Click to get your own widget

Monday, March 16, 2009


This is a review of a paper read by Molly Macaulay at a House Science Committee Hearing on X-Prizes:

"Prizes, although not a silver bullet for invigorating enthusiasm for space or elevating its priority in spending decisions, could nonetheless complement government's existing approaches to inducing innovation -- procurement contracts and peer- reviewed grants. Even if an offered prize is never awarded because competitors fail all attempts to win, the outcome can shed light on the state of technology maturation. In particular, an unawarded prize can signal that even the best technological efforts aren't quite ripe at the proffered level of monetary reward. Such a result is important information for government

History apart from historical prizes i have mentioned previously she gives a few more examples

Prizes also figured prominently in the development of the automobile, with dozens of popular, well-publicized auto races beginning in the 1890s, mostly in Europe. One of the notable contests in the United States - the "Great Chicago Auto Race " -- is credited with giving birth to the American auto industry. In 1895, H.H. Kohlstaat, publisher of the Chicago Times- Herald, sponsored this competition to test the overall utility, cost, speed, economy of operation, and general appearance of cars.3 Kohlstaat was surprised at the number of letters and telegrams he received expressing interest in participating in the contest. The auto business had seemed centered in Europe, yet he found that there were widespread efforts underway in the U.S.

Aviation. Another notable and frequent use of prizes - and much of the inspiration for the X-prize -- was in the early history of aviation. Between roughly 1908 and 1915, the heyday of privately sponsored competitions for distance, elevation, and speed jumpstarted the aviation industry. Three dozen or so individual prizes during this period - at roughly the rate of four or more annually - fostered innovations that decidedly gave birth to the industry. Some general observations about aviation prizes include:

1. Prizes were usually offered for incremental improvements. For example, the first couple of prizes were for flights of 25 meters and 100 meters, then for over 1000 feet in elevation. Subsequent prizes were for longer distances, higher elevation, and faster time.

2. Prizes were almost without exception offered by private individuals and companies, not by governments. Sponsors were mostly wealthy entrepreneurs such as Raymond Orteig, a New York hotel owner; Jacques Schneider, a wealthy French industrialist; Ralph Pulitzer, the son of newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer; James D. Dole, a Hawaiian planter; Eduoard and Andre Michelin, executives of what was to become the Michelin Tire Company; and James Gordon Bennett, the publisher of the New York Herald. Prizes were also offered by the French Aero Club, which undertook private fundraising to obtain the prize money; the French Champagne industry; the Harvard Aeronautical Society; the Daniel Guggenheim Fund; the Daily Mail of London; and the New York World. Governments funded military planes to race in competitions after World War I but didn't supply the prize money.

3. Big air meets were popular during 1909 - 1911 but then they either continued without much publicity or became less profitable. Many meets continued as annual races into the 1930s - the meets were not competitions for "be the first to…" but were for speed and demonstrations of skill.

4. There were prizes that were never awarded or that were awarded only after a long extension of the competition deadline. For example, the Orteig prize, awarded to Charles Lindbergh in 1927, was originally offered in 1919 for a period of up to five years, but the deadline was extended.

5. Prizes were offered for generally specified objectives like distance, speed, or minimum number of refueling and maintenance stops. Prize guidelines typically did not include stipulations about the technological approach or other engineering characteristics.

6. In at least one documented instance, a company underwrote a competitor in exchange for advertising the company's product (consumer soft drinks) on his plane.

7. Prize amounts varied widely - in 2004 dollars, the amounts ranged from about $200,000 to over $1 million. The typical amount was around $300,000. Later prizes were almost always for more difficult achievements, but prize monies didn't increase accordingly. The amounts do not seem correlated with the difficulty of the achievement required to win - but this observation may be biased by the paucity of detailed information about the prizes.

8. Accidents and fatalities were common - but did not lead to standdowns in holding competitions.

9. Whether contestants sought commercial gain from their innovation is not clear from the available records about the prizes. Some winners - but by far the minority -- became founding fathers of a product line of aircraft - such as Louis Bleriot, Glenn Curtiss, Henri Farman, and Igor Sigorsky.

