The breakthrough paradox: How focusing on one form of innovation jeopardizes the advancement of science

Ruth Ingeborg Falkenberg, Maximilian Fochler (Korresp. Autor*in), Lisa Sigl, Hermann Bürstmayr, Stephanie Eichorst, Sebastian Michel, Eva Oburger, Christiana Staudinger, Barbara Steiner, Dagmar Wöbken

Veröffentlichungen: Beitrag in FachzeitschriftEditorialPeer Reviewed


Science is about venturing into the unknown to find unexpected insights and establish new knowledge. Increasingly, academic institutions and funding agencies such as the European Research Council (ERC) explicitly encourage and support scientists to foster risky and hopefully ground-breaking research. Such incentives are important and have been greatly appreciated by the scientific community. However, the success of the ERC has had its downsides, as other actors in the funding ecosystem have adopted the ERC’s focus on “breakthrough science” and respective notions of scientific excellence. We argue that these tendencies are concerning since disruptive breakthrough innovation is not the only form of innovation in research. While continuous, gradual innovation is often taken for granted, it could become endangered in a research and funding ecosystem that places ever higher value on breakthrough science. This is problematic since, paradoxically, breakthrough potential in science builds on gradual innovation. If the value of gradual innovation is not better recognized, the potential for breakthrough innovation may well be stifled.
FachzeitschriftEMBO Reports
PublikationsstatusVeröffentlicht - 5 Juli 2022

ÖFOS 2012

  • 106026 Ökosystemforschung
  • 106022 Mikrobiologie