universities and colleges have played in fundamental research since World War II, and thus eventually to undermine the strength of the U.S. economy. Chapter 3 thus stressed the essential value of fundamental research, and especially the value of transformative ideas, and cited warnings to the effect that the post-war engine of U.S. research dominance may be flagging.
With this background, this fourth chapter addresses the second part of the third question of the committee’s charge: how transformative research “can be fostered in the geographical sciences.” Chapter 2 established that transformative research has been of critical importance to the geographical sciences in the past. Chapter 3 established that transformative research is of critical importance to the U.S. economy at a time when higher education faces severe and largely unprecedented challenges. In this final chapter, the committee presents ideas and recommendations that it believes will help guide the Geography and Spatial Sciences (GSS) program at the National Science Foundation (NSF) as it plans its future.
Throughout this chapter, the committee assumes that fostering transformative research is desirable. There are, of course, good reasons for arguing against such a strategy. Transformative research carries high risk, almost by definition, requiring reviewers to accept what may well be a less-than-complete research plan, great uncertainty about the nature of the results, and the possibility of negative results and failure. A proposal for transformative
research almost inevitably requires the reviewer to trust the investigator to an unusual extent and may, in some cases, expose the funding agency to negative comment in the press or on Capitol Hill, or from other researchers when an award is announced. This may be especially true in the social sciences, which are periodically subjected to critical examination in the U.S. Congress (Lempert, 2013). In a zero-sum world, sequestering funds to support proposals that are deemed transformative may in turn penalize more conventional but nevertheless important and useful work. At the same time, the National Science Board (NSB) report (NSB, 2007) related commentaries from the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and other sources cited in Chapter 1 make a compelling and exciting—and at times almost passionate—case for greater support for transformative research, despite the associated risks.
This chapter is structured as follows. The next section addresses education and the possibility of a long-term encouragement of transformative research among students through increased emphasis on critical, independent thinking in the research formulation process. This is followed by a discussion of the research culture in the geographical sciences and how it might be more conducive to transformative research; then by a section on the issues raised by traditional practices in academic career advancement; and finally by a section on practices in research funding.
For research to be transformative in the NSB report’s definition (NSB, 2007), it must “challenge” or “radically change” existing thinking, practice, or concepts. As such, it strikes at the heart of a fundamental paradox in education: the need on the one hand to convey the accepted and established knowledge and practices of a field, but on the other to encourage critique, skepticism, and independent thinking on the part of the student. Critique, skepticism, and independent thinking require confidence on the part of the student and a willingness to challenge teachers and peers; and it may occasionally require teachers and peers to endure a level of discomfort. Some cultures are clearly better at this than others. Confucianism, for example, is a strong system of beliefs within traditional Chinese culture that encourages respect for elders and may well frown on youthful independence of thought; the effects on Chinese science have been discussed at length by Gong (2012). Critique, skepticism, and independent thinking may also be lacking in European concepts of apprenticeship, the notion that practitioners pass on their knowledge and skills to the next generation through close, often one-to-one relationships. What is needed may be a new concept of apprenticeship in the practices of critique, skepticism, and independent thinking, where success may well be uncomfortable for the mentor, since it will need to be measured in the degree to which the student challenges the mentor.
Recent interest in the pedagogic approach sometimes termed discovery-based learning or student-centered learning provides one possible approach to this dilemma. Rather than being instructed, the student is encouraged to experiment and construct knowledge from scratch; the instructor’s role focuses on facilitation rather than direction. The concept is succinctly expressed in the mantra (often attributed to Benjamin Franklin but also traceable to others, including the early Chinese philosopher Xunzi): “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Although these ideas have gained traction in the educational system, the goal of encouraging students to think critically, creatively, and independently remains elusive. Discovery-based learning can be inefficient and time consuming if every fact has to be established from first principles. One is reminded of Bertrand Russell’s anecdote: Presented with Euclid’s axioms as a student, he was initially skeptical, but agreed reluctantly to accept them when it was pointed out that only then could he be introduced to what lay beyond (Russell, 2009).
How do the geographical sciences fare on this dimension of encouraging critical thinking through the
educational process? Many geographical scientists first encounter the discipline after their freshman year, because geography is virtually absent or treated very superficially in primary and secondary education in the United States. Thus, in some ways, students come to the discipline with a mind that is not encumbered by established ways of thinking in their adopted discipline. At the same time, the distinct perspective that the geographical sciences offer—in that, the emphasis on framing in space and time and on integration of human and physical processes—may well encourage students to take a fresh and critical look at what they have previously learned in other disciplines.
