Tag: research

Academia is turning the next generation of scientists into “research managers,” not bold scientific thinkers. So says Markus Baer, professor of Organizational Behavior at Olin.


He lays out this argument in The EMBO Journal: Conditions that encourage scientists to engage in relentless, creative exploration of the unknown are becoming harder to find.

“For one, finding new ideas appears increasingly difficult,” Baer and coauthors write in “Creativity as an antidote to research becoming too predictable.”

US data suggest groundbreaking research in many fields, including medicine, is declining. Yet the number of papers published each year has increased, with some unfortunate side effects.


“Scientists focus their attention on work that is already well-cited rather than on new ideas or ideas on the fringes of the scientific mainstream,” Baer said. “This leads to a calcification of the intellectual structure of a field, slowing down progress over time.”

Funding sources for research grants often make matters worse. The norm now in many fields: Grant proposals must provide substantial data supporting the proposed theories and hypotheses. Basically, funding agencies reward work on previously established topics.

“A journey into the exploration of the unknown has been replaced with a ticket on the Shinkansen bullet train: Destination known and always on time.”


Researchers are responding by playing it safe, Baer says. “There’s a tendency to minimize risk.” Many chase ideas that, from the outset, are likely to be publishable to ensure a constant stream of papers.

“I certainly have had my fair share of encounters with, for instance, journals who reject an idea because it is novel and does not fit the current scientific mold,” Baer said.

Baer is known for his research on creativity and innovation. He wrote the article as a follow-up to a symposium organized by the Biotech Research & Innovation Centre at the University of Copenhagen. Baer was an invited speaker with the mission of offering ideas for how to inject more creativity into scientific inquiry.

Covid test

Gone are the days when scientists could explore Yellowstone National Park without knowing what would come of it, Baer says. There, in the late 1960s, microbiologist Thomas Brock discovered heat-resistant bacteria in the Mushroom Spring.

Courtesy of The EMBO Journal

Guess what? Brock’s discovery eventually led to the development of the chemical process behind today’s Covid test.

Sadly, today’s pressure to produce often means budding researchers are recruited onto preexisting projects with already defined milestones and deliverables.

Fortunately, researchers at Olin don’t face the same pressures as medical researchers. Those scientists are profoundly dependent on grant money for labs and other necessary expenses, Baer says.

“I think our approach to training doctoral students allows students to inject creativity into the research process. Erik Dane teaches a course in the PhD curriculum that tries to provide students the tools to do exactly that.”

Bullet train redesign

One strategy is to encourage early-stage scientists to immerse themselves in similar problems and the solutions they may inspire, Baer says.

Years ago, the Shinkansen bullet train created an ear-splitting sonic boom as it raced out of tunnels. A group of engineers was tasked to redesign the train to make it quieter.

One of the engineers was a bird watcher. He made a connection. Birds diving into the water to catch prey faced a similar challenge to the zooming through a tunnel. The new design of the train’s front? It was based on the shape of the Kingfisher’s beak. That bird dives at high speed from one environment, air, into another, water, with barely a splash.

Researchers should be encouraged and allowed the time to pursue topics other than those they’re actively investigating, Baer says. They should join collaborations with scientists from other domains and even disciplines who are investigating analogous problems.

‘Stay in the cloud’

For research to flourish, it’s imperative to rethink the knowledge production process to allow for the occasional detours, setbacks and dead ends, Baer says.

The bottom line: Research leaders may want to embrace the values of autonomy and novelty more courageously—and embolden early-stage researchers to do the same. Also, academic institutions should take a hard look at themselves. Do they need to increase the breathing space and time for scientists to engage in the exploration of new ideas and research avenues?

“Uri Alon, professor and systems biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science, talks about the notion of the research cloud—the boundary between the known and unknown,” Baer said.

“It seems to me that we are not encouraging young scholars to stay in the research cloud long enough to truly cross over into the unknown. In fact, the notion of having one’s heads up in the cloud has a negative connotation.

“We need to encourage the next generation of scholars to stay in the cloud and tolerate the feeling of not knowing where this journey may lead.”

Photo illustration of cards with New Year

More than 35% of Americans make a New Year’s resolution, like losing weight, eating healthier or saving more money.


Let’s say you resolve to get more exercise. If you’re like a lot of people, you commit to your goal—but leave your plan for how to accomplish it flexible; you decide day-to-day whether to go the gym and what you’ll do once you’re there. In January, you skip the gym a few times. In February, you just might abandon your plan completely.

