The fourth panelist from the STS conference was Reynold Galope from Georgia State and Georgia Tech. His talk was entitled: Defining a Comparison Sample to Measure the Effect of Institutional Factors on Highly Creative Scientific Research: Issues and Options
The CREA Project is a large-scale international research program that aims to understand the environmental and institutional factors and mechanisms which can stimulate and support scientists to accomplish highly-creative breakthrough research. There is a body of work on scientific creativity – which is defined as “novel work with major implications or potential accomplished by individual researchers and groups” – but most of it is focused on the characteristics of the individual researcher (micro level) or indicators of national activity (macro level). In contrast, our research focuses on “meso” level attributes such as career mobility, sequence of career choices, properties of organizations, and patterns of research funding awards. These factors are ones that research sponsors, institutions, and research groups can and do influence. Indeed, there is a growing policy and research management interest about how best to foster creative and transformational scientific research.
The first stage of this project identified 76 highly creative researchers (HCRs) in human genetics and nanoscience based on peer-nomination and prize awards. Reynold and his colleagues are now interested to compare this HCR collective to a comparison group of researchers. They would like to understand what fosters highly creative research defined by:
Novelty. In order for research to qualify as “creative”, it needs to go beyond current knowledge, it needs to be new and unexpected; and
High-quality and usefulness. Creative work is usually associated with an exceptional and extraordinary level of quality and appropriateness for a given problem.
The aim to operationalize this definition and translate it in a way that makes it ‘approachable for empirical research of creative science‘. However, I’m not sure whether methodology is appropriate.
First, I immediately noticed that 70 out of the 76 individuals identified in the original study were male. Surely there are social factors that limit the achievements being considered to qualify ‘highly creative‘ individuals–especially women. I’m also still not clear what defines ‘highly creative research‘. The awards considered during the selection process are distributed for a variety of reasons along a broad spectrum so it seems unfair to standardize this as a defining criteria. Furthermore, and arguably most important: Many hypotheses are not successful and thus, not recognized in the literature, but do take a an extremely creative approach. It’s often these risk-takers that make breakthroughs rather than peers using more conventional approaches. And while sometimes they succeed, many times they do not. I’m reminded of Thomas Edison’s famous line:
It seems to me that the HCR definition does not account for all of those perspiring among us. But with that I’m going to step back from being critical given the research attempts to answer some very intriguing questions.
Do readers have alternative suggestions to identify highly creative individuals? What factors to you think most contribute to fostering this kind of research?