The Continuing Spread of Research Prizes

Research prizes for medicine work, which is we're seeing more of them these days. It's very hard to institutionalize innovation, to build a conveyor belt for radical new ideas, but the contest model has traditionally worked well for this purpose. If you look back at the history of prizes for scientific and technical achievement, they draw healthy multiples of the prize purse in funding for novel lines of research, and empower worthy developers who would traditionally not have made much headway in the mainstream. The Mprize for longevity research is perhaps the most familiar initiative for readers here.

a scientific competition designed to draw attention to the ability of new technologies to slow and even reverse the damage of the aging process, preserving health and wisdom in a world that sorely needs it.

All this considered, I'm not too surprised to see research prizes launched in areas of medicine traditionally considered well-funded:

Medical researchers teamed up with hedge fund managers on Wednesday to offer a new million-dollar prize for the best new idea for cancer research in the hopes of kick-starting innovative approaches.

...

"I have seen firsthand how many ideas with incredible potential never reach fruition," Curhan said. "We will only make significant progress in cancer research by learning from each other's successes and mistakes, and by building on each other's knowledge."

People who want to make individual contributions to a particular researcher, as opposed to making a general donation to a charity, are also invited to look at the site.

Curhan stressed he does not believe the NIH is unimaginative in funding research.

"Most of the work is incremental just because of the long tradition and because people tend not to pick risks. And you tend to write grants to what you think will get funded as opposed to your most innovative idea," he said.

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