Why We Should Get Rid Of Science Prizes

June 15, 2013 in Daily Bulletin

In recent times a series of science prizes have been launched that aim to rival the Nobel prizes in prestige – and have already exceeded them in terms of monetary compensation. There are various motives behind launching these prizes – sometimes they are political with Asian powers wanting to better recognize their own achievements in the field – in addition to promoting science and research. Yet Zeeya Merali writes that these prizes can do more harm than good:

  • The money could do a lot of good if it was being used to fund science, but instead a fair amount of it goes into the personal bank accounts of the scientists.
  • The money could be used to drive future innovation rather than reward past success. The X-Prize Foundation, for example, is offering $10-million to the first team that makes advances in sequencing the genome.
  • The money generally goes to scientists who are already successful in their fields, and don’t have a lack of money for their projects – depriving lesser known scientists of needed funds.
  • The prizes are usually modelled on the Nobel prizes and thus ignore valuable fields such as ecology and evolutionary biology in favour of physiology and medicine.
  • The prizes have a tendency to award those who make progress in solving problems of the developed world – such as progress against cancer – rather than those who ultimately have a greater impact by working with developing countries.
  • Supporters of the prize argue that they help encourage children to go into science. However there are already individuals who inspire millions of children by making interesting educational YouTube videos. These people are rarely recognized.
  • Such prizes might mislead budding scientists by reinforcing the myth that scientific innovation is driven by lone geniuses.

The full article is far longer, has many fascinating examples, and is well worth a read. It looks at the catch-22 of awards recognizing existing funding trends, why the prizes can be both too risky and too conservative at the same time, why nobody will go into science for the money, and much more. Find it here.

Source: Nature

Via: Marginal Revolution