The technological progress is continuously expanding our ability to measure and study new phenomena at ever higher sensitivity and accuracy. This progress is empowering research and sometimes drives new discoveries. Such progress comes at high price: expensive equipment and ever increasing dependence on resources. Resource-driven investigations are becoming common enough to stimulate the appearance of specialized types of articles in many journals. The-resource driven research contrasts with idea-driven research, e.g., the Luria–Delbrück experiment, general relativity, and Feynman diagrams. Most research is driven both by ideas and by resources, and the contrast between the extremes (principal eigen-components) is useful mostly for emphasising the evolving shift in their relative contributions.
Both idea-driven and resource-driven research can be very productive. However, they demand different sets of skills and create very different cultures. Privileged background and political skills are far more important for resource-driven research than for idea-driven research. Conversely, resource-driven research is less conducive to a meritocratic culture. Furthermore, priority is generally harder to assign objectively for resource-driven research and stimulates political attributions; see this excellent post and discussion by Arjun Raj. Resource-driven research usually involves many repetitive steps that are suboptimal learning experience for graduate students. On the other hand, resource-driven research is fairly “safe” in terms of producing visible and popular publications, soliciting future funding, and building careers.
The shift towards higher resources-dependence is sometimes demanded even by the most creative, idea-driven research; some brilliant and original ideas are impotent unless combined with empirical data whose collection requires resources. I consider this use of resources essential. Beyond this essential use of resources, much resource-driven research seems to be motivated by the relative safety of this approach for those with power and resources. Some of the increasing reliance on resources seems to be autocatalytic; as the scientific culture evolves, some scientists seem to become more accustomed to the inequality. As one prominent PI put it: “The world is unfair. That is nothing new and nothing to worry about”. I find this attitude defeatist. While perfect fairness is hard to define and perhaps impossible to achieve practically, this should not be a reason for resignation and lack of motivation to improve the system as much as we can.