As Susan Hanson noted in her keynote address at the workshop, the U.S. system is productive at least in part because it is “complex, dynamic, pluralistic, decentralized, competitive, meritocratic, and entrepreneurial.” Educators in the geographical sciences would do well to place similar emphases in their pedagogy, especially with respect to the first three descriptors, if they are to prepare students to contribute to transformative research.
NSF has several programs and an entire directorate (i.e., Education and Human Resources, or EHR) devoted to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, although the size of these efforts is inevitably small in relation to the overall magnitude of the United States’ entire investment in education. The GSS program receives proposals under the Research Experience for Undergraduates and the Research Experience for Teachers programs, and also participates with EHR and other directorates in making additional types of awards in support of geographic education at all levels. While these awards often give students valuable laboratory and research experience, expose them to the planning and management of research, and train them in research methods, the awards might also be seen as opportunities for fostering transformative research, by engendering the kinds of critical, creative, and independent thinking that such research requires. As the committee noted in Chapter 2, it is easy to trace the influence of charismatic and provocative mentors on the individuals who in turn contributed and led new transformative research.
Yet, many students must pass through their graduate years without ever encountering the kinds of mentor-ship that might lead them to be transformative in their own careers. To address this, principal investigators (PIs) might be encouraged to include and even emphasize relevant characteristics in their proposals, for example:
- How and to what degree will students supported by the proposal be exposed to the concept of transformative research?
- How and to what degree will students supported by the proposed award be encouraged to think critically, creatively, and independently?
- How and to what degree will students be exposed to the nature and impacts of prior transformative research in the geographical sciences?
- How and to what degree will students with backgrounds in other disciplines be encouraged to learn and apply the perspectives of the geographical sciences to problems?
- How and to what degree will students with backgrounds in the geographical sciences be encouraged to learn and apply the perspectives of other disciplines to problems?
- How and to what degree will students with backgrounds in the geographical sciences be encouraged to apply the perspectives of geographical research to problems in other disciplines?
Students should be informed about the concepts of transformative research and the importance of such research. As noted in Chapter 1, transformative research requires the existence of an initial state, a paradigm or set of practices that is to be transformed. It follows that the initial state will be replaced and that existing knowledge and practices will be abandoned. Thus, students should understand that transformative research implies a process of unlearning that may be as important as the new learning; and the rejection of old ideas and techniques may be as important a part of the transformative process in a science as the identification of new ones. Long-abandoned
ideas in science, such as the ether or phlogiston, are now encountered in science courses only as historic curiosities, although they are useful examples in the history and philosophy of science. In the geographical sciences, abandoned ideas, such as environmental determinism, still live on to some degree in courses on the history of the discipline or on geographic thought. Other old ideas periodically resurface as they are found to be useful to some new direction of research, or are rediscovered by researchers who are assiduous in searching the literature.
Finally, it is important for students to understand that the identification of new questions may be as essential to transformative research as the discovery of new knowledge. What is most valuable about a new technology in science may not be how it allows us to answer old questions more effectively, but how it allows questions to be asked that have never been asked before. For example, the application of high-performance computing in the geographical sciences (see, for example, http://cybergis.illinois.edu or Wright and Wang, 2011) is initially seen as a way of speeding up operations, allowing analyses to be performed in half, one-tenth, or one-hundredth of the time. Such speed-up, however, is not in itself transformative; the long-term value of high-performance computing in the geographical sciences will only come when it is possible to ask and answer an entirely new set of questions by thinking beyond the mindsets, conventions, and assumptions of the past and the constraints that have been imposed, consciously or subconsciously, by traditional serial computing. In short, new questions may be more valuable to science than old answers.
Recommendation 1: The Geography and Spatial Sciences (GSS) program should examine the degree to which its awards, especially those in support of geographical education, foster the potential for transformative research among the students who benefit from these awards, and encourage principal investigators to give attention to such potential in their proposals.
Research in the geographical sciences is housed in various disciplines, primarily geography but also computer sciences, cognitive sciences, statistics, and engineering, as well as in the disciplines that apply the knowledge of the geographical sciences, including all of the social and environmental sciences and increasingly the humanities. As Chapter 2 demonstrated, the geographical sciences are already a multidisciplinary culture, in which collaboration across the boundaries of the traditional disciplines is not only common but encouraged, and in which transformative ideas have often stemmed from such collaboration. The walls of the geographical sciences are inherently permeable, if indeed they exist at all. Though objective evidence of such permeability would be difficult to assemble, especially in comparison with other disciplines.
