On Thu, May 27, 1999 at 03:34:54AM -0400, Brian Atkins wrote:
> I was reading this over at Edge:
> regarding the usefulness of giving away prizes for certain
> science and/or tech advances. It seems to me that in general
> this is a good idea, although as discussed on the site there
> are certain limitations. I'd be curious if this has come up
> on the list before, and what the consensus (if any) was.
There was a thread on prizes in 1997, available in the archive. I think the subject arose from a debate over whether intellectual property is required to spur life extension breakthroughs. Apparently prizes for scientific and technological breakthroughs were once quite common. In the aforementioned thread Robin Hanson pointed out that he had written a paper on science prizes called "Patterns of Patronage: Why Grants Won Over Prizes in Science" <http://hanson.berkeley.edu/workingpapers.html>, which suggests that grants may have won over prizes because grants can more easily be doled out as pork by politicians.
Given that today's intellectual property regime offers a sometimes valuable government-backed "prize" for breakthroughs (and 99.9% of the time very non-breakthroughs), the obvious uses of prizes are to stimulate research that isn't immediately commercializable and to offer an incentive for not patenting potentially valuable technologies (e.g. first entity to do X and NOT patent it wins the prize).
Something akin to the latter is being done in the free software
world by the Free Software Bazaar
<http://visar.csustan.edu/bazaar/bazaar.html>. There are a couple of other efforts underway which are perhaps not as grassroots and have not launched yet. See <http://www.cosource.com/> and <http://sourcexchange.com/>.
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