“Setting yourself up for success and sticking to a goal is hard,” says Sydney E. Scott, assistant professor of marketing at Olin Business School. “But is the issue your willpower, or your plan?”

Now imagine a friend has the same resolution. “If you’re like many people, you might advise your friend not to be flexible, but instead to determine the details of their plan in advance,” Scott says.

That would be good advice.

Follow your head

Adding detail and structure to a plan helps people achieve their goals. So why choose a more detailed—and more effective—plan for your friend, but not for yourself?


New research from Scott and Elanor F. Williams, associate professor of marketing at Olin, shows that people opt for flexibility in their own plans because they think flexibility is more appealing.

“People like the idea of having some wiggle room in their plans,” Williams says. “But their recommendations to others reveal that they do know that it’s less effective to be flexible than to have a more structured plan.”

Why do they choose a plan that’s less likely to work? “People follow their hearts more when choosing for themselves than for other people,” Scott says. “In other words, people give very good advice to others for how to plan for success but fail to follow that same advice for themselves.”

The paper “In goal pursuit, I think flexibility is the best choice for me but not for you,” in the Journal of Marketing Research, also suggests some options to make people more likely to add structure and detail to their own plans.

“Telling people to follow their heads as they decide, or highlighting that structure is a way to stay on track, encourages them to choose more structured plans for themselves, too,” Scott says.

Outside a TD Ameritrade office

A new study finds wide disparities in the prices investors pay when buying and selling stocks through six popular brokerages. 

TD Ameritrade delivered the best prices, and Fidelity Investments, E*Trade and Robinhood Markets Inc. followed. Two trading platforms from Interactive Brokers Group Inc. came in at the bottom.

The experiment “reveals an astonishing dispersion in the quality of price execution across our sample of six brokerage accounts,” the authors write. They found the costs incurred in a transaction ranged from -0.07 to -0.46%, excluding any commissions. The average price improvement varied from 3 to 8 cents a share, which may not sound like much until you consider how many millions of trades people make daily.

14 million trades a day

The five brokers’ daily trading volume is 14 million daily trades, or 3.6 billion a year. The average retail trade of $8,000 translates into $28 trillion traded annually. So, for every one basis point of price execution difference, the annual cost to retail traders is $2.8 billion, according to the research.

“In that context, our observed execution differences are economically very large,” the authors say in their working paper, “The ‘Actual Retail Price’ of Equity Trades.”

“While we were aware that such trading would not be ‘free,’ we were surprised by the range of execution prices for our simultaneous identical trades.”


The researchers, including Olin Assistant Professor of Finance Xing Huang, bought and sold stocks 85,000 times over nearly six months. At the peak, their trades numbered more than 1,000 a day. They tried to place the same trades simultaneously with different brokers and measured the prices they got.

“Consumers should realize that zero commission doesn’t mean free trading, and the transaction costs could vary across brokers,” Huang said.

“Although we show that the differences are economically large on the aggregate level, the differences may be small on the individual level. While some consumers may be more concerned about other features of brokers, consumers who care about execution prices may be interested in our results.”

Different prices for the same trades

According to the research results, the price dispersion is because off-exchange wholesalers give different execution prices to brokers for the same trades.

“The difference in execution costs between these different brokers is huge, and nobody knows it,” Schwarz said.

Said Huang, “We were quite surprised by off-exchange wholesalers systematically give different execution prices to different brokers, even for the same trades.”

The findings indicate that the current disclosure regime is inadequate and provides limited information regarding the quality of price across brokers. “In practice,” the authors write, “it is very hard to compare the actual retail price execution quality of different brokers.”

The researchers spent their own money on the experiment, and they lost about $23,000 doing the trades, lead author Christopher Schwarz, of the University of California at Irvine, told The Wall Street Journal in a September 16 article.

Their impression was that they couldn’t use their research accounts since the experiment involved trading and uncertain outcomes, Huang said. “We did not want to get any funding from institutions because we didn’t want any potential conflicts of interest compromise our independent opinion.”

On September 12, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to launch a National Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Initiative, noting the United States relies too heavily on foreign materials and foreign bioproduction. Off-shoring of critical industries threatens US ability to access materials like important chemicals and active pharmaceutical ingredients.

Consider the prescriptions you or your loved ones need for high blood pressure, infections or other ailments. Chances are, no manufacturing source exists in the United States for critical generic drugs or their active ingredients.