There are many ways, however, in which the diversity and pluralism of the geographical sciences could be strengthened, and note has already been made of the importance of diversity and pluralism in fostering transformative research. The community of researchers in the geographical sciences falls a long way short of “looking like America,” despite NSF’s strenuous and longstanding efforts in this direction. Women; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT); and ethnic minorities may still be underrepresented, especially in certain areas of the geographical sciences, despite the potential for such groups to bring new transformative ideas to the research table. Recent data from NIH show that the age distribution of funded PIs is strongly weighted in favor of older researchers and does not match the ages at which researchers tend to make their most significant discoveries (Harris, 2014).
Older, more experienced faculty can play a vital role in mentoring those still early in their careers. A prominent, well-funded, late-career scholar who now regularly encounters the argument that scarce funding would be
better awarded to those who have yet to make their mark might do well to partner with a young scholar with new but perhaps less well-developed ideas and no history of funding.
International collaboration could also be strengthened. While collaboration with Europe and many Commonwealth countries is common in the geographical sciences, and collaboration with researchers in China is increasing, collaboration with many other parts of the world remains adversely impacted by differences in language and research culture, problems with travel and communication, personal security, and the lack of bilateral or multilateral funding programs. Yet, such collaborations could be enormously stimulating, bringing a host of new ideas and perspectives. International links might be cultivated through nongovernmental organizations that operate internationally.
The relationships among academic geographical scientists, industry, and the military and intelligence communities have long been a source of debate. Mapping, geographic information systems (GISs), and related services are now a multibillion-dollar industry, but many academics are hesitant to develop links, fearing that the objectivity of their research will be compromised by the commercial objectives of industry. Yet Esri, for example, employs close to 5,000 people worldwide, a large proportion of them reasonably described as geographical scientists, and reports annual expenditures on in-house research in the hundreds of millions of dollars, a figure that is two orders of magnitude greater than the budget of NSF’s GSS program. Although figures are inevitably hard to come by, the military and intelligence community must employ many more and invest much more. Cloud and Clarke (1999) argue that many of the most significant and transformative advances in GIS and remote sensing originated in this community, and Chapter 2 reinforced this conclusion. But the debate over the Bowman Expeditions of a few years ago (http://americangeo.org/bowman-expeditions) underscores just how hesitant many academics feel about interaction with this vast and well-funded domain.
Much could be done to foster increased interaction with industry, the military, and the intelligence community. Exchange and internship programs could provide increased opportunities for exposure to new and potentially transformative ideas. GSS could encourage PIs to increase interaction and to include representatives of these communities on advisory boards, at workshops, and in webinars. Esri and similar companies could be encouraged to provide additional opportunities for academic researchers in their annual user conferences, and academics could lobby for an increased role in the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation, the National Geospatial Advisory Committee, and other cognate organizations.
Behind these ideas lies a broader concern for the openness of science and the free and timely exchange of new results and new questions. As Chapter 2 made clear, open collaboration has been critical in the development and dissemination of many transformative ideas in the geographical sciences. Open science has recently become a compelling and rapidly growing movement, urging open access to journals, the use of open-source software, and open sharing of data. Of course, no one is in favor of closed science, whatever that may mean, but it is easy to be in favor of science being more open than before. Transformation in science, in the form of openness, can only help to foster transformative research.
NSF has a long history of supporting workshops and small gatherings of the scientific community. These workshops can be invaluable in giving NSF early access to new ideas and providing opportunities to develop new funding programs, or to redirect existing ones, so that such ideas can be pursued. Moreover, NSF rules allow program officers to provide the level of funding needed for a small workshop quickly, without the delays of external review. In the geographical sciences, a long series of specialist meetings organized by the National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis, many of them held in Santa Barbara, California, have assembled 30 to 40 researchers at a time to discuss and share new ideas in an area of cutting-edge GIS. Some 50 such meetings have been held over the past 25 years. The groups are multidisciplinary and international, and strenuous efforts are made to encourage participation by underrepresented groups. Industry, the military, and the intelligence commu-
nity are frequent participants. These meetings act as community builders, redirecting researchers toward collaborative, timely, and potentially transformative research on cutting-edge ideas.
