Balancing risk and reward
A new paper in Medical Hypotheses suggests that very big cash prizes could specifically be targeted to stimulate ‘revolutionary’ science. Usually, prizes tend to stimulate ‘applied’ science — as in the most famous example of Harrison’s improved clock solving the ‘longitude’ problem. But for prizes successfully to stimulate revolutionary science the prizes need to be three key elements. Details after the jump.
1.) Very large (and we are talking seven figure ‘pop star’ earnings, here) to compensate for the high risk of failure when tackling major scientific problems
2.) Awarded to scientists at a young enough age that it influences their behavior in (about) their mid-late twenties — when they are deciding on their career path
3.) Include objective and transparent scientometric criteria, to prevent the prize award process being corrupted by ‘political’ incentives.
Such mega-cash prizes, in sufficient numbers, might incentivize some of the very best young scientists to make more ambitious, long-term — but high-risk — career choices. The real winner of this would be society as a whole; since ordinary science can successfully be done by second-raters — but only first-rate scientists can tackle the toughest scientific problems.