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Science Careers Blog

March 10, 2008

Cash Prizes for Scientific Breakthroughs

Sunday's Slashdot Daily Newsletter directs us to an editorial in the journal Medical Hypothesis proposing large cash prizes for breakthroughs in targeted areas of science.

In "Stimulating revolutionary science with mega-cash prizes," the journal's editor-in-chief and a member of its editorial advisory board "argue that the most ambitious science is intrinsically riskier science, more likely to fail."

Consequently,

It is almost always a safer career strategy for the best scientists to seek to extend knowledge more modestly and to build incrementally on existing ideas and methods. Therefore, higher rewards for success are a necessary incentive to encourage top scientists to work on the most important scientific problems, ones where the solution has potentially revolutionary implications. We suggest that mega-cash prizes (measured in tens of millions of dollars) are a suitable reward for those individuals (or institutions) whose work has triggered radically new directions in science.

In February, John Travis, currently the head of the International office for Science's news department, wrote about a workshop in Maastricht on this topic. The article -- you'll need a Science subscription or site license to view it, by the way -- lists some existing prizes and recounts discussions from the meeting.

Apparently, offering a prize is not a panacea. As Travis notes in closing the article, "Organizers offered a €1500 award for the best paper on using monetary prizes to stimulate private investment in medical research, but no entries have been submitted thus far."

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