Several foreign examples now exist of the value of multidisciplinary, multisector research collaborations in GIS and remote sensing of the environment, although no comparable project yet exists in the United States. In Australia, the Australia/New Zealand Cooperative Research Center in Spatial Information assembles academic, industry, state and federal governments, and local entities to undertake high-impact, collaborative research that can be demonstrated to lead to accelerated industry growth, improved social well-being, and a more sustainable environment.
More fundamental, however, is the question of how the research community identifies and prioritizes its research topics. What makes a researcher identify one topic as interesting and reject another? How many potential topics are rejected out of hand, or subconsciously, because they do not fit within preconceived notions of what is interesting? If the existing practices of science were established by a community that was dominated by white males, what might they look like if the community had been more representative of the United States, or dominated by Hispanics, for example? Would this have given us a different conception of interesting, and greater success in fostering transformative research?
To a degree, the process of topic selection is clearly opportunistic, driven by access to novel sources of data and new tools. For example, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls between 1946 and 1956 led to a burst of new discoveries in the humanities, as well as answers to questions that had mostly not been formulated previously. But to graduate students, the selection of a dissertation topic is often daunting, requiring careful navigation through a minefield of issues, some of them objective, such as access to data and tools, but many of them decidedly subjective, including the established practices and agendas of their advisors.
Recommendation 2: The Geography and Spatial Sciences (GSS) program should continue to emphasize National Science Foundation (NSF) policies and programs that are designed to increase ethnic, age, and gender diversity among its awardees.
Recommendation 3: In the interest of fostering transformative research, the Geography and Spatial Sciences (GSS) program should recognize the importance of research collaboration among nations, among disciplines, and among academics, industry, government, and the military and intelligence communities.
It has been common in recent years to blame the system of academic career advancement for many of the limitations and ills of the academy. Evaluations of candidates for advancement are seen as excessively dependent on the individual’s research, at the expense of excellence in teaching or public service, especially at Research I universities. More relevant here is the view that evaluations are excessively discipline-centric, working against contributions at the edges of disciplines, where the committee has argued that many transformative ideas can be found. They also focus on the traditional system of academic publication and dissemination, emphasizing journals, books, and refereed conference proceedings, which have their own rules of content, and working against contributions in the form of tools, data, outreach, and institution-building, all potential contributors to transformational research.
Recently the process of research evaluation has become even more quantitative, through the use of readily available bibliometrics, and less dependent on the independent, detailed, and qualitative evaluation by a candi-
date’s immediate peers. Evaluation based on bibliometrics may encourage a candidate to partition contributions into least publishable units, to seek co-authorship wherever possible, and to place emphasis on journals with high-impact factors instead of those most likely to communicate results to the most interested colleagues. Referring to one of the most important advances in computer sciences in recent years, as measured by its impacts on society, the National Research Council (NRC) report Furthering America’s Research Enterprise (NRC, 2014) noted:
Bibliometrics, for example, would not have flagged the supporting citations in the patent application for [Larry] Page’s Google search algorithm as particularly high impact during the years surrounding the initial appearance of those publications. [Moreover,] Page’s discovery of the algorithm itself was first reported in Computer Networks, an archival journal with a relatively low impact factor (a measure of the average number of citations of articles published in the journal) of 1.2, as determined by the Institute for Scientific Information. (NRC, 2014, p. 69)
Thus, “metrics can limit the possibility of transformative innovation by fostering an avoidance of failure to make the metrics look good” (NRC, 2014, p. 70).
Reliance on bibliometrics has begun to penetrate critical parts of the academic system, including the hiring, promotion, tenure, funding, and annual evaluation processes. Some graduate schools expect their students to have published a minimal number of papers prior to graduation. Department chairs may go so far as to formalize expectations regarding the number of papers published per year and papers required for tenure. All of this may leave junior scholars with little incentive to pursue high-risk topics.
Career-advancement practices may also emphasize individual activity at the expense of collaboration, especially across disciplinary boundaries, another form of academic activity that the committee has identified as important in fostering transformative research (although the committee would not argue that collaboration is a necessary condition for transformation, and Chapter 2 provides many examples of the influence of individuals). These practices stress sole authorship and lead authorship, and candidates can be criticized for being named last in a long list of co-authors on the grounds that this may indicate only a peripheral contribution, although it may also reflect a last name that is toward the end of the alphabet. Junior faculty who build collaborations with other disciplines, and benefit from the stimulus and cross-fertilization that results, may in the end be penalized in a discipline-centric system. Organizing workshops, building networks of colleagues, and pursuing large awards of external funding are all significant contributions that can foster transformative research; yet, all are often discouraged at early-career stages when the potential for truly original ideas and discoveries can be highest.
