About $2 trillion is spent globally on research each year, and this book’s central premise is that researchers are too confident about their knowledge, given that theories can barely explain the recent past and are all but blind to the future which is why its risks are so high. This chapter summarises the intuitive framework behind this contention and sets the scene for this book’s subsequent analysis.

Weak research outcomes matter because good research is the only source of our scarcest commodity which is knowledge about the future. Also, the gold standard of evidence-based decisions requires knowledge about the future, and its absence explains every failed policy or strategy. Finally, complex problems such as poor quality of life for indigenous people, climate change and modern epidemics of obesity and mental health remain unsolved because knowledge is not strong enough to secure consensus on appropriate remedial actions.

Scientific research must become more productive and requires a blueprint that identifies causes of poor research productivity, an integrated solution that relies on targeted incentives that encourage real-world understanding, and better techniques that link research to practical theoretical explanations of the behaviour of important natural and artificial systems.