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Mega-Cash Prizes and Revolutionary Science 134

Bruce G Charlton writes "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: 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, and: 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."

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