Rocketry. With one exception, the earliest efforts in rocket development never attracted prize money. Research grants rather than prizes typically financed studies of rockets -

One reason for a lack of prizes may be the media attitude - something we see today as well"talk of rockets and space travel was viewed as crackpot by the public and as unscientific by most scientists." Newspaper reporters, seizing upon some of Goddard's writing about how rockets could get to the Moon, sensationalized the statements and referred sarcastically to Goddard as the "moon man." The American Interplanetary Society—a professional organization that was a forerunner of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics - - changed its name to the American Rocket Society because interplanetary travel was so ridiculed. the linear ancestors of so many today - you would think we never got there

Some observations. These experiences show the usefulness of prizes in fundamental research (soda alkali) and in advancing technology (autos and aviation). Of course, the counterfactual question of "would innovation have come about in the absence of prizes," and if so how fast and at what cost, is equally important -- but hard to answer. These experiences also took place before the rise of government's heavy hand in R&D (more on this in a later section below).

What's different now -an era of government-sponsored R&D

The climate for aviation prizes to reward technological advance pre-dated today's complex relationship between the private and government sectors in general and in space-related R&D in particular. The heyday of prizes was about 1900 to 1917 - two decades in which aviation feats made the news for an attentive public interested in the new technology, thrilled by its daredevils, and newly enamored of all modes of transportation as the era of the auto began. The period was undoubtedly one of the most distinctive periods in the history of innovation. The private sector reigned in almost all economic sectors. For instance, almost 100 % of public transit systems—street railroads and trolleys -- were privately owned, and individuals or private syndicates held about 85% of electric companies and 50% of water companies.

Economic growth was also rapid. Per capita income roughly doubled just after the turn of the century due to an economy-wide increase in output. Actually doubling over a 17 year period is only just over 45 a year - high then but less than the world average today - this is a sign of how, even despite our Luddite culture, we are on a rising growth trend ie still at the lower end of an S curve It was the era of modernization in steel mills, the beginning of skyscrapers, and rapid urbanization. It was also the chapter of the great industrialists - Andrew Carnegie in steel, John D. Rockefeller in oil, J.P. Morgan in finance, and railroad magnates like Jay Gould, Edward Harriman, Collis Huntington, and Cornelius Vanderbilt These entrepreneurs and their companies did the bulk of R&D.

Not surprisingly, government began to grow rapidly with the advent of personal and corporate income taxes in 1913 and a corporate excise tax enacted in 1909. Government spending increased from about $500 million in 1902, to about $900 million in 1913, then to $1.8 billion in 1922 (all amounts are adjusted for inflation). Per capita government spending increased 2 1/2 times from its level in 1902 to its level in 1922. World War I, the Depression, and World War II brought further large increases in federal spending. Most expenditures before 1915 were for defense, the postal service, and veterans services; by 1920, expenditures included these activities plus growing interest on debt and financing of air and water transportation.

Government stepped in to fund and manage civilian space activity in response to Sputnik and the Cold War - putting a "government in charge" imprimatur on space activities. Government involvement continues -- of all federal R&D money flowing to industry, about a third goes to the aerospace sector, and of that, 98% goes to nine companies.

Also the Wolfskehl Prize for proving Fermat's last theorem.

Much of the preceding discussion has emphasized the historical success of prizes but they have some disadvantages. These include:

no provision for up-front cash flow to defray expenses;
duplication of research effort if many individuals or groups compete;
uncertainty about whether the innovation can succeed; and
delays in the pace of innovation if a lot of time elapses before it is determined that there are no winners. I actively disagree with the last - such delays are clearly not going to be greater than those if there were no prize in the first place, nor will the cost whereas the cost to government of putting up research money for something that is beyond current technological maturity - at worst, as stated earlier "Such a result is important information for government"

In addition, prizes are unlikely to meet other social objectives that government sponsorship in general, or NASA sponsorship in particular, has traditionally pursued. For example, prizes do not necessarily further these goals that NASA has frequently set forth as success measures in its R&D policy:

increase the number of academic researchers;
increase the number of scientists and engineers;
create jobs;
influence political support by way of job creation;
broaden the participation of traditionally underrepresented groups in science and technology; and
prop up a particular supplier or group of suppliers to ensure choice (say, to ensure that a range of capacities is available in space transportation by dividing business among companies that offer different classes of vehicle lift)

Indeed - these are all pork barrel goals & evidence that the purpose of government spending is to employ government employees & their allies, the official purpose being secondary - I submit that the fact the prize money doesn't go on that is a strong point in its favour

In addition, there are some disadvantages of government-sponsored prizes compared with privately sponsored prizes:

- Government typically cannot commit to funding beyond a fiscal year, thus limiting the timing of the prize competition and cutting short the time that might be required for the technical achievement it awards.

