Here’s A Colossally Bad Idea From Congress About How To Fund Science

Aug 3, 2015

Photograph courtesy of Mashable

By Steven Salzberg

When was the last time anyone in Congress passed a truly good idea? I can’t remember.

But they do manage to come up with bad ideas, and sometimes these ideas make their way into laws, causing no end of harm.

This month, two U.S. Congressmen have come up with the idea to offer prizes rather than grants for scientific research. They were inspired, according to a story in Science magazine, by DARPA’s prize competitions for robotic vehicle design, as well as the private XPRIZE competition.

Now Congress wants the National Institutes of Health to give out prizes for biomedical research. They’ve tucked this idea into the 21st Century Cures Act, a bill funding the NIH and FDA that was passed by the House of Representatives on July 10. Congressman Todd Young of Indiana and Andy Harris of Maryland amended the bill to require NIH to create a new prize competition.


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2 comments on “Here’s A Colossally Bad Idea From Congress About How To Fund Science

  • Rather than dismiss out of hand what does seem to be an incredibly daft idea, maybe we should consider whether there is any evidence of such a system providing for better research/results?

    What happens to Nobel Prize money? Is it re-invested in supplementary research or does it finance a new car/house/holiday?

    While I personally feel that a cooperative approach to research is healthier than a competitive one, there is no denying that scientists are “Competitive” and the capitalist system within which they operate is also a competitive one. I would argue that this should change, but as it won’t; isn’t this “Prize” motivational strategy just a refinement on current crazy practices. Practices; I should add, that do produce scientific breakthroughs, but one has to ask if a more collegiate system would produce more; and more effective, results than those targeted towards military and health concerns which above all are the environment inhabited by cynical and ambitious politicians.



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  • The Controversial Poster Philoctetes
    Aug 3, 2015 at 12:26 pm

    Rather than dismiss out of hand what does seem to be an incredibly daft idea, maybe we should consider whether there is any evidence of such a system providing for better research/results?

    I think the key phrase, is, “rather than grants”!

    @OP – This month, two U.S. Congressmen have come up with the idea to offer prizes rather than grants for scientific research.

    Prizes are reward and recognition of outstanding research from a large range of grant funded studies.

    Without the basic funding of evaluated science projects (as in some third world countries), there is no range of innovations and discoveries from which to select.

    The suggestion probably originates from the congressmen’s Dr. Frankenstein / Wile E. Coyote, understanding of what is scientific research!



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