The Value of Research Prizes

An op-ed at the New Scientist leaps halfway from the present doleful mainstream paradigm of medical research. Halfway because it imagines a world bettered by the absence of government-enforced intellectual property, but not without government at the hub of research, sadly. "We are conditioned to think that research into new medicines will come to a halt unless pharmaceutical companies continue to be allowed exclusive rights to sell the drugs they develop. But there is another way to stimulate research that would greatly enhance access to drugs, encourage companies to develop medicines that are more medically useful - and save money too. Rather than rewarding success with legal monopolies, governments could use large cash prizes. There has recently been a surge of prizes for particular research challenges, ranging from space travel and clean energy to video rental searches and yields from silver mining. Medical examples include the Prize4Life, which aims to advance research on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; the Archon X prize for low-cost gene-sequencing techniques; the M prize to promote longevity research; and the Grainger Challenge to protect the world's poor from contaminated well water. Prizes are a potentially powerful tool whenever there is a sustainable way to finance them." The best way to turn any powerful tool into a rusty old mess is to let the government take charge.


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