- Any uncertainty about whether the prize will actually be awarded due to government budgets or changes in administration will weaken if not eliminate incentives to compete.

Both of these can be addressed by setting up a foundation separate from government who hold the money & with whom government has a legal contract to provide a certain amount of money (the same annually, or rising with growth & inflation or with growth, inflation & the taxable income of companies registering an interest) - theoretically government can still break any contract & renationalise the foundation without compensation but not quite as easily as it can grab absolutely any private asset

- Intellectual property rights to the achievement may need to reside with the competitor to induce participation, even though the taxpayer, by financing the prize, could fairly claim rights. It is interesting to note that after contentious deliberations, in 1960 the U.S. government awarded the Guggenheim Foundation and Robert Goddard's widow $1 million in settlement for government use of more than 200 of Goddard's patents (Goddard died in 1945).

Intellectual property rights bloody well ought to if one wishes to maximise incentive at minimum cost. This is why patents exist & nobody contends that the increased value to society of invention is not greater than what the patent holder gets - usually many orders of magnitude greater

Safety risk. The early history of aviation is replete with accidents and fatalities in pursuit of innovation, but efforts continued with scarcely a hiccup. The government's approach to safety risk is wholly different, as illustrated by the lengthy standdown of U.S. human spaceflight activities in the wake of the Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia fatalities. Indeed wholly different as the Shuttle history shows

Duplication of effort. A prize rather than a research grant made to one firm may have the advantage that "two (or more) chances are better than one" if there are several independent research programs. On the other hand, from a broad view of the nation's resources as a whole, there may be wasteful duplication of effort if there are simultaneous research programs all pursuing the same goal.

In theory a good argument, in practice it omits the spur competition always provides

It is hard to outline a formula for determining the size of the prizes- awards set too low may just miss inducing an innovation; awards set too high result in taxpayers paying more than necessary to induce the innovation. Not all competitors will necessarily be pursuing commercialization or an ongoing supplier relationship, if the history of aviation prizes is a guide to motives for participation. This argument applies even more strongly to grants & contracts where it is not only possible to set payment to high but, unlike prizes, there is no negative feedback to show whether it is too high or low For this reason, potential commercial profitability may not figure in competitors' participation decisions or be relevant to government's procedures for determining the size of the prize.

In any case, if a prize is offered but not awarded, the outcome may signal that the technology is simply not yet mature enough at that price - important information for government R&D managers. For "tent pole" technology development - that is, technology that is essential in furthering a goal - the uncertainty of success in a prize competition weakens the usefulness of prizes (although grants and contracts do not necessarily guarantee success either).


The history of prizes is attractive enough to warrant experimenting with their use in NASA activities. Further review of the structure of previous contests (their guidelines, funding, and results) and in particular, their assignment of property rights would provide helpful "lessons learned" as plans proceed. But prizes cannot fully substitute for peer-reviewed grants and procurement contracts. Even though these funding mechanisms are far from perfect, they balance some of the disadvantages of prizes. Taken together, all of these forms of financial support make up a portfolio of tools for encouraging innovation.

MacAuley has, in my opinion, understandably downplayed prizes (she is talking to Congresscritters about something which could severely intrude on or entirely replace NASA & limit the pork barreling potential) as shown by the fact that she has mentioned as disadvantages, things which equally apply to grants & contracts & has omitted one of the major advantages - that grants go only to the respectable & connected. The head of the Smithsonian, a highly reputable scientist, got $50,000 from Congress to develop an airplane & ran out of it just before the Wright Brothers, who were not on peer-reviewed lists, got airborne.

Nonetheless, bearing in mind that nobody is expecting the immediate ending of all research grants & contracts this is a very favourable review. X-Prizes should certainly be one leg of the 3 legged stool of national support for science. Whether it would then turn out to be the strongest leg is something we can only find out by doing it - its known as the scientific method.


MacAuley's point about aviation prizes reminds me of a suggestion I made previously:

Organise & put up prize money for an annual Road from The Isles hovercraft race - starting from Portree in Skye & going by sea to Blackwater reservoir, Loch Rannoch, Loch Tummell to end at Pitlochry. I personally think such a race, apart from encouraging individual engineering & Highland tourism has the potential to be more exciting than Grand prix racing.

