Saturday, June 22, 2013

Too Many Science Awards Might Muddle The Field

Awards Ceremony

The Money Prizes: “The idea that anyone would make a career choice based on the minuscule
chance of winning, say, a Nobel, is ridiculous,” he says. “Scientists, on the whole, are not in it
for the money — and I am not sure we should want them to be,” says Yuri Milner, one of the
sponsors of the Fundamental Physics Prize.
Photo Credit: Nature; 2013
Source: Nature

An article, by Zeeya Merali, in Nature says that the increase in cash-rich awards, apart from the prestigious Nobels, for scientists might not be such a good thing.

Merali writes:
But the lavishness and ambition of the prizes have sparked criticism. “I don't want to run these awards down, but I find it offensive that people are trying to either borrow the prestige of the Nobel, or buy it,” says Frank Wilczek, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, who won a share of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2004. “The suspicion is that these provide more benefit to the egos of the founders than to science,” adds Jack Stilgoe, a lecturer in science policy at University College London.
And although they support the goals of the prizes, critics say that the strategy for achieving them is at best misguided, and at worst, could backfire. By bestowing riches on a few individuals, they say, the prizes could funnel money and attention towards people and fields that are already prestigious and well funded or, in some cases, could reward weak scientists or untested ideas. “Prizes are a good thing, but the question is, if your goal is to help science, are large prizes the most efficient way to do that?” asks Wilczek.
This is a good question, It depends on what your goal is: to reward great scientists or to advance the cause of science. These two might not be compatible, since rewarding those already known does not necessarily advance scientific progress. All it might be doing is advancing conventional and accepted thinking, and not the type of original thinking that makes great breakthroughs. And the majority of scientists are not in it for the money; giving lavish awards tends to make them uneasy. 

The Nobel Prizes are acceptable because they have a long history (since 1901), and its prestige has been gained, in large part, by a long history of notable and famous scientists who have won the award. Despite their laudable goals, the new prizes cannot achieve that, for the reason that money can never replace or duplicate history. 

The Internet billionaires might not understand this simple concept, so used they are to the idea that money can buy prestige.  

You can read the rest of the article at [Nature]

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