We’ve talked a lot here about the need for more boldness and risk taking in science. Michael Nielsen has a wonderful new post
on what he calls “vision papers”, which could plausibly play a role in achieving this. Vision papers, loosely, are papers in which a scientist lays out a potential exciting avenue of research that could change the shape of a field or create a new field. Michael suggests that vision papers are underrated relative to their impact, primarily because they involve a kind of thinking that is generally disincentivised - or even disparaged - in professional scientific life.
They’re often storytelling or narrative creation, with few technical results, and sometimes apppear superficially closer to literature than what people ordinarily consider science
And yet, Michael argues, such papers can provide a rallying cry for other scientists to explore new territory and, sometimes, create whole new fields of scientific exploration. Given this (potential) impact, why are vision papers so rare? Partly because it requires a very unusual skillset: it needs both great, even brave, imagination and profound scientific understanding (this is not science fiction). Michael concludes by asking what we could do to stimulate more vision papers and muses on the value of a “Vision Prize” that openly solicits them. Given the money and energy flowing to “metascience” right now, it certainly seems worth a try.