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Thursday, January 06, 2011


Washington Post article:

...little bill that Washington hopes will prove transformative. The law - its cringe-worthy official name is the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act - overhauls the way the federal government supports private-sector research and development, and one of the main ways the government hopes to support R&D is with prizes. Lots of prizes.

"Inducement prizes" (as opposed to "recognition prizes," like the Nobel or the MacArthur or the Pulitzer) make up a major part of the Obama administration's Strategy for American Innovation

It seems the American government is embracing the concept of X-Prizes. This is something I have suggested for some years with limited effect. It may be about to be to late for the UK to lead the world in this but not to late for us to join in.

Also interesting is the paper linked to by this article which I had not seen before. The Social Science Research Network had done a study on a century of the Royal Agricultural Society awarding prizes for innovation &

We find large effects of the prizes on contest entries, especially for the Society's gold medal. Matching award and patent data, we also detect large effects of the prizes on the quality of contemporaneous inventions. These results hold even during the period when prize categories were determined by a strict rotation scheme, thus overcoming the potential confounding effect that awards may have targeted "hot" technology sectors. Our evidence suggests that prize awards can be a powerful mechanism for encouraging competition and that prestigious non-pecuniary prizes can be a particularly effective inducement for innovation
This adds to the mas of evidence that prizes are a much more effective way of achieving objectives than giving grants to the politically connected. There seems to be no evidence whatsoever to the opposite effect. The only possible conclusions to that are that government is hopelessly incompetent having absolutely no idea why they spend money or that the purpose of government spending is not its official purpose (in this case technological progress) but simply to pay people in government & their friends.

My submission on how to fund British space industry something nobody at the Space centre had, at the time, ever thought of & apparently still hasn't.
British X-Prize foundation
Using tax rebates to fund prizes
Prize more than 33 times more effective than government grants

UPDATE David Cameron has been reported as promising that "The Government is doing everything it can to drive growth in the UK economy" & "the Government planned to invest in the "industries of the future" such as aerospace, pharmaceuticals and green energy" so unless Mr Cameron has some actual evidence that prizes are less effective than normal grant giving we are going to have an X-Prize foundation. At least unless he is merely being cynically & wholly dishonest.

 I will write to him to ask if he has some such actual evidence.

However I must admit that that the promise to "do everything" to help growth seems impossible to reconcile with increasing subsidy of "green" expensive & unreliable power when other countries (i.e. France) are enjoying reliable nuclear at 1/4 the price.

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