In fact, in 2021 the White House sounded the alarm about vulnerabilities in the pharmaceutical supply chain that has led to shortages of critical medicines the Food and Drug Administration deems “essential.” A White House report proclaimed, “The disappearance of domestic production of essential antibiotics impairs our ability to counter threats ranging from pandemics to bio-terrorism, as emphasized by the FDA’s analysis of supply chains for active pharmaceutical ingredients.”

The problem? It seemed that insufficient US manufacturing capacity due to offshoring was largely to blame. But new research from the Center for Analytics and Business Insights, at Olin Business School at Washington University, finds the US does, indeed, have the capacity to make the nation’s most essential and critical drugs—yet most of the capacity is sitting idle.

Report fills key data gap

The CABI report fills a crucial gap in available industry data: “US Generic Pharmaceutical Manufacturer Available Capacity Research Survey.”


“We addressed of a significant blind spot, which was the understanding of available capacity in the United States to build supply chain resiliency,” said Anthony Sardella, author of the CABI report, senior research advisor for CABI and Olin adjunct lecturer.

“Our results were quite surprising. Fifty percent of available capacity is not utilized,” he said. “The number was stunning.”

On September 14, the Biden administration revealed it will invest more $2 billion into biotech and biomanufacturing efforts, with $1 billion from the Department of Defense for manufacturing infrastructure in the US.

30 billion more doses possible

Last year, the generic pharmaceutical industry made headlines when it announced the closure of several U.S. manufacturing plants. Why? In part because of lower offshore operating costs and labor rates, intense pricing pressure and steadily growing dependence on offshore sources for raw materials.

“How do we account for this incongruency?” Sardella asks. He and his team surveyed 37 U.S. generic pharmaceutical manufacturing sites. They found the sites are producing at just half of their production capacity annually, with an aggregate excess capacity of nearly 50%. In fact, only two of the 37 manufacturing sites are producing at full capacity.

If the sites got up and running, nearly 30 billion additional doses of essential and critical medicines could be produced in the US without incurring the expense of building new manufacturing plants and shorten the time to make generic medicines available from domestic sources, according to the report.

In a nutshell, the report recommends the following:

  • Repurpose idle sites to enable manufacturing to address shortages, increase supply-chain resiliency and build supplies within 24-36 months.
  • Continue current federal funding efforts for advanced manufacturing technologies to reduce production costs, create new workforce opportunities and increase the economic sustainability of US drug manufacturing.

Research aims to foster national policy

Sardella, who focused his research on issues at the intersection of business, government and society, will present the results of the paper on October 4 to the National Press Club in Washington, DC, to provide support for policy considerations and initiatives to strengthen US drug manufacturing sustainability.

The next step for CABI is its new paper, in progress, about how to model funding initiatives that de-risks the adoption of new, advanced manufacturing technologies, such as continuous-flow chemistry, to boost production.

CABI has been researching the drug shortage issue over the past couple of years. Learn more:

Dennis Zhang, Olin associate professor of supply chain and technology, has been named a co-winner of the 2022 Production and Operations Management Society (POMS) Early Career Research Accomplishments.

Dennis Zhang

The award is one of the most prestigious honors in the operations management field. Zhang received the award in April during the POMS conference, which was virtual because of COVID concerns.

“I am honored to receive this recognition,” Zhang said. “This is very motivating, and I hope to continue contributing to the field through research and service.”

POMS chose Zhang based on his contribution to platform operations, especially retail platform operations, as well as his contribution to data-driven methodologies in operations, such as field experiments and applied machine learning.

For example, Zhang’s paper, “Reducing Discrimination with Reviews in the Sharing Economy: Evidence from Field Experiments on Airbnb,” published in Management Science, is the first study on how to use review information to fight against statistical discrimination on sharing platforms.

And “Customer Choice Models vs. Machine Learning: Finding Optimal Product Displays on Alibaba” is the first to implement a choice-model-based assortment optimization algorithm in a large-scale ecommerce setting. Operations Research published the paper.

Zhang joined the Olin Business School in 2016. His research focuses on operations in innovative marketplaces and in the public sector. He has built theoretical models to extract reliable insights from data and uses data to improve existing models. Before he joined the Olin faculty, he finished his PhD at Northwestern University and worked at Google as a machine learning software engineer.

The award co-winners are Ruomeng Cui of Emory University and Hummy Song of the University of Pennsylvania.