In short, the traditional methods of evaluating candidates for academic appointments and for career advancement may not provide the best indicators of potential for transformative research. Instead, “the key players in transformative breakthroughs often are well-trained researchers from diverse backgrounds who know the right people—and many of them. The right people are other talented researchers who can draw on their knowledge of diverse fields to bring fresh perspectives to stale problems” (NRC, 2014, p. 6). And again, “truly transformative scientific discoveries often depend on research in a variety of fields, from which connections can be made that lead to new ideas” (NRC, 2014, p. 11).
While these arguments have been presented in the context of career advancement, they are clearly relevant to the evaluation of research proposals and to efforts to foster transformative research in the geographical sciences. As noted in Chapter 1, there is as yet little research on indicators of potentially transformative research. The NRC report (2014) includes powerful anecdotes, and the passages quoted are usefully substantive. Yet, as noted earlier as Finding 4, research to date has not been able to discover characteristics capable of predicting the likelihood that an individual will produce transformative research. At this time, therefore, the committee chooses not to make a recommendation on the individual characteristics GSS might look for should it wish to encourage
transformative research. Nevertheless, and despite the current lack of solid supporting research, Chapter 2 ended with the committee’s consensus view on the individual characteristics likely to be conducive to transformative research, based on its analysis of the five case studies.
The suggestion was made earlier in this report that some of the pressure for increased emphasis on transformative research stems from a belief that the processes of proposal review are essentially conservative, working against projects that might involve high risk but might offer the potential for high return. Thus, one way to encourage transformative research might lie in a review and perhaps a revision of the proposal process. NSF has modified the rules it uses to evaluate submissions to its Creative Research Awards for Transformative Interdisciplinary Ventures (CREATIV) program (see Chapter 1), one of the programs designed to foster transformative research, by raising the dollar limit on projects that can be approved without external review by more than an order of magnitude. Presumably, this modification stems from the belief that external reviewers are more likely to be conservative than NSF’s own program officers. The requirement that CREATIV proposals be approved by program officers from at least two directorates also helps to add confidence in what is essentially a simplified review process. Similarly, ESRC’s program of support for transformative research in the social sciences uses a novel review process, augmenting the traditional panel review with a “Pitch to Peers” session, in which competing PIs review and discuss all of the shortlisted proposals in the current competition (see Chapter 1). Analogies to the venture-capital industry are appealing in this regard, because somewhat similar mechanisms are found in popular culture in such television programs as CNBC’s Shark Tank.
These innovations aside, the normal funding model has remained remarkably unchanged in recent decades. Proposals for research are generated according to the rules established by the funding agency, against deadlines that are typically annual or semiannual. Proposals are sent for external review and then discussed in panels convened for the purpose. Panelists provide advice to program officers, who then make recommendations for funding to their agencies (in the case of NIH, peer review and award recommendation are handled by separate parts of the organization). While PIs of failing proposals may be advised to revise and resubmit, the process essentially ends with a simple yes or no decision. If the award is in the form of a cooperative agreement, there may be specific reporting requirements and project reviews; but if the award is a grant, there will be little accountability on the part of the PI, except for the submission of regular reports and the maintenance of regular accounting practices. Only in retrospect, after the project is completed and the results are published, is one able to determine whether the returns of the project justified the investment.
A few changes to this set of practices may be merited if the objective is to foster transformative research. In particular, this report has already noted the difficulty of judging a PI’s potential for transformative research based on the conventional biographical information provided in a proposal, and the oft-expressed view that the peer-review process is essentially conservative. One alternative to the all-or-nothing nature of traditional practice could be what might be termed progressive funding, in which PIs with promising ideas would first be awarded small seed grants through a streamlined review process. If the results were promising, a subsequent proposal could be made for a second, larger phase of funding. Keeping the initial award small would reduce the risk to the funding agency.
