New York City hedge fund managers Robert Goldstein and Joel Greenblatt have created an annual $1 million prize for the best idea for cancer research of the ideas which researchers (and even the rest of us) post on their Gotham Prize web site.
A managing partner at the hedge fund Gotham Capital in New York, Mr. Goldstein recognized similarities with his own profession. Money managers also were reluctant to share investment ideas. A few years earlier, Mr. Goldstein's business partner and friend, Joel Greenblatt, the 49-year-old founder of Gotham Capital, had created an online, selective group called the Value Investors Club, to spur idea sharing. Members shared investing strategies and commented on each other's research. A cash prize was awarded for the best idea of the week.
The two men thought that perhaps a similar model would work in cancer research. So this year they agreed to put up $1 million of their own money every year to fund the Gotham Prize for Cancer Research. Modeled on the Value Investors Club, the annual prize will go to the person who posts the best new cancer-research idea, judged by a board of respected scientists, at the prize's Web site by the end of December.
The winner of the Gotham Prize doesn't have to present a shred of evidence that the premise will work. To attract ideas from people outside the field of cancer research, there is no requirement that the winner be capable of seeing the idea through. And the prize money is earmarked for personal use, to be spent on anything the winner wants, even a fancy car or a bigger house.
Got a good idea for cancer research that you think might be worth a cool million bucks? Now's your chance.
Some researchers quoted in the article are skeptical that prize money for ideas is the most efficacious way to fight cancer. But as the article also points out, lots of researchers keep their ideas secret because they want to be first to publish and get credit for a discovery that follows from a good idea. Getting more ideas out into the public domain might speed up the rate of researchers by allowing teams to incorporate more ideas from other teams into their experimental designs and strategies.
More generally, prizes for scientific discoveries are a great idea because humans respond to incentives and produce more when properly incentivized. The incentives facing academic researchers are not entirely directed toward increasing the motive to make useful discoveries. Also, academics have incentives to make their own labs look more productive even if they might have an idea that would be better tested in another lab. Academic politics and other influences create incentives that reduce the motive to discover. The need to get grants renewed can lead to conservative choices that are more likely to produce tangible results even if not immediately useful results. Tenure reduces the need to perform in research. With all these influences financial incentives can make a big difference.
Update: Modest proposal for the Gotham Prize folks: Most researchers aren't going to take the time to read all the submissions that are publically posted. You ought to provide a way for readers to assign scores to the quality of ideas so that others with limited time can come in and read, say, all the 5 star submissions. Then you run into the problem of the quality of the reviewers. Let people see who is scoring the submissions and if they recognize some name they respect let them view the list of submissions that a given reviewer scored and what score he or she assigned to each submission.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2007 September 23 01:25 PM Worthy Causes|