The prevalent approach to selection of research topics is haphazard, or—worse—dictated by bureaucratic funding agencies. This paper is a call for an active process of deliberation among scientists (a process of “pre-search”) to help bring to light problems worthy of research that might otherwise be neglected. Several unresolved issues and frontier areas in contemporary soil physics are mentioned by way of example. A warning is sounded against the tendency to follow faddish topics. There is need to redress the growing imbalance between the ease and institutional incentives to publish unsubstantiated theory based on simpler, “purer” systems and the difficult but essential task of carrying out comprehensive experiments on a realistic scale in the field for the purpose of validating theories and models.
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