Prizes (was: Life Extension through legislation or the free market)

Robin Hanson (
Thu, 17 Apr 1997 10:45:37 -0700 (PDT)

Michael Lorrey writes:
>THere is a book just out, I believe called _Longitude_ about the
>Englishman who solved the problem of longitudinal navigation.
>Apparently, the Parliament put up a big prize to the person who could
>solve the problem. He solved it by developing highly accurate clocks and
>a system of astronomical and velocity based tables. THis is probably the
>most famous and commercially beneficial application of the invention
>bounty, though there are currently prizes up for many different
>engineering acheivements, and if you remember, Paul MacCready developed
>his human powered airplanes in the 80's to win such prizes put up by
>private organizations, doing a mile loop, then spanning the English
>Channel, and then the course from Crete to Greece that was mythically
>taken by Deadalus.

I have a paper "Patterns of Patronage: Why Grants Won Over Prizes in
Science" (, with an
empirical study that suggests that the reason the once common prize
was replaced by grants was that governments became the dominant
research patron. So the current infrequency of prizes relative to
grants should not overly discourage private patrons from using prizes.
Prizes can be an excellent mechanism.

Robin D. Hanson