Oliver Moody on getting what you pay for

"Visionary science, the sort of research that alters the course of civilisations, is a stupendously wasteful process. If you give clever and driven scientists as much money and freedom as they like to solve big problems, they will fritter much of it away. Some of them might say offensive things or pay psychics to bend spoons. This is a risk we have to take."

- Oliver Moody, writing in the London Times

In these times of austerity, we are far too timid: under tightened budgets, scientists can only get grants to fund safe, sensible and incremental research - so that is what they aspire to. But not everyone thinks this is the right way of thinking.

The evidential core of this spirited opinion piece is the modus operandi of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which according to science correspondent Moody was "the closest thing the West has ever had to a real-life Q Branch". He describes all the crazy schemes its massive budget was blown on: telekinetic monkeys, death rays and antigravity are just a few. Yet its efforts also facilitated game-changing discoveries, including GPS, the internet and the smart phone.

In short: pay peanuts, and you get monkeys - which may or may not be telekinetic. But without big spending, you're never going to see the scientific miracles of the past century happen in this one.