The idea of progressive funding is already implemented in programs such as Small Business Innovation Research, which encourages collaboration between academia and industry and makes small Phase I awards and larger, longer-term Phase II awards. It is also common practice in major NSF programs such as the Science and Technology Centers (STCs), where pre-proposals are required and are reviewed by panels of peers. However, in
this case, pre-proposals are used only to narrow the field—no award is made and no research is conducted prior to the submission of a full proposal. And although the requirements for a pre-proposal are limited, many PIs would acknowledge that developing the pre-proposal involves almost as much work as developing the full proposal. Finally, NSF has programs, such as Rapid Response Research (RAPID) and Early-Concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER), that are designed to support time-critical research, such as research in the aftermath of major natural disasters, and use an accelerated process of internal review, with the understanding that successful research funded under these programs might lead to a second phase of larger-scale and longer-term funding through other programs.
NSF is justly proud of its peer-review process, which is often lauded and widely viewed as the gold standard for funding agencies. But despite this, NSF’s review methods may no longer be appropriate in the context of diminished funding, steadily falling success rates, and the growing pressure to fund research that is truly transformative (see Chapter 3). Until solid research can be completed, these various ideas must be regarded as speculative but worthy of investigation on a limited, trial basis.
Recommendation 4: In the interest of being more supportive of transformative research, the Geography and Spatial Sciences (GSS) program should work with other groups within and beyond the National Science Foundation (NSF) to explore and evaluate the novel approaches to research funding and proposal review discussed in this section.
Although there is no single, succinct, and all-encompassing definition of transformative research, two distinct themes emerged from the discussion of Chapter 1. First, transformative research has unusually high value or return that may be reflected in a variety of ways: the widespread redirection of research in an existing research community, the formation of a new research community or discipline, or the emergence of a new industry. The five case studies discussed in Chapter 2 provided ample evidence of this high value or return in the case of the geographical sciences. Second, transformative research carries unusually high risk to a funding agency because its groundbreaking nature is difficult for PIs to visualize and for reviewers to evaluate.
The rational response to this duality is to maximize the return while minimizing the risk. In Chapter 2, Rogers’s model of innovation diffusion was used to frame a discussion of the factors that may be helpful in maximizing return: open sharing of ideas, rapid dissemination, and the breaking down of institutional barriers that include the disciplinary silos of academia. In this chapter, the committee extended these ideas in the specific context of the geographical sciences and NSF’s GSS program and also made recommendations designed to minimize risk. These recommendations include finding better ways of preparing young geographical scientists for transformative research, identifying ways in which the research culture of the geographical sciences can be made more conducive to transformative research, addressing aspects of the process of career advancement that inhibit transformative research, and exploring novel approaches to the development and review of proposals for funding transformative research.
None of these recommendations can directly address the concerns raised in Chapter 3 on the overall state of national science policy and performance. The geographical sciences are a small part of the broader research enterprise, and although strides have been made in recent decades in achieving greater prominence for their central ideas, they will almost certainly remain close to invisible in the national debates over the four challenges discussed in that chapter. Nevertheless, within the context of the geographical sciences, the four recommendations herein do
specifically address the four national research challenges articulated in Chapter 3 (see Figure 4.1). The declining levels of national and state research funding (Challenges 1 and 2) can partially be offset through the development of more linkages and programs with the private sector and research partnerships with governmental agencies (Recommendation 3). This has been effective in the past growth of GIS and remote sensing of the environment as transformative sciences (see Chapter 2), and will likely be just as effective and even more necessary in the future. The fostering of an open and collaborative system of innovation development and diffusion (Recommendation 3) will serve to help counteract the potentially stifling impact of competition for scarce research dollars (Challenges 1 and 2). Encouraging transformative research and targeted funding at the late inception/early-diffusion stage can help to maximize governmental investment success and to offset overall reduction in funds. Specifically targeting the training of students in the nature and achievement of transformative research (Recommendations 1 and 2) will help to ensure a larger proportion of highly educated individuals has the capacity to advance the geographical sciences and to offset both the potential declines in the absolute numbers of such highly trained individuals and the increasing competition by such students trained in other countries (Challenges 3 and 4). Increasing the diversity of the research community (Recommendation 2) serves not only to bring the wider range of perspectives that is important for the recognition of transformative research opportunities, but also serves to increase the pool of students for higher education (Challenge 3). In addition, greater diversity can promote increased engagement with the international research community and the exchange of ideas at the innovation and early diffusion stage. Finally, novel approaches to proposal review (Recommendation 4) have the potential to foster transformative research and thus to ultimately address Challenges 1, 2, and 4.
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