I think investment of £250,000 in a prize like that would have technological & indeed social & tourist benefits far in excess of many much larger government pay outs. Wouldn't buy you 1/4 of a windmill. I also think that Grand Prix is pretty boring today because all the cars look & sound the same & that this would produce a far better spectacle.

Government spending increased from about $500 million in 1902, to about $900 million in 1913, then to $1.8 billion in 1922 (all amounts are adjusted for inflation).

At the end of the Civil War in 1865 the Union Army numbered around a million men, not counting forces fielded by the Confederates. By the time the Army was chasing Geronimo in the 1880's one-fourth of the Army, around 5,000 men was tied up chasing the renegade Indian chief. That would mean the combined forces of the North and South were probably around 1.5 million men had been reduced to just 20,000. This pattern held until 1945 when the US put itself on a permanent war footing.

Most expenditures before 1915 were for defense, the postal service, and veterans services; by 1920, expenditures included these activities plus growing interest on debt and financing of air and water transportation.

Bear in mind that the Post Office is self financing, so a large minority of the budget was not drawn from taxes.

Government stepped in to fund and manage civilian space activity in response to Sputnik and the Cold War - putting a "government in charge" imprimatur on space activities. Government involvement continues -- of all federal R&D money flowing to industry, about a third goes to the aerospace sector, and of that, 98% goes to nine companies.

Most Federal research money comes from the Pentagon, and as such is really defense research. Defense research is not always efficient, but its effectiveness can usually be judged by its performance in combat. Thus defense research and the products derived from it are tested against the "competition".
American government expenditure is not quite comparable with ours since State expendiure is not included whereas our figures are unitary.

Also currently our figures include almost all heath care whereas US ones only cover a bit of that. I think if you took the 50% of our GNP which is government plus what private health care we have compared to US Federal & State spending & all other he4alth spending they would be fairly equal. Of course thei point doidn't apply in 1900.
I used to subscribe to The New American which is published by the John Birch Society. TNA claimed that between employee health benefits, health care for the elderly, and healthcare for the poor Washington paid 40% of all US healthcare costs.
I admit that is higher than I had thought but I am sure ours is well over 80%. Also the US does spend a higher % of GNP on health (about 15%) than the UK (about 10%). I think this is partly because the US system has to support an awful lot of lawyers & partly because flat rate government collection really is less expensice than individual tailored insurance policies & OK because, at the high end, care is better, though overall US life expectancy isn't very good.
though overall US life expectancy isn't very good.

You are including our underclass in your comment about life expectancies.
Yes. We are at 36, US at 49. I don't know in either case how it breaks down & assume the average is brought down by drug deaths in both countries & shootings/death in jail in the US. Even a few dead 20 year olds skew the figures but even so matching Jordan is not success.
Those figures show that the top fifty countries all have life expectancies above 75 years, which is still quite an accomplishment. That means all have clean drinking water, and adequate food for themselves. What are you expecting - 85 years? Beyond about 80 years of age a person has accomplished all that they probably will in their lives.

The Anglosphere along with Europe has led most of the civilized countries into an era where, with the exception of the Chinese peasantry, most people can lead comfortable, safe lives. The Chinese peasants will take another twenty years at most. I don't know about India.

The only real challenge is not to worry about life expectancy any longer, but to plan how to ensure adequate energy and food supplies, and to plan the next step. How many of our predecessors had the chance to stand on the brink of the future we could have? Even the Romans didn't have the chances we have.

We need more cartoons like the Jetsons promising a better future and more religion.

That, and here in the US we need to pacify our underclass, so that they stop voting, and so they stop committing so much crime.
You are right that the disparity in life expectancy within the developed countries & even some of the better run developing ones is samall & almost certainly more to do with clean water, reliable power & plentiful food than formal health care. Nonetheles there is a disparity & mostly it fits with the same tables of GNP, economic freedom etc etc which consistently put Singapore & Hong Kong at the top the US close to the top , UK about 20th & Zimbabwe at the bottom. On life expectancy the US position is markedly lower than on other measures.
On life expectancy the US position is markedly lower than on other measures.

That is because of our Black population, and maybe the native Indians we have. The normal White homicide rate for Whites in the US is between 2-3 per 100k Whites. For Blacks it is sixty per 100k Blacks. Take a look at this table comparing the Detroit metro area, including suburbs in 1992 and 2006. If you look at the line marked principal city you will see that in 1992 the homicide rate for the city itself when it was 90% Black was 57 per 100k. The suburbs had a rate of 3.3. I have a spreadsheet i downloaded from this same site for the inner ring suburb of Highland Park, MI which shares a border with Detroit. In the early 90's during the Crack Wars the homicide rate in HP was around 130 per 100k. For comparison sake Ireland and Japan had rates of 0.5 per 100k, showing that a settled population composed of a peaceful race can almost be crime free. To give you an idea of the devastation of that city google the "ruins of Detroit" for pictures.

There are significant differences in tax rates between states, and those southern states with large minority populations tend to be very promarket. Since Blacks basically ruin public schools by their presence these people support homeschooling, vouchers, and private education. Since Blacks collect welfare at rates that are probably 8-10x the White rate these people oppose welfare in all of its forms. Texas which has been plagued by both a large Black, large Hispanic population, and an unfenced land border with a third world country has some of the lowest taxes in the United States, because it has some of the lowest welfare rates. This pattern is inverted in Northern states. Generally the larger the colored population, the higher the taxes, and the more the coloreds are allowed to get away with, with Detroit being the best example.
I see your point. I looked up Wikipedia on this
& found that though the only correlation with crime they could see was with poverty ;-) crime does seem to be greater in the blackest southern states & those along the Mexican border, including Texas.

There is reason to believe that welfarism has historically exacerbated ethnic tensions - on a national scale the fact that Slovenia & Croatia were net contributors to the Federal budget & Kosovo, under our Albanian gangster friends, very much a net recipient helped split them.

I have also read somewhere that if you discount for single parenthood the disparity betweeen the black & white crime rate nearly disappears & certainly respect for family is more prevalent among Japanese & Irish. I don't know if Texas' lack of welfare has affected their rate of family break-up - I would expect it to but they are still pretty high crime.
1. To put it bluntly, welfare destroyed the Black family and unleashed even more crime than they are normally known for. A Black woman can get pregnant and have the state and not a man support her. Also, Us Blacks have an average IQ of 85 vs. the White IQ of 100.

2. Please read this report on US crime rates.

3. Native Americans have incredibly high rates of alcoholism, which often leads to diabetes and leg amputation. So the Amerindians also have bad health. Diabetes is rampant among the US population, but especially among the coloreds.

4. Blacks also have high rates of diabetes, along with an AIDS infection rate that is several times the White rate.

5. Lastly, some states have laws that permanently disenfranchise felons. After the 2000 election fiasco a chorus of whining arose among quangos and foundation funded nonprofits and other left wing groups that felons were being denied their rights as men who had discharged their sentences. The goal was to get as many ex-convicts (Black men) registered to vote since Blacks give 95% of their votes to the Democratic party. Ive seen stats that say Blacks cast 10% of the vote which is interesting since they are 13% of the population. This would mean that about a third of Blacks are either ineligible or incapable of voting.
1 - I think the primary possibly only problem is welfare dependency. We also have "sink estates", particularly around Glasgow. Though the black IQ tests arer well proven it is also worth noting that black immigrants from the Carribean (eg Colin Powell) end up with average incomes higher than the whle US average. They, like our own immigrants were brought up in a society without welfare.

2 I will

3 The vulnerability to alcohol of non-Europeans is something I am willing to accept as genetic (ok so I do have some PCmess). For at least 2 millenia ALL Europeans drank weak beer rather than water because alcohol kills germs. The rest of the world boiled it & made tea. Thus we are all descended from people with robust livers.

4 I don't know if diabetes is genetic but I could see how the factors producing it - too much sugar & no exercise - would have manifested themselves & been weeded out in a wealthier society. I do not believe AIDS is an infection but the result of lifestyle.

5 I agree that criminals, even ex-criminals aren't people I wantmaking government choices but I don't think that the lower black voting rate is because that many are in jail. The sink estates here also have the lowest voter turnout - these folk just don't take an interest in politics.

You need to include drug felonies, weapons charges, breaking and entering, assault and auto theft. The point of felony disenfranchisement laws is to prevent a man from voting, even after he has served his sentence, possibly for the rest of his life.

A significant number do not live to middle age due to deaths from murder, overdoses, car accidents and disease. A large minority are also serving time in a state prison. In many ghettos Black women significantly outnumber men.

Please understand, these people are raised in an environment that glorifies crime. The major media whining about discrimination also feeds the desire to kill Whitey.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

British Blogs.